The Future Is Here With The NASCAR Next 9
Within the world of sports, groups of athletes have stood out. In gymnastics there were the magnificent seven and the fierce five, in baseball the New York Yankees had the core and now NASCAR has the Next 9.
The future of NASCAR looks very bright as the next generation of superstars are currently making their case of why they are the future of the sport. Earlier in the 2012 season NASCAR named nine drivers all 21 and under as what the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will look like in 2020: Kyle Larson, Dylan Kwasniewski, Ryan Blaney, Darrell Wallace Jr., Chase Elliott, Corey LaJoie, Sergio Pena, Daniel Suarez, and Cameron Hayley are the NASCAR Next 9.
The Next 9 have accomplished several honors that have gotten them noticed while racing in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series. All together they have captured wins, championships, rookie honors and records.
In 2012 Larson and Kwasniewski were the only two of the Next 9 to win championships; Larson won the K&N East title and Kwasniewski the west. Kwasniewski won his championship after breaking a record in 2011 of becoming the youngest driver to win a pole, a record that had gone unbroken since 1954.
Along with his championship, Larson took Rookie of the Year honors, something that only two other men accomplished that being Ryan Truex and Joey Logano.
For Hayley 2012 was a year of accomplishments as he would compete in his first full West Series season. He would go on to break records as the youngest in the filed. He would set the record of youngest driver to compete in the series making his start just one month after turning 15. He would finish second in the Rookie of the Year standings in the West Series.
As the sons of NASCAR drivers, LaJoie and Elliott were on the way to make a name for themselves. For Elliott he would continue to race after being in one of the most competitive rookie classes in the East Series in his rookie year, finishing third. In 2012 Elliott would make his way to victory lane at Iowa and go on to finish fourth in the point standings. Meanwhile LaJoie would become the runner up to the championship in 2012 and make five trips to victory lane after being close to his first win in three occasions.
The NASCAR Drive for Diversity proved to be a success with Pena and Wallace. Both drivers would break barriers and history while going to victory lane. Back in 2009 Pena made a debut that put him on the map when he won the pole and finished in second in his first race. Throughout time he would capture three wins and finish in the top 10 in points in 2012.
Meanwhile Wallace made history within his K&N career by becoming the youngest winner in the East series back in 2009. In his time in the K&N series he has captured six wins and finished 2012 with a win and seventh place finish in the standings.
Suarez has been the busiest of the Next 9 by racing in at least three series in 2012. The 2009 NASCAR Toyota Series Rookie of the year has been busy racing in both K&N Series and the Toyota Series in Mexico. He began the year with a third place finish in the West series opener and made a visit to victory lane in Mexico in the Toyota Series.
The Next 9 continue to make history as they make their way into NASCAR’s top three series. In 2012 Larson, Blaney and Wallace made their debuts in the Nationwide and Truck Series. Wallace would make his Nationwide debut with Joe Gibbs Racing in four races capturing three top-10s and a pole at Dover. Blaney made his Nationwide starts with Tommy Baldwin Racing and Penske Racing. He also competed for Brad Keselowski Racing in the Truck Series and also became part of the historic 16 different winner season. He currently holds the record of the youngest winner in the truck series, a record previously held by Kyle Busch.
Larson made his trucks debut this season with Turner Motorsports capturing three top-10 finishes in four races. He also ended the NASCAR season with the final three truck races of the year.
The Next 9 will hope to bring diversity into NASCAR as five drivers come from diverse backgrounds. Larson comes from a Japanese-American heritage, Wallace is African American, Hayley is Canadian, Suarez is from Mexico, and Pena has Colombian Heritage.
Going on in their careers the NASCAR Next 9 have already set themselves up heading for a career in either of the top three series in the future.