Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

NASCAR Next Class for 2017-18 chosen

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Nine drivers have been selected to the 2017-18 NASCAR Next Class.

The latest class includes three series champions and the 2016 NASCAR Whelen All-America Series Rookie of the Year.

Alumni of the program, which is in its seventh year, include Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson and Daniel Suarez.

The selection process includes input from industry executives, NASCAR Cup Drivers Council and media members. Drivers must be between the ages of 15-25 and show potential on and off the track to reach the Cup Series.

Of the nine selected, Harrison Burton, Ty Majeski and Todd Gilliland were also members of the 2016-17 class.

The 2017-18 class includes:

Harrison Burton (Photo: Jared Tilton/Getty)

Harrison Burton – In his second year competing in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, the 16-year-old from Huntersville, North Carolina, has earned wins at Bristol Motor Speedway and Virginia’s South Boston Speedway. The son of former NASCAR Cup Series driver and current NBC Sports analyst Jeff Burton also took home the pole award at Bristol for the second consecutive year.

Hailie Deegan – The 15-year-old Temecula, California, native has made a name for herself in the Lucas Oil Off Road Series. Last year the daughter of FMX legend Brian Deegan became the first female to reach the podium in the series’ history, was the 2016 Modified Kart champion in the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series and was named the Lucas Oil Off Road Driver of the Year.

Todd Gilliland – The son of former NASCAR Cup Series driver David Gilliland has made quite a name for himself in the sport’s history books. The 16-year-old from Sherrills Ford, North Carolina, has 12 wins in 30 K&N Pro Series starts and became the youngest champion in NASCAR national or touring series history last year when he took home the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West championship.

Chase Cabre (Photo: Bob Leverone/Getty Images)

Chase Cabre – In his rookie season competing for Rev Racing and the NASCAR Drive for Diversity program in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, the 20-year-old Tampa, Florida, native captured his first two pole awards in the twin features at South Boston Speedway and also earned his best career finish (fourth) at the Virginia short track.

Riley HerbstThe 18-year-old Las Vegas, Nevada, driver is coming off a successful rookie season in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West. In 14 starts last year, he compiled seven top-five and 10 top-10 finishes.

Cayden LapcevichOnly the third Canadian-born driver to be chosen for the program, the 17-year-old from Grimsby, Ontario, won three times in 2016 en route to becoming the youngest NASCAR Pinty’s Series champion, and briefly held the title as the youngest NASCAR champion before being dethroned by Gilliland. Lapcevich is the first driver in Pinty’s Series history to earn both the Josten Rookie of the Year honor and the series title in the same year. 

Ty Majeski – A Roush Fenway development driver and one of the country’s top Super Late Model drivers, the 22-year-old Seymour, Wisconsin native kicked off his 2016 winning the Super Late Model championship at the World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing at Florida’s New Smyrna Speedway. He continued his NASCAR Whelen All-American Series season with a third-place finish in the national standings on the strength of 14 wins and 21 top-fives in 26 starts. He will make his Xfinity Series debut June 24 at Iowa Speedway.

Chase Purdy (Photo: Grant Halverson/Getty)

Chase Purdy – The 2016 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Rookie of the Year made a splash last year when he took home both the rookie of the year and track championship at South Carolina’s Greenville Pickens Speedway in NASCAR’s weekly series. The 17-year-old from Meridian, Mississippi, is chasing another rookie title this year, competing in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East.

Zane SmithSmith, 17, from Huntington Beach, California, broke onto the national scene in 2015 when he won the Super Late Model championship at New Smyrna’s World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing. He capped the season with a runner-up finish to Cup Series driver Chase Elliott in the Snowball Derby. 

NASCAR America: Matt DiBenedetto on Indy success with small team

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Matt DiBenedetto has just three top-10 finishes in his three years of competing in the NASCAR Cup Series. But two of them have come this year in two of the biggest races in the sport.

DiBenedetto, who drives the No. 32 Ford for Go Fas Racing, finished ninth in the Daytona 500 in February and eighth in Sunday’s Brickyard 400.

