Dustin Ash managed to get by Ryan Partridge and crossed the line third; Ryan Partridge, who led a race-high 87 laps, came in fourth with Nicole Behar rounding out the top-five
The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) Hall of Fame routinely honors drivers who have shown exceptional skill at NASCAR driving, all-time great crew chiefs, owners, as well as other major contributors. In a similar fashion the sanctioning body highlights the future of the sport with the NASCAR Next program. “The NASCAR Next initiative spotlights the future of NASCAR, a collection of promising young talent who have shown the potential to one day reach the highest level of our sport,” said NASCAR Senior Vice President for Industry Services Jill Gregory.
At the NASCAR Hall of Fame in downtown Charlotte, North Carolina, 12 drivers were introduced as members of the 2015-16 NASCAR Next class. This new NASCAR Next class is already making its mark on the track. Included in 2015-2016 class is Cole Custer, 17, who is the youngest driver to win a race in NASCAR’s national series. Rico Abreu recently switched over from sprint car racing after winning the 2015 Chili Bowl Midget Nationals and the 2014 USAC national champion. Also included in the 2015-2016 NASCAR Next class is K&N Pro Series West driver Nicole Behar. Nicole, at just 17, holds the honor of being the highest-finishing female in the 61-year history of the series.
During the program’s five year history there have been 28 drivers in the NASCAR Next program. Of the 28 drivers previously selected for the program, 21 have raced in one of NASCAR’s three national series (NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, NASCAR XFINITY Series and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series), and 11 are competing full-time in 2015. Notable NASCAR Next alumni include Kyle Larson, and Chase Elliott, who will replace NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jeff Gordon in the No. 24 car for 2016.
During a ceremony at the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, North Carolina, the following 12 drivers were formally announced as the 2015-2016 NASCAR Next class:
Rico Abreu (23, Rutherford, California) – A 2014 USAC national champion and winner of the 2015 Chili Bowl, he has two top-10 finishes in three K&N Pro Series East starts, his first season racing in stock cars.
Nicole Behar (17, Otis Orchards, Washington) – Tied the series record for highest finish by a female driver in just her fifth K&N West start with her second place mark at Irwindale Event Center, and has top-10 finishes in four of six West starts.
Kyle Benjamin (17, Easley, South Carolina) – This Roush Fenway Racing developmental driver earned his first K&N Pro Series win at Bristol Motor Speedway, and is the youngest race winner in ARCA history.
James Bickford (17, Napa, California) – The 2014 K&N West Sunoco Rookie of the Year earned his first win at State Line Speedway in 2014 and finished fifth in the season championship.
William Byron (17, Charlotte, North Carolina) – With a win at Greenville Pickens Speedway and three top 10 finishes, he sits atop the K&N Pro East season championship standings.
Cole Custer (17, Ladera Ranch, California) – He holds the records for youngest pole award and race winner in both the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and NASCAR’s touring series, and led late in the Truck race at Martinsville Speedway earlier in the 2015 season.
Ruben Garcia Jr. (19, Mexico City, Mexico) – The runner up in last season’s NASCAR Mexico Series season championship, he had one win and 10 top-10 finishes there while also competing in three NASCAR XFINITY Series races.
Austin Hill (21, Winston, Georgia) – Had three consecutive K&N East wins, in the final two races in 2014 and the 2015 season opener at New Smyrna Speedway where he captured his first pole award and led every lap.
Jesse Little (18, Sherrill’s Ford, North Carolina) – Had a win at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, four top-five and 10 top-10 finishes in 2014 to finish fourth in the season standings. Little won the pole position at Bristol Motor Speedway in his 2015 K&N East debut.
Dylan Lupton (21, Wilton, California) – Was the 2014 K&N West championship runner up with a win at Kern County Speedway and registered 14 top-10 finishes; made his NASCAR XFINITY Series debut at Phoenix International Raceway in March 2015.
John Hunter Nemechek (17, Mooresville, North Carolina) – Earned six top-10 finishes in 10 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series starts in 2014, and won the prestigious Snowball Derby Late Model race at Five Flags Speedway in December 2014.
Dalton Sargeant (17, Boca Raton, Florida) – Has a win at Kern County Raceway Park in the West this season, and four top-five finishes in five combined East and West races.
Watch many of these drivers, and more, in the next NASCAR K&N Pro Series race on May 16th at Iowa Speedway for the Casey’s General Store 150. This will be the first of two K&N East vs. West combination races of the 2015 season.