NEWTON, IOWA (AP) - Two sons of well-known Sprint Cup drivers headline the list of youngsters selected for this season’s NASCAR Next program: Chase Elliott, son of 1988 champion Bill Elliott, and Jeb Burton, whose father Ward won the 2002 Daytona 500.
NASCAR Next, formerly known as Next9, highlights drivers between the ages of 15 and 24 who might one day star at the Nationwide or Sprint Cup level.
The 13-driver list, announced Friday at Iowa Speedway, also includes Kenzie Ruston, who had the highest finish by a woman in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East by coming in third in South Carolina in April. Mexico’s Daniel Suarez, a product of the NASCAR Drive For Diversity program, made the list as well.
“Being chosen to be in this group is just absolutely amazing to me,” Ruston said. “You get a lot of exposure and NASCAR helps you out a lot. So I think it’s fantastic.”
Burton is perhaps the most advanced of the drivers in this year’s program, with four top-10 finishes in six NASCAR Trucks races in 2013.
This year’s roster features a number of up-and-coming drivers from the K&N Pro Series, NASCAR’s top feeder program, including Las Vegas native Dylan Kwasniewski and Gray Gaulding, who won a K&N series pole at Richmond in April at just 15.
Saurez and Ryan Gifford, the first black driver to win a NASCAR K&N Pro Series East pole, represent the Drive for Diversity program.
Ryan Blaney, Darrell Wallace Jr. and Kyle Larson are among the drivers who have flourished from what used to be known as the Next9 program. Larson has quickly become one of the most popular drivers in the sport and is well aware of what the program has done for him.
“It helped me get more exposure,” he said.