NASCAR unveils ‘Next’ roster for 2013

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Pinpointing talented young guns that could eventually turn into Sprint Cup superstars, NASCAR revealed its 2013-14 “NASCAR Next” driver roster today at Iowa Speedway.

Three countries, 10 U.S. states, one NASCAR touring series title, and 32 overall touring series wins are represented amongst the 13 competitors. In order to be considered for “NASCAR Next” status, drivers must be between the ages of 15 and 25 years old, be actively competing in a NASCAR touring or weekly series, have plans to eventually move up to the category’s premier series, and, of course, have the skills to do so.

“This program has made great strides in a short time,” said NASCAR vice president of industry services Jill Gregory in a statement. “The evolution of NASCAR Next builds on that success with the influx of young, talented drivers continuing throughout all of NASCAR’s racing series. This program provides a platform to help foster their growth within our sport, and introduce these young and talented drivers to NASCAR fans who will likely be hearing more about them in years to come.”

So, who’s got “Next” in NASCAR? Here they are:

Jeb Burton (pictured), 20, Halifax, Va. – Three poles, four Top-10 finishes so far in rookie CWTS campaign. Son of 2002 Daytona 500 champ Ward Burton and nephew of Sprint Cup stalwart Jeff Burton.

Chase Elliott, 17, Dawsonville, Ga. – Two Top-5 results in three CWTS starts this year. Son of former Cup champ Bill Elliott.

Gray Gaulding, 15, Colonial Heights, Va. – Currently in the K&N Pro Series East, where he’s set records for youngest pole winner and race leader this past April at Richmond.

Ryan Gifford, 24, Winchester, Tenn. – First African-American driver to win K&N Pro Series East pole (Martinsville, 2010). Product of NASCAR’s ‘Drive for Diversity’ project.

Cameron Hayley, 16, Calgary, Alberta, Canada – Races in K&N Pro Series West. Won the inaugural UNOH Battle At The Beach at Daytona this past February.

Ben Kennedy, 21, Daytona Beach, Fla. – Has won twice already in K&N Pro Series East. Slated to make CWTS debut at Bristol in August.

Dylan Kwasniewski, 18, Las Vegas, Nev. – Currently in K&N Pro Series East. Won the K&N Pro Series West championship last season and its Rookie of the Year title in 2011.

Brett Moffitt, 20, Grimes, Iowa – Has collected 31 Top-5 results in 52 career K&N Pro Series East starts. Serves as a test driver for Michael Waltrip Racing.

Ryan Preece, 22, Berlin, Conn. – Races in the Whelen Modified Tour, where he’s notched five wins and 12 poles in his career.

Ben Rhodes, 16, Louisville, Ky. – Has collected podium results this year in the Whelen All-American Series on two big stages: The UNOH Battle of the Beach at Daytona and the Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown at Richmond.

Kenzie Ruston, 21, El Reno, Okla. – Three Top-5 results in five career K&N Pro Series East starts as a rookie. Has highest finish by female driver in series history (Greenville-Pickens, third, April 2013).

Michael Self, 22, Park City, Utah – Four wins in 13 starts in the K&N Pro Series West. Flipped to late model stock cars when he was 18 years old after a two-year run in open-wheel machines.

Daniel Suarez, 21, Monterrey, Mexico – Full-time competitor in K&N Pro Series East and also currently in Top 5 of standings in the NASCAR Mexico Toyota Series.

Hunter Lawrence defends Haiden Deegan after controversial block pass at Detroit


Media and fan attention focused on a controversial run-in between Haiden Deegan and his Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing teammate Jordon Smith during Round 10 of the Monster Energy Supercross race at Detroit, after which the 250 East points’ Hunter Lawrence defends the young rider in the postrace news conference.

Deegan took the early lead in Heat 1 of the round, but the mood swiftly changed when he became embroiled in a spirited battle with teammate Smith.

On Lap 3, Smith caught Deegan with a fast pass through the whoops. Smith briefly held the lead heading into a bowl turn but Deegan had the inside line and threw a block pass. In the next few turns, the action heated up until Smith eventually ran into the back of Deegan’s Yamaha and crashed.

One of the highlights of the battle seemed to include a moment when Deegan waited on Smith in order to throw a second block pass, adding fuel to the controversy.

After his initial crash, Smith fell to seventh on the next lap. He would crash twice more during the event, ultimately finishing four laps off the pace in 20th.

The topic was inevitably part of the postrace news conference.

“It was good racing; it was fun,” Deegan said at about the 27-minute mark in the video above. “I just had some fun doing it.”

Smith had more trouble in the Last Chance Qualifier. He stalled his bike in heavy traffic, worked his way into a battle for fourth with the checkers in sight, but crashed a few yards shy of the finish line and was credited with seventh. Smith earned zero points and fell to sixth in the standings.

Lawrence defends Deegan
Jordon Smith failed to make the Detroit Supercross Main and fell to sixth in the points. – Feld Motor Sports

“I think he’s like fifth in points,” Deegan said. “He’s a little out of it. Beside that it was good, I don’t know. I wasn’t really paying attention.”

Deegan jokingly deflected an earlier question with the response that he wasn’t paying attention during the incident.

“He’s my teammate, but he’s a veteran, he’s been in this sport for a while,” Deegan said. “I was up there just battling. I want to win as much as everybody else. It doesn’t matter if it’s a heat race or a main; I just want to win. I was just trying to push that.”

As Deegan and Smith battled, Jeremy Martin took the lead. Deegan finished second in the heat and backed up his performance with a solid third-place showing in the main, which was his second podium finish in a short six-race career. Deegan’s first podium was earned at Daytona, just two rounds ago.

But as Deegan struggled to find something meaningful to say, unsurprisingly for a 17-year-old rider who was not scheduled to run the full 250 schedule this year, it was the championship leader Lawrence who came to his defense.

Lawrence defends Deegan
A block pass by Haiden Deegan led to a series of events that eventually led to Jordon Smith failing to make the Main. – Feld Motor Sports

“I just want to point something out, which kind of amazes me,” Lawrence said during the conference. “So many of the people on social media, where everyone puts their expertise in, are saying the racing back in the ’80s, the early 90s, when me were men. They’re always talking about how gnarly it was and then anytime a block pass or something happens now, everyone cries about it.

“That’s just a little bit interesting. Pick one. You want the gnarly block passes from 10 years ago and then you get it, everyone makes a big song and dance about it.”

Pressed further, Lawrence defended not only the pass but the decision-making process that gets employed lap after lap in a Supercross race.

“It’s easy to point the finger,” Lawrence said. “We’re out there making decisions in a split millisecond. People have all month to pay their phone bill and they still can’t do that on time.

“We’re making decisions at such a fast reaction [time with] adrenaline. … I’m not just saying it for me or Haiden. I speak for all the guys. No one is perfect and we’re under a microscope out there. The media is really quick to point a finger when someone makes a mistake.”

The media is required to hold athletes accountable for their actions. They are also required to tell the complete story.