NASCAR reveals 2014 Drive for Diversity class

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So, NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup changes were undoubtedly the sanctioning body’s biggest story of Thursday.

It wasn’t the only story, though.

NASCAR announced its 2014 Drive for Diversity (D4D) class as well. The program, which helps aid young up-and-coming multicultural and female drivers in their NASCAR careers, had a banner year in 2013 with D4D graduates Kyle Larson and Darrell Wallace Jr.  NASCAR was also awarded a Diversity and Inclusion award this winter.

Anyway, the class, via a NASCAR release:

  • Daniel Suárez: The Monterrey, Mexico, native is a member of the NASCAR Next program and joins Rev Racing for the second season. The 22-year-old finished third in the 2013 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East championship standings and was the championship runner-up in the NASCAR Mexico Toyota Series in 2013. He recorded his first NASCAR K&N Pro Series East win last July at Columbus (Ohio) Motor Speedway.
  • Ryan Gifford: Another member of the NASCAR Next program, the 24-year-old from Winchester, Tenn., garnered his first NASCAR K&N Pro Series East win last season at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway. In 2010 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, he became the first African-American driver to win a NASCAR K&N Pro Series East pole position. Additionally, he made his NASCAR Nationwide Series debut last August at Iowa Speedway, finishing ninth driving for Richard Childress Racing.
  • Jay Beasley: This 21-year-old from Las Vegas won the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Super Late Model track championship at The Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and the series’ Nevada championship on the strength of eight victories in 14 starts. He also earned the 2013 Wendell Scott Trailblazer Award as a result of his early success on the track.
  • Sergio Peña: With three career NASCAR K&N Pro Series East wins to his credit, the 21-year-old from Winchester, Va., has a pair of top-10 finishes in points for 2011-12 while collecting 19 top 10s in 39 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East career starts.

Drivers competing in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series include:

  • Paige Decker: From Eagle River, Wis., the 20-year-old driver competed in her Super Late Model at tracks throughout the Midwest.
  • Devon Amos: Competing mostly in a Legends car in 2013, the 22-year-old from Rio Rancho, N.M., scored a seventh-place finish in his stock car debut last summer at Hickory (N.C.) Motor Speedway.

Note the names now, if and when they emerge on a greater scale later on.

New Chip Ganassi driver Marcus Armstrong will team with boyhood idol Scott Dixon

Marcus Armstrong Scott Dixon
Joe Portlock - Formula 1/Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images
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Marcus Armstrong was a Scott Dixon fan his entire life, and when he was 8, the aspiring young racer asked his fellow New Zealander to autograph a helmet visor that he hung on his bedroom wall.

Next year, Armstrong will be Dixon’s teammate.

Armstrong was named Friday as the fourth IndyCar driver in the Chip Ganassi Racing lineup and will pilot the No. 11 next season on road and street courses.

A driver for the five oval races on the 17-race schedule will be named later.

The No. 11 is essentially the No. 48 that seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson drove the last two seasons, with Chip Ganassi making the change to run four cars numbered in sequential order. Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson drives the No. 8, six-time champion Dixon drives the No. 9, and 2020 IndyCar champion Alex Palou drives the No. 10.

So just who is the second Kiwi in the Ganassi lineup?

A 22-year-old who spent the past three seasons in Formula One feeder series F2, a Ferrari development driver in 2021, and former roommate of Callum Illot and former teammate of Christian Lundgaard – both of whom just completed their rookie IndyCar seasons.

“I’ve always been attracted to the IndyCar championship because it’s one of those championships that’s been really well televised in New Zealand since I was young, mainly because of Scott and his success,” Armstrong told The Associated Press. “As time progressed, as I got closer to F1 and single-seaters, the attraction to IndyCar grew just because of how competitive the championship is – I like to challenge myself and the level of competition in IndyCar is remarkably high.”

Armstrong, from Christchurch, New Zealand, was set to travel from his current home in London to Indianapolis this weekend to meet his new team. He won’t need an introduction to Dixon, the 42-year-old considered the best IndyCar driver of his generation and Armstrong’s unequivocal childhood hero.

Last season, Dixon earned his 53rd career victory to pass Mario Andretti for second on the all-time list. Dixon has driven for Ganassi in all but 23 of his 345 career starts.

“For a long time I’ve been a Scott Dixon fan. I don’t want to make him cringe with our age difference,” Armstrong told the AP.

Despite the two-decade age difference, Armstrong never considered someday racing with Dixon a fantasy.

He convinced his father after winning five national karting championships to allow him to leave New Zealand for Italy at age 14, where he moved by himself to pursue a racing career. Armstrong said as soon as he’d received parental permission, he’d never look back.

Armstrong was in Formula 4 two years after his move to Italy and won that title in his first season. He won four races and four poles in F3 in the 2018 and 2019 seasons, then collected four wins and eight podiums in three seasons of F2.

“Maybe it’s a strength, or maybe it’s a weakness, but I always thought I was capable of doing great in the sport,” Armstrong told the AP. “I think you probably have to succeed in the sport, you need to believe in yourself. I always pictured myself being in IndyCar.

“As Scott’s teammate? I can’t specifically say I saw that. It’s an extraordinary chain of events.”

Armstrong becomes just the latest driver to leave Europe, where F1 is the pinnacle but has only 20 seats each year. Alexander Rossi began the trend in 2016 when the American left F1 and won the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie. He’s been followed by Ericsson, last season’s Indy 500 winner, Romain Grosjean, Illot, Lundgaard, and on Thursday three-time W Series champion and Williams F1 reserve driver Jamie Chadwick was announced as driver for Andretti Autosport in IndyCar’s second-tier development series.

Armstrong said he could have remained in F2 for a fourth season, but he’d been watching IndyCar for so long, and after conversations with Illot and Lundgaard, he decided to make the move to what he believes is the most balanced racing series in the world. He tested for Dale Coyne Racing at Sebring in October.

He doesn’t know if European racing is done for good, just that he wants to be in IndyCar right now.

“I don’t want to think too far into the future, I’m just grateful for this opportunity that is standing right in front of me,” Armstrong said. “I want to perform as well as I can in the near future and just consolidate myself in the fantastic chance that is IndyCar and just do my best.

“I’m not looking at F1 as a landing spot – I am looking at IndyCar, and that’s exactly why I am here.”