Cayden Lapcevich

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. 

Cayden Lapcevich defied the odds to become NASCAR’s youngest champion

Matthew Murnaghan/NASCAR
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Remember the name Cayden Lapcevich.

It is the 16-year-old from Grimsby, Ontario, who is the youngest champion in NASCAR history. Lapcevich, at 16 years, 10 months, 16 days, was crowned the NASCAR Pinty’s Series champion last Sunday, breaking the record Joey Logano set in 2007 when he won the K&N East Series championship at 17 years, 3 months, 28 days.

“It’s pretty cool knowing that I was able to break a record that stood for a long time and it also being Joey Logano’s,” Lapcevich told NBC Sports. “He started in the same place I did, back in quarter midgets, so it gives me that hope that I’m headed in the right direction to make it to the Sprint Cup Series one day.”

INNISFIL, ON - JUNE 18: JUNE 18: Cayden Lapcevich, driver of the #76 Fastline Motorsports Dodge sits with his dad, Jeff Lapcevich, after qualifying on the pole at the NASCAR Pinty's Series Leland 300 Presented by Dickies at Sunset Speedway on June 18, 2016 in Innisfil, Canada. (Photo by Matthew Manor/NASCAR via Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Cayden Lapcevich; Jeff Lapcevich
Cayden Lapcevich (right) sits with his dad, Jeff Lapcevich, after qualifying on the pole at the NASCAR Pinty’s Series Leland 300 Presented by Dickies at Sunset Speedway on June 18, 2016 in Innisfil, Canada. (Photo by Matthew Manor/NASCAR via Getty Images)

Lapcevich, a third-generation driver, was passed the torch by his father. Jeff Lapcevich raced in the Pinty’s Series from 2007 until his retirement in 2015. There was never any question nor was it difficult, Jeff said, that Cayden was going to take over for him. He now serves as his son’s car owner and crew chief.

Cayden’s success, which includes the driver’s championship, owner’s championship, and Rookie of the Year honors, came despite long odds. Last fall, the family learned their sponsor of 25 years, Tim Horton’s, would not be returning. Their plans to run a full season suddenly became a week-by-week decision.

“That was a big shock to the heart,” Jeff Lapcevich told NBC Sports. “But my wife and I talked and said we would do what we could afford and at that point, we knew we could get to a couple of races. It was disheartening because we had a lot of faith in Cayden and knew that he could win races and be up front everywhere and be competitive. So I think it was emotionally hard on us because you want the best for your kids, especially when they want it so bad.”

Cayden said that even a couple of days before his first race his mother, Sherri, “was still questioning herself of whether we should go or not.”

Lapcevich ran so well that funding trickled in, leaving them to change decals on the car almost weekly. It was enough, however, to allow the No. 76 Fastline Motorsports Dodge to continue running. And Lapcevich knew he had to keep the car in one piece to help their efforts.

He took the points lead after a second-place finish in the season’s third race at Autodrome Chaudiere. But the team, consisting mostly of family and friends, still knew nothing was set in stone. Lapcevich’s first of three wins on the season came at Wyant Group Raceway, the seventh event of the year.

Over the course of the 12-race schedule, Lapcevich never finished worse than eighth.

“It was a funny season because we all went to the first bunch of races and we never imagined early in the spring that we were going to be able to do the Western swing,” Jeff Lapcevich said. “(Cayden) was still really in the thick of things heading to that swing, which we had no plans to do, we didn’t even have a truck. By the time we decided to go, which was literally about three days before we needed to be on the road, nobody on the team was able to make it.

“We went out there with only two of our regular guys, and we went to Edmonton and got some help from a local guy out there, and then we went to (Wyant Group Raceway) and recruited three more local racers to help us and actually got our first win there. So it was a big deal for us. Then we got back home and had the same group of guys, but we’re still a very small team.”

Lapcevich will celebrate with other touring and weekly champions at the annual awards ceremony in December. As for his plans for next season and beyond, Lapcevich has hopes of finding funding to race again in the Pinty’s Series or try his hand at K&N or Camping World Truck Series.

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