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New class of “NASCAR Next” talent unveiled

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12 young drivers from across the United States and Mexico were revealed as the 2014-2015 NASCAR Next class this afternoon at Richmond International Raceway.

Together, the dozen competitors have combined for 20 NASCAR-sanctioned victories. Five of the competitors were also part of last year’s NASCAR Next class, which featured current Nationwide Series phenomenon Chase Elliott.

The drivers are all between the ages of 15-25 years old and were chosen through an evaluation process that included input from industry executives and veteran racers.

All drivers must also be competing in an NASCAR touring or weekly series and have the desire and skills to one day drive in the top-tier NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

“Over the last five years, our sport has undergone a tremendous shift, as we’ve seen an abundance of talented, young drivers begin to achieve their potential at the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and NASCAR Nationwide Series level,” said NASCAR VP of industry services Jill Gregory in a statement.

“The NASCAR Next program is an instrumental platform to help draw attention to these young drivers – from media and fans to stakeholders and sponsors – and foster their growth within the sport.”

Your returning NASCAR Next competitors are:

• Gray Gaulding (16, Colonial Heights, Va., @graygaulding) – Youngest pole winner in both NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and West. Recorded first series win at Phoenix last fall.

• Ryan Gifford (25, Winchester, Tenn., @ryangifford2) – NASCAR Drive For Diversity driver. Won last year in NASCAR K&N Pro Series East at Richmond. Top-10 finish in NASCAR Nationwide Series debut last August in Iowa.

• Ryan Preece (23, Berlin, Conn., @RyanPreece16) – Became youngest champion in NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour history last season while running 43-race schedule in NASCAR Whelen All-American Series (finished fourth in national standings). Also made NASCAR Nationwide Series debut.

• Ben Rhodes (17, Louisville, Ky., @benrhodes) – Current points leader in NASCAR K&N Pro Series East with three poles in four races, and a win at Greenville (S.C.) Pickens Speedway. Top-10 finish in NASCAR Camping World Truck series debut at Martinsville.

• Kenzie Ruston (22, El Reno, Okla., @KenzieRuston) – Finished sixth in last season’s K&N Pro Series East standings and has Top-10 finishes this season at New Smyrna and Daytona. Has the highest finish – both in a race and in the standings – for a female driver in K&N Pro Series East history.

 And here are those involved with “NASCAR Next” for the first time:

• Rubén García Jr. (18, Naucalpan, Mexico, @rubengarcia4) – 2012 NASCAR Mexico Toyota Series Rookie of the Year. Finished fourth in the standings last season. Earlier this season, he made his NASCAR Nationwide Series debut.

Cole Custer (16 years old, Ladera Ranch, Calif., @colecuster00) – Two-time winner in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East last year. Opened K&N Pro Series West season this year with win from the pole in Phoenix.

• Austin Hill (20, Winston, Ga., @hillbroracing) – Won last year’s K&N East race at Dover. Has two Top-5 finishes in this season’s four races.

• Erik Jones (Pictured; 17, Byron, Mich., @erik_jones) –  Became youngest winner in NASCAR Camping World Truck Series history last November at Phoenix.

• Jesse Little (17, Sherrills Ford, N.C., @jesselittle97) – Last season’s rookie of the year in NASCAR K&N Pro Series East. Made his first series start just 11 days after turning 15 in 2012.

• Dylan Lupton (20, Wilton, Calif., @LuptonDylan) – Last season’s rookie of the year in NASCAR K&N Pro Series West. Picked up first series win at Evergreen Speedway in August.

• Brandon McReynolds (23, Mooresville, N.C., @Bmcreynolds28) – Currently second in NASCAR K&N Pro Series West standings. Has starts in four different NASCAR series.

Lorenzo looking to Honda, Ducati for help in MotoGP title race

ALCANIZ, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 27:  Jorge Lorenzo of Spain and Movistar Yamaha MotoGP celebrates the victory on the podium at the end of the MotoGP race during the MotoGP of Spain - Race at Motorland Aragon Circuit on September 27, 2015 in Alcaniz, Spain.  (Photo by Mirco Lazzari gp/Getty Images)
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Jorge Lorenzo hopes that he can get some help from the Honda and Ducati riders in his championship battle with Yamaha teammate Valentino Rossi in the final four races of the 2015 MotoGP season.

Lorenzo currently trails Rossi by 14 points at the top of the riders’ championship, and with just four races to go, barring an unlikely run of results, the title will go to a Yamaha rider for the first time since 2012.

The formbook offers little in the way of clues for the Lorenzo/Rossi battle, for although Lorenzo has won more races, Rossi has been more consistent, finishing off the podium just once this season.

Lorenzo had hoped to reel Rossi in last time out at Motorland Aragon, but the Italian rider managed to finish third, minimizing the damage of his teammate’s victory.

Nevertheless, Lorenzo was pleased to bounce back after two disappointing races at Silverstone and Misano, having lost ground on Rossi in the title race.

“I am very happy with this victory because it came after two races that were a bit disappointing and I expected to take more points, but due to a few factors and especially the weather, I failed to achieve the desired result,” Lorenzo said. “The victory in Motorland [Aragon] was crucial.”

Rossi was beaten to second place by Honda’s Dani Pedrosa after a titanic battle in the closing stages of the last race, and Lorenzo hopes that the Spaniard, among others, could aid his cause inadvertently again in the remaining four races.

“[Pedrosa] was very strong and it was useful to recover the points lost earlier and it has given me more chances to recover with four races left until the end,” Lorenzo said.

“But [Marc] Marquez or maybe the two Ducati riders could also stand in front of Valentino and take away some points. It is a real possibility, but very dangerous for us both.”

The next round of the MotoGP season takes place at Motegi, Japan next weekend.

Steiner: Haas F1 Team could not afford rookie mistakes

KANNAPOLIS, NC - SEPTEMBER 29:  (L-R) Gunther Steiner, team principal of Haas F1 Team, Romain Grosjean of France, and Gene Haas, owner of Haas F1 Team, pose for a photo opportunity after Haas F1 Team announced Grosjean as their driver for the upcoming 2016 Formula 1 season on September 29, 2015 in Kannapolis, North Carolina.  (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Stewart-Haas Racing via Getty Images)
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Günther Steiner has said that Haas Formula 1 Team could not afford to have its drivers making rookie mistakes during its debut season in the sport, reasoning the decision to only sign experienced racers for 2016.

On Tuesday, Haas unveiled Lotus driver Romain Grosjean as its first signing for next season, luring the Frenchman away from Enstone after ten years of association.

The second seat is set to go to either Esteban Gutierrez or Jean-Eric Vergne, who both work as development drivers for Ferrari and both have at least two seasons of racing under their belt.

As team principal, Steiner (pictured left) will work under team owner Gene Haas, and said that both had agreed that a rookie driver for season one would be unwise.

“We looked around a lot to find the right guy because we wanted somebody with experience but still hungry to do something, to go with us this long way,” Steiner explained.

“I started talks with the management of Romain in Barcelona to see if he’s interested and, you know, we spoke to quite a few drivers, and in the end I spoke also with technical people, what they think about Romain, how he develops a car.

“We have got a steep mountain to climb here, new team, all new team members, so we needed somebody who knows what he’s doing. I think in the end we found the right guy because he has so much ‘want to drive’ now, and he’s still aggressive or still wants it.

“He’s not [so] young anymore that he’s inexperienced. We lose time by having accidents or doing rookie mistakes. I think we just picked the best one out there for what we are doing, and we focused on him and got him, and we are very happy and we are looking forward to working with him.”