The 2018 NASCAR Next class was announced on Tuesday afternoon, featuring nine drivers in the developmental ranks of NASCAR who are looking to take the next step in their racing careers.
Anthony Alfredo, Hailee Deegan, Riley Herbst, Derek Kraus, Chase Purdy, Will Rodgers, Zane Smith, Tanner Thorson and Ryan Vargas make up the nine-driver class.
Since the NASCAR Next program was introduced in 2011, 38 of the 51 drivers to come through it have participated in a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series event
Deegan, Herbst, Purdy and Smith were also a part of last year’s class. The last four Rookie of the Year award winners in the MENCS are NASCAR Next graduates.
Who exactly are these nine drivers, though? Time to get educated.
Anthony Alfredo, 18 years old from Ridgefield, Connecticut
Currently competing full-time in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East for MDM Motorsports while a full-time college student at UNC-Charlotte, Alfredo won his first ever K&N Pro East event this past weekend at South Boston Speedway. He’s also competed for JR Motorsports in super late models and has the best nickname in the class: “Fast Pasta.”
Hailee Deegan, 16 years old from Temecula, California
Possibly the biggest name in the class, Deegan is the daughter of freestyle motocross legend Brian Deegan, the youngest member of the 2018 class and currently competes full-time in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West for Bill McAnally Racing. She’s yet to finish outside the top 10, and will look to continue her solid start this weekend at Orange Show Speedway in San Bernadino, California.
Riley Herbst, 19 years old from Las Vegas Nevada
Currently competing for Joe Gibbs Racing full-time in the ARCA Racing Series, Herbst has one win to his credit, coming at Pocono Raceway last season, when he also won Rookie of the Year. He also has amassed eight top five finishes in 16 career K&N Pro West starts.
Derek Kraus, 16 years old from Stratford, Wisconsin
The reigning K&N Pro West Rookie of the Year, Kraus has two career K&N West victories, both coming at Kern County Raceway Park in the 2017 season finale and to open up the 2018 season. He was able to beat 2014 Cup champion Kevin Harvick to claim the season opening checkered flag. Kraus also has competed in three Snowball Derby’s.
Chase Purdy, 18 years old from Meridian, Mississippi
A former Whelen All-American Series Rookie of the Year and fourth place finisher in the 2017 K&N Pro East standings, Purdy now competes full-time in the ARCA Racing Series for MDM Motorsports and returns for his second straight year in the class. He amassed five top fives and four poles last season.
Will Rodgers, 23 years old from Solvang, California (via Maui, Hawaii)
Tabbed as a road course ace, Rodgers, the oldest member of the class, won the two K&N Pro East races he entered last season (Watkins Glen and New Jersey) and finished second to Harvick in the K&N Pro West event at Sonoma Raceway (all for Jefferson Pitts Racing). Rodgers and Harvick developed a friendship, and Rodgers considers the fellow Californian his mentor in racing. Rodgers currently competes part-time in the ARCA Racing Series for Ken Schrader Racing.
Zane Smith, 18 years old from Huntington Beach, California
Smith has already earned two victories in ARCA this season (Talladega and Nashville) and was the 2015 Super Late Model champion at the World Series of Asphalt Racing at New Smyrna Speedway. This is Smith’s second consecutive year in the program.
Tanner Thorson, 22 years old from Minden, Nevada
Thorson is the only driver in the class to have a majority dirt racing background, as he is the 2016 USAC Midget champion. He also made his Camping World Truck Series debut this season at Dover International Speedway. He has one K&N Pro Series and two ARCA starts to his credit.
Ryan Vargas, 17 years old from La Miranda, California
Vargas is running for Rookie of the Year honors in the K&N Pro East Series, is the a two-time Wendell Scott Trailblazer Award winner and is a member of the 2018 Drive for Diversity class. He currently sits fourth in the points standings and has earned one top 10 finish.
“NASCAR Next highlights emerging talent who have shown the talent and intangibles it takes to achieve success at the highest levels or our sport,” Jill Gregory, NASCAR executive vice president & chief marketing officer, said in a press release. “Alumni of the program are currently making their marks across NASCAR’s three national series and we believe members of this year’s class have potential to do the same.”
Some of those alumni include current Cup rookies William Byron and Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr., Cup winners Kyle Larson and Ryan Blaney, as well as Chase Elliott, Erik Jones, Matt DiBenedetto and Daniel Suarez.
About the author
Davey is in his fifth season with Frontstretch and currently serves as a multimedia editor and reporter. He authors the "NASCAR Mailbox" column, spearheads the site's video content and hosts the Frontstretch Podcast weekly. He's covered the K&N Pro Series and ARCA extensively for NASCAR.com and currently serves as an associate producer for SiriusXM NASCAR Radio and production assistant for NBC Sports Washington. Follow him on Twitter @DaveyCenter.
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