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NASCAR Next’s Will Rodgers, Hailie Deegan get boost from Kevin Harvick

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Hailie Deegan and Will Rodgers are different, from each other and the typical NASCAR driver.

Of the nine NASCAR Next members revealed May 15, Deegan, 16, is the youngest and Rodgers, 23, is the oldest.

The daughter of action sports star Brian Deegan and a mother whose “full-time job” is taking her to races, Hailie is a Southern California native who came to NASCAR from off-road racing. She listens to rap and hip hop.

Rodgers, whose father owns a brewery and his mother is a clinical social worker, was born in Hawaii and has competed in sports cars, motocross and off-road racing. He listens to classic rock and punk rock.

The two drivers have one thing in common.

They have Kevin Harvick in their corner.

Hailie Deegan gets out of her car after a practice lap before the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West Twin 100’s at Tucson Raceway Park on May 5. (Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Hailie Deegan has a brief audio recording that she’s listened to a handful of times.

It was recorded minutes after the conclusion of her K&N Pro Series West debut on March 15 at Kern County Raceway Park in Bakersfield, California.

The recording is of her father, Brian Deegan, talking to Harvick, who was fresh from finishing fourth in the race.

The 2014 Cup champion told Brian Deegan he was impressed by his daughter’s performance. She finished seventh in the 175-lap race after starting eighth. Harvick said he’d keep in touch with them.

“He still does to this day, which is really cool,” Deegan told NBC Sports. “He always asks how I’m doing at the track, how I am doing compared to the other competitors, which is really cool on a personal level and I think that it was just something that’s not a confidence booster but a motivator.”

The day after the Kern County race, Harvick was asked at Auto Club Speedway what driving talent he’d discovered in the race.

He singled Deegan as having the “most potential.”

“I think as far as potential and reach and racing knowledge and getting in the car as young as she is, that would be the one I would pluck out of the series and say that’s the one we want to be a part of,” Harvick said.

Since then Harvick has had Deegan on his SiriusXM NASCAR Radio show “Happy Hours,” she’s graduated from high school and earned her first two top fives on May 19 at Orange Show Speedway and June 9 at Colorado National Speedway. She’s seventh in points through five races.

Harvick reaffirmed his praise of her after he won last month’s All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“I think Brian is really good for her because of the fact she just needs to go race and learn the ins‑and‑outs, get with the right situations as she moves up, not move too fast,” Harvick said. “She has the most potential of a female racer because she gets it. She’s very into what she’s doing. It’s not about everything else. It’s really about the race car and ‘How do I drive it faster?’ She’s just got her stuff together.”

As the only woman in the NASCAR Next program, which highlights up and coming drivers in stock car racing, Deegan recognizes that NASCAR is a sport in search of “something unique” to build its future on.

“I know they’re looking and searching for these aspects of, their fan base right now is all these people, these older generations and right now they’re looking for the new, hip generation of kids and teens coming up,” Deegan said. “The NASCAR Next program kind of plucks those kids out and sees these people with personalities and (who) want it that bad and are willing to do the off-track work, and I think that’s what NASCAR needs right now.”

Does Deegan consider herself hip?

“I don’t know if I consider myself hip, but I consider myself different.”

Kevin Harvick during last year’s K&N Pro Series West race at Sonoma Raceway. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

For Rodgers, the most surreal moment of last June’s K&N West race at Sonoma Raceway was when spotter Rick Carelli came over the radio in the closing laps.

“Third place is nowhere to be found,” Rodgers recalls Carelli saying.

It was just Rodgers and the leader.

The leader was Harvick, who was making his first start in the series since 2007.

“Oh my gosh, we’re running toe-to-toe with a Cup champion right now,” Rodgers thought at the moment.

The race, essentially at Rodgers’ home track, was the one his team “had been building up to all year.”

He qualified on the pole. Harvick started sixth.

“Now if you had told me I would race toe-to-toe with Kevin Harvick all day, that might have been a scenario again where I wouldn’t have believed you,” Rodgers said.

Harvick won the race, but he made sure to bring attention to Rodgers, who like Deegan, he had as a guest on his radio show.

