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NASCAR Next Revisited: Recapping the 2015-16 class

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On Tuesday, NASCAR revealed the membership of the 2016-17 class for its annual NASCAR Next program, which highlights the rising young talent in stock car racing.

This meant an end to the reign of the previous class, which was announced last May with 12 members. That class included the eventual K&N Pro Series East champion, four winners in the K&N East and two in the K&N West.

The class also featured four drivers who are competing in the Camping World Truck Series and have won a total of four races in the last two seasons.

Before the door is completely shut on last year’s membership, here’s a look at how each driver fared in 2015 and what they’re up to 12 months after being introduced together at the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, North Carolina.

 

NASCAR K&N Pro Series East NAPA 150 Columbus
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Rico Abreu – The oldest driver from last year’s class, Abreu is one of four that currently competes in the Camping World Truck Series, driving for ThorSport Racing. While the 4-foot-4 driver hasn’t finished better than 10th (Martinsville) in seven starts, his year has already a notable moment. Abreu started 2016 by winning his second Chili Bowl Nationals in a row and giving us one of the more memorable victory celebrations in recent memory. Abreu, 24, also left his this mark on the K&N East series, winning a race at Columbus Motor Speedway. MORE: Q&A

 

Iowa Speedway - Day 1
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Nicole Behar – The only female driver in last year’s class, Behar earned two top-five finishes in the K&N West series just prior to the reveal of the class last May. A second-place result tied the mark for highest finish in the series by a female driver. Behar, who was featured in Sports Illustrated’s “Faces in the Crowd” last year, finished 2015 10th in the point standings while earning 10 top-10 finishes. The 18-year-old is splitting time this year between the CARS Tour Series for Super Late Models and the Pro All Star Series South (PASS) and will make her ARCA debut on June 19 at Madison International Speedway for Venturini Motorsports. MORE: Q&A

 

NEWTON, IOWA - MAY 16: Kyle Benjamin, driver of the #27 Eibach Ford stands in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR K&N Pro Series Casey's General Store 150 at Iowa Speedway on May 16, 2015 in Newton, Iowa. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

Kyle Benjamin – Until Todd Gilliland came along, Benjamin was the youngest driver to ever win an ARCA race. Three years later, Benjamin is in his second season in the K&N East, driving for Ranier Racing with MDM. He will also compete in select ARCA races for the team. Last season, the 18-year-old from Easley, South Carolina, won the K&N East race at Bristol Motor Speedway and finished ninth in the standings.

 

 

James Bickford – A relative of former Sprint Cup driver Jeff Gordon, Bickford spent the last two seasons in the K&N West series, where he earned two wins driving for Bob Bruncati. Both came at State Line Speedway in Post Falls, Idaho. Bickford currently doesn’t have a ride for 2016, but he keeps busy with his own vending machine company. MORE: Q&A

William Byron
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William Byron – You’ve probably seen his name pop up in recent weeks. Byron, 18, is almost two weeks removed from his first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series win at Kansas Speedway. The victory came in just his fifth series start. The rookie earned his first pole last weekend at Dover International Speedway. He signed with Kyle Busch Motorsports this season after winning the K&N East title in 2015, amassing four wins in the process. The scary thing is Byron has only been racing for just over three years. MORE: Q&A

 

Cole Custer
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Cole Custer – After two seasons of part-time racing in the Truck series, the 18-year-old Custer is finally racing full-time in the No. 00 for JR Motorsports. The California-native took home one win last season at Gateway Motorsports Park. Through five races in 2016, Custer has one top five (Dover) and two top-10 finishes (Dover, Kansas). Custer is scheduled to compete in five Xfinity Series races for JR Motorsports. MORE: Q&A

 

Ruben Garcia Jr. – The defending winner of the NASCAR Mexico Series, Garcia now competes in the K&N East series for Rev Racing. Garcia earned his first top-10 finish last month at Virginia International Raceway. The native of Mexico City won four races in four seasons in the Mexico Series, claiming three during his championship campaign. MORE: Q&A

RICHMOND, VA - SEPTEMBER 10: Austin Hill, driver of the #22 A&D Welding/Don Rich Ford Co. Ford, celebrates after winning the K&N Pro Series East UNOH 100 at Richmond International Raceway on September 10, 2015 in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)
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Austin Hill – While he’s not the oldest member of last year’s class, Hill definitely has the most responsibility. At 22, Hill is the only NASCAR Next driver from last year that can put “parent” on their resume after he and his wife welcomed their daughter, Lynnlee Ann Hill, last November. That was after a season in K& N East where Hill won two races, bringing his career total to five. In 2016, Hill has competed in two Truck series races, including making his debut at his home track of Atlanta Motor Speedway with a 12th-place finish. MORE: Q&A

Jesse Little – The son of former Sprint Cup driver Chad Little, Jesse Little only had a part-time ride in the K&N West series in 2015, running in six races and winning one at Iowa Speedway. The 19-year-old driver has two K&N wins in four seasons. He is pursuing a degree in finance at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. After competing in four Truck series races last year, Jesse Little will attempt to qualify for the May 20 race at Charlotte Motor Speedway for Rette Jones Racing. He will also compete in six to eight K&N East races for the team. MORE: Q&A

Dylan Lupton – Lupton spent his 2015 season splitting time between the Xfinity Series and other racing circuits, running in eight Xfinity race with a best finish of ninth at Mid-Ohio. He finished fourth in his lone K&N East race at Watkins Glen. In 2016, he’s competed in two Xfinity races while failing to qualify for a third. He earned a DNF in his one ARCA start at Daytona International Speedway after running out of gas four laps from the race’s conclusion. Lupton is set to graduate from UNC-Charlotte.