DiBenedetto, who was also celebrating his 26th birthday, joined NASCAR America to discuss his run at Indy and what is considered a successful race for his team, which has 15 crew members.

“You’ve got to keep it in the perception of your versions of wins are a little bit different than everybody else’s version,” DiBenedetto said. “We look at it as who we’re racing around. I would say on a regular week where there’s not a ton of chaos like Indy was, a top 20 is a really good day. A top 25 is if we just do our job.”

Watch the video for the full segment.

Chase Elliott, AJ Allmendinger unveil Darlington throwback schemes

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Both Chase Elliott and AJ Allmendinger have revealed the paint schemes they’ll drive in the Sept. 3 Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.

Elliott will use his No. 24 Chevrolet to pay tribute to the car his father, NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott, drove in his first Cup start.

The light blue look was on his No. 9 car when he started in the Feb. 29, 1976 race at Rockingham Speedway.

The car was revealed on Facebook in the below video.

AJ Allmendinger will pay tribute to two-time Cup champion Terry Labonte with his No. 47 Chevrolet.

The car will resemble the No. 44 Piedmont Airlines Oldsmobile that Labonte drove in during the 198 Cup season when he competed for owner Billy Hagan.

NASCAR America: Felix Sabates: ‘I’m lucky to be here’ after near-death experience from illness last year

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For nearly a month last year Felix Sabates was at death’s door.

The fears were so great that Sabates might not wake up from a coma he spent 29 days in, Chip Ganassi bought a blue suit for the possibility he might have to attend his co-owner’s funeral.

But the 71-year-old made a full recovery through a rehab process that included learning to walk again.

NASCAR America’s Kyle Petty and Sabates have a special relationship. Petty drove the No. 42 car for Sabates’ SABCO Racing for eight years in the 1980s and 1990s, winning six of his eight Cup races for the millionaire owner from Cuba.

Sabates sat down with Petty to discuss the ordeal, which began in January 2016 when Sabates began feeling ill during the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

“I came home and woke up the next morning and I (couldn’t) breath,” said Sabates, who drove himself to the hospital. “The minute they saw me I was in intensive care.”

Sabates was in the hospital for two and half weeks before he was released, but Sabates “should’ve know I wasn’t cured.”

The Chip Ganassi Racing co-owner returned to his usual grind until it caught up to him in August.

“My blood pressure was through the roof, my oxygen level was 55, which you should be dead then,” recalled Sabates, who has no memory of a three-month stretch. “They thought was I was brain-dead. They were pretty much going to disconnect me. So 4 o’clock in the morning, they took my tubes out.”

That’s when Sabates began the process of waking up.

“I’m lucky to be here,” said Sabates, who aside from being back at the track is also back to playing golf.

“I used to worry about little things,’ Sabates said. “Now I don’t even worry about big things.”

The full feature will air Sunday on Countdown to Green, which begins at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN before the Cup race at Pocono.

NASCAR America: Ryan Blaney glad Team Penske news is finally out in the open

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On Wednesday it was finally announced that Ryan Blaney would move from Wood Brothers Racing to Team Penske full-time next year in the Cup Series in the No. 12 Ford while Paul Menard will take over the No. 21 Ford.

NASCAR America’s Dave Burns caught up with Blaney on Thursday. Blaney was happy that his 2018 plans were finally public knowledge.

Blaney also acknowledged how a technical alliance between the two teams helped Wood Brothers Racing return to a competition level that allowed Blaney to get his first Cup win this season earlier this year.

“That was a big deal,” Blaney said. “That was getting us to where we could run a full-time season. That was really helpful not only to me but to (crew chief) Jeremy Bullins, will be coming with me to the 12 car.”

Blaney has been driving for Team Penske part-time in the Xfinity Series since 2012.

“It’s been nice to get the news and tell everybody finally about what we’re doing,” Blaney said. “But mainly we’re trying to finish this year out strong with the Wood Brothers, getting their 100th win, that’s really big. That’s on my bucket list for this year and getting as far as we can in the playoffs.”

The No. 21 team returns to Pocono Raceway this weekend, the site of Blaney’s first Cup win last month.

Watch the video for the full interview.