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.

Justin Grant prevails over Kyle Larson in the Turkey Night Grand Prix

Grant Larson Turkey Night / DB3 Inc.

On the heels of his Hangtown 100 victory, Justin Grant worked his way from 13th in the Turkey Night Grand Prix to beat three-time event winner Kyle Larson by 1.367 seconds. The 81st annual event was run at Ventura (Calif.) Raceway for the sixth time.

“My dad used to take me to Irwindale Speedway, and we’d watch Turkey Night there every year,” Grant said in a series press release. “This is one of the races I fell in love with. I didn’t think I’d ever get a chance to run in it, never thought I’d make a show and certainly never thought I’d be able to win one.”

With its genesis in 1934 at Gilmore Stadium, a quarter-mile dirt track in Los Angeles, the race is steeped in history with winners that include AJ Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Gary Bettenhausen and Johnnie Parsons. Tony Stewart won it in 2000. Kyle Larson won his first of three Turkey Night Grands Prix in 2012. Christopher Bell earned his first of three in 2014, so Grant’s enthusiasm was well deserved.

So was the skepticism that he would win. He failed to crack the top five in three previous attempts, although he came close last year with a sixth-place result. When he lined up for the feature 13th in the crowded 28-car field, winning seemed like a longshot.

Grant watched as serious challengers fell by the wayside. Mitchel Moles flipped on Lap 10 of the feature. Michael “Buddy” Kofoid took a tumble on Lap 68 and World of Outlaws Sprint car driver Carson Macedo flipped on Lap 79. Grant saw the carnage ahead of him and held a steady wheel as he passed Tanner Thorson for the lead with 15 laps remaining and stayed out of trouble for the remainder of the event.

“It’s a dream come true to win the Turkey Night Grand Prix,” Grant said.

Kyle Larson follows Justin Grant to the front on Turkey Night

The 2012, 2016 and 2019 winner, Larson was not scheduled to run the event. His wife Katelyn is expecting their third child shortly, but after a couple of glasses of wine with Thanksgiving dinner and while watching some replays of the event, Larson texted car owner Chad Boat to see if he had a spare car lying around. He did.

“We weren’t great but just hung around and it seemed like anybody who got to the lead crashed and collected some people,” Larson said. “We made some passes throughout; in the mid-portion, we weren’t very good but then we got better at the end.

“I just ran really, really hard there, and knew I was running out of time, so I had to go. I made some pretty crazy and dumb moves, but I got to second and was hoping we could get a caution to get racing with Justin there. He was sliding himself at both ends and thought that maybe we could get a run and just out-angle him into [Turn] 1 and get clear off [Turn] 2 if we got a caution, but it just didn’t work out.”

Larson padded one of the most impressive stats in the history of this race, however. In 10 starts, he’s won three times, finished second four times, was third once and fourth twice.

Bryant Wiedeman took the final spot on the podium.

As Grant and Larson began to pick their way through the field, Kofoid took the lead early from the outside of the front row and led the first 44 laps of the race before handing it over to Cannon McIntosh, who bicycled on Lap 71 before landing on all fours. While Macedo and Thorson tussled for the lead with McIntosh, Grant closed in.

Thorson finished 19th with McIntosh 20th. Macedo recovered from his incident to finish ninth. Kofoid’s hard tumble relegated him to 23rd.

Jake Andreotti in fourth and Kevin Thomas, Jr. rounded out the top five.

1. Justin Grant (started 13)
2. Kyle Larson (22)
3. Bryant Wiedeman (4)
4. Jake Andreotti (9)
5. Kevin Thomas Jr. (1)
6. Logan Seavey (8)
7. Alex Bright (27)
8. Emerson Axsom (24)
9. Carson Macedo (7)
10. Jason McDougal (18)
11. Jake Swanson (16)
12. Chase Johnson (6)
13. Jacob Denney (26)
14. Ryan Timms (23)
15. Chance Crum (28)
16. Brenham Crouch (17)
17. Jonathan Beason (19)
18. Cade Lewis (14)
19. Tanner Thorson (11)
20. Cannon McIntosh (3)
21. Thomas Meseraull (15)
22. Tyler Courtney (21)
23. Buddy Kofoid (2)
24. Brody Fuson (5)
25. Mitchel Moles (20)
26. Daniel Whitley (10)
27. Kaylee Bryson (12)
28. Spencer Bayston (25)