HAMPTON, GA - FEBRUARY 27: John H Nemechek, driver of the #8 farbe technik Chevrolet, and his father Joe Nemechek pose for photos in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Great Clips 200 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on February 27, 2016 in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo by Matt Hazlett/Getty Images)
(Photo by Matt Hazlett/Getty Images)

John Hunter Nemechek – The son of former Sprint Cup driver Joe Nemechek, the 18-year-old is in his first full-time season on the Truck circuit. Even without a full-time sponsor, John Hunter Nemechek and Nemco Motorsports are keeping the top-tier teams on notice. The No. 8 truck has won twice in the last two seasons and has 10 top-five finishes in John Hunter Nemechek’s last 23 starts. He is currently seventh in the Truck point standings and all but qualified for the season-ending Chase. MORE: Q&A

 

Dalton Sargeant – The 18-year-old from Boca Raton, Florida, dabbled in a little bit of everything in 2015. He competed in the Truck series (four races), K&N West (four races, one win), while also running in the Snowball Derby and the All-American 400. His only full-time ride was in the K&N East series, where he six top-five finishes and ended the year fourth in points. In 2016, he has competed in two ARCA races, two CARS Super Late Model Tour races and is competing in the Champion Racing Association. MORE: Q&A

Tyler Reddick, Star Trek and the baby name that could have been

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Tyler Reddick lets out a heavy sigh.

In that sigh, the two-time Xfinity Series champion weighs the pros and cons of one of the most important questions that’s plagued society.

As the great philosopher Weird Al Yankovic once put it, “Only question I ever thought was hard was ‘Do I like Kirk, or do I like Picard?'”

Reddick comes to his decision.

“It’s gotta be Picard,” Reddick declares to NBC Sports.

“He’s always smart, he’s one step ahead of the game most of the time. A lot of the captains, well, (William) Shatner set the brute force tone if you know what I mean. But Picard is different. He’s smart, he went about things differently and thought a different way. He’s a very, very good character. He’s my favorite for kind of those reasons.”

Why is Reddick – who is in the middle of a visit to Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida, as part of his championship tour –  putting forth his take on Star Trek’s James T. Kirk vs Jean-Luc Picard debate, which has been waged since Star Trek: The Next Generation first aired on TV in 1987?

It’s because of a baby name. Or the one that could have been.

When Reddick won Saturday’s Xfinity championship race in Miami, he also won a friendly bet with his girlfriend, Alexa De Leon.

With his championship, they would name their son, scheduled to be born Jan. 17, Beau.

But there was a different name, which Alexa found on the Internet and was sold on.

“Alexa really wanted our son’s name to be Ryker,” says Reddick, who at first “was all for it.”

William T. Riker, played by Jonathan Frakes. (Photo by George Rose/Getty Images)

Why?

You can thank Commander William T. Riker,  first officer on the U.S.S. Enterprise – D.

“Every time I hear the name, I think of that character,” says Reddick.

Reddick’s fondness for Star Trek is tied to his racing career. Before he made it to NASCAR, he raced on dirt tracks. His downtime was spent on Netflix.

“I’ve been able to pretty much watch everything,” Reddick says. “That’s how I got caught up and watched it. I would travel on the road dirt racing or whatever. I would sit on Netflix and watch all of the series, kind of in the order they’re supposed to come out. There was about a year straight … that’s all I watched when I was at the house.”

Even with his love of Trek – he has a Star Fleet insignia Pop Socket on the back of his phone – he couldn’t bring himself to pull the phaser trigger on naming his son after the jazz-loving Commander Riker.

“I don’t know, I’m worried people are going to pick on me for naming my son after a Star Trek character,” Reddick admits. “As crazy as it sounds, it was one of the reasons I didn’t like the name Ryker, because I watched Star Trek so much.”

Ryker Reddick is a strong name. It’s not too late to make the change.

“I can’t now, because I’m just so headstrong,” Reddick says. “I just like the name Beau better.”

That said, Reddick isn’t just a fan of old Star Trek. He watches the series Star Trek: Discovery that debuted in 2017.

Oh, and he’ll get his Picard fix early next year. Patrick Stewart returns in the CBS All Access series Picard to play the character he last portrayed in the 2002 movie Star Trek: Nemesis.