“Being able to race toe-to-toe with Kevin and pull away from everybody else in the field and then for him to get out of the car and rave about me was very unique,” Rodgers said. “I’d say that’s definitely the best second place I’ll probably ever get.”

Harvick then went out of his way to celebrate with Rodgers in victory lane two months later when Rodgers earned his first career win in the K&N East race at Watkins Glen.

Rodgers also tries to keep in touch with the SHR driver despite his busy schedule.

“Whether or not Kevin has a hand in (NASCAR Next) personally, just by him being an advocate for me and then voicing me to the media, that has really opened the eyes and ears of a lot of people within NASCAR, within the industry, sponsors,” Rodgers said. “It’s helped on many levels. … My credibility has just been elevated so high after he said those things.”

This season Rodgers has competed in four of the first five K&N East races, earning two top 10s. He’s also earned two top 10s in four ARCA starts racing for Ken Schrader.

Harvick expects Rodgers to continue to rise if given the opportunity, especially when it comes to road course racing.

“I don’t think anybody would have known Will Rogers‘ name if we hadn’t run the K&N West Series race last year,” Harvick said after his All-Star win. “He’s got his stuff together. He just needs an opportunity to come out and show what he’s got. When the road course stuff shows up, Will is probably capable of being in an Xfinity race or a Cup race. In the right equipment on a road course, he’d be a top-10 competitor.”

Harvick has only competed in two K&N races in the last year, but each one has benefited someone else.

“It’s interesting to see,” Harvick said. “That’s really been our goal running the K&N races, is to expose those drivers to get opportunities. Just glad that it’s working out for a couple of them.”

 

2018-19 NASCAR Next Class revealed

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On Tuesday, NASCAR announced the members of its latest NASCAR Next class program.

The program, which only includes people between the ages of 15 and 25, highlights notable upcoming drivers in the auto racing ranks.

Previous members include Ryan Blaney, Alex Bowman, William Byron, Matt DiBenedetto, Chase Elliott, Gray Gaulding, Erik Jones, Corey LaJoie, Kyle Larson, Daniel Suárez, and Darrell Wallace Jr.

“NASCAR Next highlights emerging talent who have shown the talent and intangibles it takes to achieve success at the highest levels or our sport,” said Jill Gregory, NASCAR executive vice president & chief marketing officer, in a press release. “Alumni of the program are currently making their marks across NASCAR’s three national series and we believe members of this year’s class have potential to do the same.”

The 2018-19 class has nine members and includes four returning drivers from last year, including, Zane Smith, Riley Herbst and Chase Purdy.

The other is Hailie Deegan, the 16-year-old driver who Kevin Harvick said has the “most potential” in the K&N Pro Series West.

The class has five K&N Pro Series drivers, three ARCA Racing Series drivers and one Camping World Truck Series driver.

Here’s the nine drivers who were selected to the class.

Anthony Alfredo (@anthonyfalfredo), NASCAR K&N Pro Series East – Driving full-time this year for MDM Motorsports in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, Alfredo is also a student at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. The 19-year-old Ridgefield, Connecticut, native recently competed in various late model divisions across the country, driving for JR Motorsports.

Hailie Deegan (@HailieDeegan), NASCAR K&N Pro Series West – The 16-year-old Temecula, California, native returns to Next for a second year, driving for Bill McAnally Racing in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West. The daughter of FMX legend and Monster Energy athlete Brian Deegan, Hailie 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.

Riley Herbst (@rileyherbst), ARCA Racing Series – Returning to Next for a second year, Herbst is running full-time for Joe Gibbs Racing in the ARCA Racing Series, where he won Rookie of the Year honors a year ago. The 19-year-old Las Vegas native captured his first big-track win last June at Pocono, along with six top fives and 10 top 10s.

Derek Kraus (@derek9kraus), NASCAR K&N Pro Series West – The reigning NASCAR K&N Pro Series West Rookie of the Year, Kraus claimed his first win and a pole award, along with nine top fives and 10 top 10s in 2017. Driving full-time for Bill McAnally Racing, the 16-year-old Stratford, Wisconsin, native has already captured a fourth-place finish at New Smyrna and a win at Kern County this year.

