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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: What makes Kyle Busch so good at Bristol?

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Kyle Busch swept all three national series at Bristol Motor Speedway in August 2010. The next spring, he won both the Truck and Cup series. That five-race winning streak is part of a remarkable 21 victories on this track.

Last August, he swept the three national series at Bristol again.

Busch’s numbers at Bristol are nothing short of amazing – and they include back-to-back wins in the last two Cup races.

But what makes him so good?

“It’s because he’s an amazing driver,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. said.

“(Busch is) a guy who can make an amazing difference behind the wheel and so when you go to a track that needs a talented driver to be able to get around it, he’s a guy that takes advantage of his own skill,” Earnhardt continued. “You have to apply that to the short track. All the guys that do well at short tracks are drivers. They’re real, real men.

“They came from racing short tracks and honing those abilities … have the patience, the judgment, the decision-making ability, but also the raw speed to be able to set up their cars the way they need to be all night long.”

On a track where laps are completed in less than 15 seconds, drivers are constantly in traffic. Busch’s ability to navigate through slower cars is another key to his success, according to Kyle Petty.

“Bristol is a rhythm racetrack. … Kyle is a rhythm driver,” Petty said. “When he gets in a rhythm, you watch him when he runs – he catches lapped traffic; he disposes of them. He doesn’t spend a lot of time breaking his rhythm and having to start again.”

For more, watch the video above.

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Kaulig Racing to field second entry in Indianapolis Xfinity race

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Kaulig Racing will field a second entry for the first time in its three-year history in the Sept. 8 Xfinity race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, team owner Matt Kaulig told NBC Sports.

The entry, the No. 10 Chevrolet, will join the No. 11 that is driven by Ryan Truex. The No. 10 will be driven by a “big driver.”

The news comes after Kaulig Racing earned its first top-five finish last week at Mid-Ohio, where Truex finished fifth. It came in the team’s 87th Xfinity start and was in Kaulig’s home state of Ohio, where his company, Leaf Filter Gutter Protection, is headquartered.

“It’s very (significant), it shows how our organization is growing,” Kaulig said. “A lot of these teams are getting smaller, are cutting people, are just cutting back and we’re growing. We’re just getting started. When you look at a team like ours, that’s just two-and-a-half years in, it’s all upside, it’s all of our great stuff that’s ahead of us. Not behind us. We just want to win trophies.”

The addition of a second car for the Indianapolis race follows the team building a 15,000-square foot addition onto its shop, which is located in Welcome, North Carolina, on the campus of Richard Childress Racing.

Kaulig’s time in NASCAR began as a sponsor of Blake Koch in 2015 when he drove for TriStar Motorsports.

Through 21 races, Truex is eighth in the point standings and has nine top 10s in addition to his first top five.

NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET: Wild Bristol moments, #WednesDale

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN with a look back at some of Bristol’s wildest moments.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. hosts with Marty Snider and Kyle Petty joining him at the Big Oak table.

On today’s show:

  • The panel will discuss Xfinity Series driver Elliott Sadler’s decision to end his full-time career following the 2018 season. Sadler is currently second in Xfinity Series points and drives for Dale Earnhardt Jr. at JR Motorsports.
  • Dale Jr. weighs in on NASCAR’s invitation to Fernando Alonso to compete in next year’s Daytona 500.
  • Fans can ask Dale Jr. and our panel questions by using #WednesDale.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch it online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. to serve as honorary pace car driver for Brickyard 400

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Fans will get to see Dale Earnhardt Jr. in a car going around Indianapolis Motor Speedway next month, it just won’t be going very fast.

Earnhardt, who serves as a NASCAR analyst for NBC Sports, has been announced as the honorary pace car driver for the Sept. 9 Brickyard 400.

The race, which was held in July for its last 11 runnings, will be the regular-season finale for the Cup Series for the first time.

Earnhardt will drive a 2018 Camaro ZL1.

“I am honored that Chevrolet asked me to drive the Camaro ZL1 Pace Car in one of the biggest races of the year,” Earnhardt said in a press release. “The fan in me was already looking forward to this event. It’s a big race. There is a lot at stake since it’s the final chance for the teams and drivers to make the playoffs. So, I hope to do a good job leading the field to the green flag, but I can promise you I’ll soak in every minute and enjoy the Brickyard in a way I never have before.”

Earnhardt made 17 starts in Indianapolis between 2000-17, with a best finish of fourth in 2012 among his five top-10 finishes.

Fans will be able to see Earnhardt drive a little bit faster two weeks later. Earnhardt will compete in the Sept. 22 Xfinity race at Richmond Raceway. It will be his first race since retiring from full-time Cup competition at the end of 2017.

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