“(Alexa) made fun of me for being so excited about it,” Reddick says. “She said I was like, ‘fangirling.'”

NBC Sports Power Rankings: Kyle Busch ends the season No. 1

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The 2019 season is over and Kyle Busch is the NASCAR Cup champion. And not surprisingly, the younger Busch brother also ends the season as No. 1 in this week’s Power Rankings.

Busch received 39 of 40 possible points to take the No. 1 spot, followed by the other three Championship 4 contenders: Martin Truex Jr. (35 points), and Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick (tied for third place with 28 points each).

The biggest surprises in this week’s standings were Xfinity Series champ Tyler Reddick in fifth and Gander Outdoors Truck Series champ Matt Crafton in sixth.

Here’s this week’s Power Rankings:

1. Kyle Busch (39 points): Finally gets that second title. Last week: Second.

2. Martin Truex Jr. (35 points): Inexcusable pit mistake left him as the championship runner-up for the second year in a row. Last week: Fourth.

(tie) 3. Denny Hamlin (28 points): Came so close to his first championship, only to be fall short yet again. Could this be the closest he’ll get? Last week: First.

(tie) 3. Kevin Harvick (28 points): Needed a bit more help than he got going against the Joe Gibbs Racing juggernaut. Still, a very strong season regardless. Last week: Third.

5. Tyler Reddick (18 points): It’s hard enough to win one championship, but back-to-back championships with two different teams? Last week: Unranked.

6. Matt Crafton (14 points): Wins the championship without even winning a race (in fact, his last win was more than two years ago). Thrived on his underdog status. Last week: Unranked.

7. Ryan Blaney (12 points): Finished 11th or better, including a win at Talladega, in five of the last six playoff races. Last week: Fifth.

(tie) 8. Joey Logano (11 points): Ends year with four consecutive top 10s, but he fell short in making it to the championship round and defending last year’s title. Last week: Eighth.

(tie) 8. Erik Jones (11 points): Ends season with four top 10s in last five races. That bodes well for next season. Last week: Seventh.

10. Christopher Bell (6 points): Missed his chance to add an Xfinity title to his Truck championship. Still, with eight wins, had an outstanding season. Up next: a promotion to the Cup Series. Last week: 10th.

Others receiving votes: Kyle Larson (5 points), Clint Bowyer (5 points), Cole Custer (4 points), Austin Hill (2 points), Brad Keselowski (1 point), Brett Moffitt (1 point).

Zane Smith joins GMS Racing for full-time Truck Series ride

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Zane Smith will compete full-time for GMS Racing in the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series next year, the team announced Tuesday.

Smith, 20, joins the team after competing part-time with JR Motorsports in the Xfinity Series this year, where his best result in 10 races was fifth twice.

He will be GMS Racing’s fourth full-time entry next year, joining Brett Moffitt, Sheldon Creed and Tyler Ankrum. Sam Mayer will compete part-time.

Smith will have veteran Kevin “Bono” Manion as his crew chief.

“When I got the offer from Mike Beam asking me to run a truck full-time for GMS Racing, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity,” Smith said in a press release. “GMS is a championship-caliber team and to be a part of an organization like theirs is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I’m looking forward to working with Manion again. He has a lot of experience and I know we will be a great team.”

Manion, who has 24 wins across all three national NASCAR series since 2003, joins GMS Racing after serving as a crew chief for DGR-Crosley in 2019, including working with Rookie of the Year Tyler Ankrum. Manion was crew chief for Smith in 2018 when he made his Truck Series debut at Gateway and finished fifth.

“I am really excited to join GMS Racing and Zane (Smith) for the 2020 season,” Manion said in a press release. “With GMS Racing’s championship caliber equipment and Chevrolet support, we have all the resources to win some races and be in the hunt for the 2020 Championship. I got the opportunity to crew chief Zane (Smith) in his first Gander Trucks start in 2018 at Gateway and we worked really well together. I’m looking forward to seeing what we can accomplish next season.”

Sponsorship and an assigned truck number for Smith will be announced at a later date.

Penalty report from Homestead-Miami Speedway

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NASCAR issued four fines and one suspension for lug nut violations during its championship weekend in Miami.

Cup Series

Mike Wheeler, crew crew chief on Matt DiBenedetto‘s No. 95 Toyota, was fined $10,000 for one unsecured lug nut.

Xfinity Series

Mike Shiplett, crew chief on Cole Custer‘s No. 00 Ford, was fined $5,000 for an unsecured lug nut.

Truck Series

Steve Lane, the owner of On Point Motorsports and crew chief on Danny Bohn‘s No. 30 Toyota, was fined $5,000 and suspended one points race for two unsecured lug nuts. The No. 30 truck competed part-time this season and made 16 starts. The team told NBC Sports it will not appeal the penalty.

Trip Bruce III, crew chief on Stewart Friesen‘s No. 52 Chevrolet, was fined $2,500 for one unsecured lug nut.

Other

NASCAR issued an indefinite suspension to Jeffrey Schmidt for violating its substance abuse policy.