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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

Kyle Busch touts support he’s received for comments at Las Vegas

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RICHMOND, Va. — Kyle Busch says he’s received support from fellow drivers, who told him “what I said is not wrong” about the ability of some competitors.

Busch was upset last weekend after running into the back of Garrett Smithley’s car and being impeded by Joey Gase in the Cup playoff opener at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

After the race, Busch told NBCSN: “We’re at the top echelon of motorsports, and we’ve got guys who have never won Late Model races running on the racetrack. It’s pathetic. They don’t know where to go. What else do you do?”

Smithley responded on social media and Gase later responded on social media.

MORE: Kyle Busch’s comments address murky issue with no solution 

Busch was asked Friday at Richmond Raceway if he watched video of the incident with Smithley since last week and if his opinion changed.

“I did see video of last week,” Busch said. “It doesn’t matter what my opinion is. I get beat up on it anyway.”

Busch was encouraged by support he received.

“I’ve had multiple texts from other people that are race car drivers and non-race car drivers this week that have said what I said is not wrong, but there’s other general masses that say different,” Busch said.

Busch’s race at Las Vegas started poorly when he hit the wall in the opening laps and went down two laps. He explained what happened:

“We started out, we practiced our car and we were pretty decent in practice, but I felt like I was a tick tight, so we made some changes going into the race to free it up,” Busch said. “The first run at Vegas is always looser. And I guess I didn’t mentally prepare myself for that enough, and we were 10 numbers loose, like crashing loose.

“I got myself in trouble. I got myself into the fence. Was able to battle back from all of that throughout everything of the day and put ourselves in position for a solid finish and we just didn’t get it.”

Asked what he could have done differently, Busch said:

“I should have been prepared for it,” he said. “I actually prepared (crew chief Adam Stevens) for it, but I guess didn’t prepare myself for it. I was getting passed, guys were going by me and I was falling backwards and I was like I got to go here, I’ve got to move forward and pushed too hard.”

Busch recovered to get back on the lead lap and was running in the top five when he had the contact with Smithley. Busch finished 19th.

“For as bad as our day started, we were certainly able to make something of it and come back for a top-four run until close to the end,” Busch said when asked if his frustration hurts his performance. “People want to say because of my state of mind that’s the reason I ran into the back of a slow car, that’s funny people know how I think and what I am inside my helmet. I don’t think that had anything to do with it.”

Busch, the regular-season champion, qualified fourth for Saturday night’s Cup race at Richmond Raceway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

Results, Xfinity point standings after Richmond playoff race

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Christopher Bell led a career best 238 laps Friday night on his way to winning the Xfinity playoff opener at Richmond Raceway.

It is his seventh win of the year, matching his total from 2018.

The top five was completed by Austin Cindric, Cole Custer, Justin Allgaier and Chase Briscoe.

Click here for the race results.

Playoff standings

Bell secured a spot in the second round of the playoffs with his win.

The four drivers currently below the cutline for advancing to the next round are Brandon Jones (-15 points from cutline), Ryan Sieg (-19), Justin Haley (-20) and John Hunter Nemechek (-21).

Click here for the point standings.

Christopher Bell wins Xfinity playoff opener at Richmond

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Christopher Bell put together a convincing win Friday night at Richmond Raceway to open the Xfinity Series playoffs.

Bell led 238 of 250 laps – a career high – and swept each stage to earn his seventh victory of the year, matching his total from 2018.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver has now won three of the last four races at Richmond and six of the last 11 short track races.

The top five was made up of pole-sitter Austin Cindric, Cole Custer, Justin Allgaier and Chase Briscoe.

“That one was pretty special,” Bell told NBCSN. “Going 92 laps straight there is really difficult, man. We were sliding all around. I felt like if I could get to traffic I was going to be in good shape. Because my car could really move around good. I could run up, I could run down. (Cole Custer) was keeping pressure on us pretty good, but this Rheem Supra was too good.”

STAGE 1 WINNER: Christopher Bell

STAGE 2 WINNER: Christopher Bell

More: race results, point standings

WHO HAD A GOOD DAY: Harrison Burton was the highest finishing non-playoff driver in sixth … Austin Cindric earned his first top five in the last four races. He finished second in both Richmond races this year … In his 300th career Xfinity start, Justin Allgaier finished fourth after he had to start from the rear for changing a tire … Chase Briscoe earned his first top five in the last five races.

WHO HAD A BAD DAY: Mike Marlar wasn’t able to complete the first lap of his first Xfinity start. He was involved in an incident and finished last … Vinnie Miller had a mechanical failure with 25 laps left in the first stage. He finished 35th … Tyler Matthews finished 33rd after he wrecked in Stage 1 … Playoff driver Justin Haley had a pit road penalty and finished 17th … John Hunter Nemechek finished 15th after he spun while trying to intentionally spin Joe Graf Jr. right before the race’s conclusion. It was retaliation for a bump-and-run by Graf earlier in the lap.

NOTABLE: Christopher Bell has a win percentage of 22%, third all-time in the Xfinity Series.

WHAT’S NEXT: Drive for the Cure 200 on the Charlotte Roval at 3:30 p.m. ET Sept. 28 on NBCSN

 

Provisional starting lineup for Richmond Cup race

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Playoff drivers Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick are on the provisional front row for Saturday’s Cup Series playoff race at Richmond Raceway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

The top five is completed by playoff drivers Chase Elliott, Kyle Busch and Clint Bowyer.

The highest qualifying non-playoff driver is Jimmie Johnson (10th).

The lowest qualifying playoff driver was Joey Logano (28th).

The starting lineup will be made official after pre-race inspection Saturday. One failure will result in a qualifying time being disallowed.

Click here for the provisional starting lineup.