Chase Purdy (@chasepurdy12), ARCA Racing Series – Purdy returns to Next for a second year after capturing NASCAR K&N Pro Series East Rookie of the Year honors in 2017. The 18-year-old from Meridian, Mississippi, finished fourth in the standings last year, tallying five top fives and eight top 10s. This year, Purdy is racing full-time in the ARCA Racing Series for MDM Motorsports.

Will Rodgers (@willrodgers65), NASCAR K&N Pro Series – The 23-year-old Maui, Hawaii, native made two NASCAR K&N Pro Series East starts in 2017 and won them both. Starting on the pole at the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West race at Sonoma, he finished runner-up to Kevin Harvick. Running all 14 races out west, Rodgers notched nine top fives and 12 top 10s, finishing fifth overall.

Zane Smith (@zanesmith41), ARCA Racing Series – Back for a second year in Next, Smith, 18, from Huntington Beach, California, has captured his first two career ARCA victories early in 2018 (Nashville and Talladega). Smith finished ninth in the ARCA standings a year ago, posting two poles, seven top fives and 11 top 10s. In his initial foray in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series, Smith ran twice in the East, posting top-10 and top-five finishes, and once in the West, scoring another top-five showing.

Tanner Thorson (@Tanner_Thorson), NASCAR Camping World Truck Series – A former USAC Midget Champion, the 22-year-old Thorson brings his dirt racing experience to Next as he prepares to run various Touring Series and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races throughout the year. The Minden, Nevada, native also ran two ARCA races in 2017, claiming a top-10 finish in just his second series appearance.

Ryan Vargas (@The_Rhino23), NASCAR K&N Pro Series East – Hailing from La Mirada, California, Vargas is competing full-time in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East for REV Racing. The 17-year-old finished third overall in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series for California in 2017, racking up two wins, 15 top fives and 23 top 10s. Vargas is also a 2018 NASCAR Drive for Diversity class member.

GMS Racing signs 19-year-old Dalton Sargeant for Truck ride

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GMS Racing has signed 19-year-old Dalton Sargeant to drive for the team this season and compete for rookie of the year honors in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.

Sargeant will drive the No. 25 Chevrolet Silverado.

He was the rookie of the year in 2016 in ARCA and placed second in the points in that series last season. He also has competed in NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and West races. Sargeant has six career Truck starts, placing a career-best 10th at Bristol Motor Speedway in his series debut in 2015.

“I’m really excited to be joining a championship-caliber team in GMS Racing for the 2018 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season,” said Sargeant in a team release. “Mike Beam and everyone at GMS Racing has put so much effort into this No. 25 team during the offseason and I can’t thank them enough for this opportunity. GMS Racing has put together an all-star team of people and equipment, plus had faith in me to drive and compete for wins. I’m looking forward to what we can accomplish in 2018.

“It’s always been a dream and a goal to compete at this level in NASCAR. I left a career and a life in Europe to compete against the best in NASCAR and today is that day. We have a full slate of things coming up as a team and I know we’re all really looking forward to getting on the track and beginning the season.”

Doug Randolph will be Sargeant’s crew chief.

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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 Next’s Spencer Davis to drive seven ARCA races for Venturini Motorsports

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NASCAR Next driver Spencer Davis has signed to drive seven races in the ARCA Racing Series this season for Venturini Motorsports, it was announced Friday.

Davis, 18, is a member of the 2016-17 NASCAR Next class. He will make his ARCA debut May 5 at Talladega in Venturini Motorsports’ No. 15 Toyota.

Davis also will drive the team’s No. 25 Toyota at Pocono Raceway, Michigan International Speedway, Iowa Speedway, Lucas Oil Raceway, Kentucky Speedway and the season-ending race at Kansas Speedway.

During last month’s ARCA open test at Daytona, Davis was the second fastest (189.092 mph) of the 63 drivers entered.

His crew chief will be Dave Leiner. Davis also will compete in 20 Super Late Model races this season.

Davis has competed part-time in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series since 2015. In 18 starts, he has one win, eight top-five and 11 top-10 finishes and one pole.

Davis is a native of Dawsonville, Georgia, home of NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott and son Chase.

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