Ryan Preece Announced As NASCAR Next Program Participant Friday At Iowa Speedway

Participants in the 2013 NASCAR Next program, including Berlin’s Ryan Preece, were announced Friday at Iowa Speedway (Photo: Scott Hunter/NASCAR)

NASCAR introduced the young drivers seen by experts as the potential next generation of superstars of the sport Friday afternoon at Iowa Speedway and the Whelen Modified Tour was represented.

Berlin’s Ryan Preece was one of 13 drivers introduced Friday in Iowa as part of the 2013 NASCAR Next program. Preece is the first Modified driver to be part of the program since its introduction in 2011.

“It means a lot to me, not only to be in this program, but to be the only Modified driver,” the 22-year old Preece said during Friday’s press conference in Iowa. “It definitely means a lot because of the history that’s behind the Modifieds and NASCAR. My grandfather, everybody in my family has been part of the Modifieds. To represent the Modified community here today, it means a lot to me.”

The program is an initiative by NASCAR to spotlight rising stars in stock car racing and help mold them for futures at the higher levels of the sport.

The “Next 9” program, which was introduced in 2011, was rebranded as NASCAR Next for this year.

Drivers between the ages of 15-25 competing in any NASCAR regional touring division or at a NASCAR sanctioned short track, as well as first year drivers in the Nationwide Series or Camping World Truck Series are eligible for selection in the program. The participants were selected through a voting process by a group of motorsports industry personnel selected by NASCAR.

Participants in the group will make appearances representing NASCAR at numerous events over the next 12 months, while also being involved in specialized training to prepare them for a future at the higher levels of NASCAR.

Preece has been competing full-time on the Whelen Modified Tour since 2007. He finished second in Modified Tour standings in 2009 and 2012. He has five victories and 34 top-five finishes in the division over 83 career starts and sits second in the standings this year after two events.

He was the SK Modified division champion at Stafford in 2011 and won the SK Modified division title at Thompson in 2012. He also competes in the Tour Type Modified weekly division at Riverhead (N.Y.) Raceway.

The “Next 9” program, which was introduced in 2011, was rebranded as “NASCAR Next” for this year.

Selected drivers who have been part of the program the last two years include Nationwide Series regulars Kyle Larson and Alex Bowman, Camping World Truck Series regulars Ryan Blaney and Darrell Wallace Jr., Hendrick Motorsports developmental driver Chase Elliott and Richard Petty Motorsports developmental driver Corey LaJoie.

“This program has made great strides in a short time,” Jill Gregory, NASCAR vice president, industry services said in a release from NASCAR. “The evolution of NASCAR Next builds on that success with the influx of young, talented drivers continuing throughout all of NASCAR’s racing series. This program provides a platform to help foster their growth within our sport, and introduce these young and talented drivers to NASCAR fans who will likely be hearing more about them in years to come.”

This year’s 13 participants range in age from 15 to 24 and represent 10 states and three countries. The group includes some historic names of NASCAR. Seventeen year old Chase Elliott is the son of former Sprint Cup Series champion Bill Elliott. Twenty-year old Jeb Burton is the son of former Daytona 500 champion Ward Burton. Ben Kennedy is the great-grandson of NASCAR founder Bill France Sr.

Below are the 13 participants and bios from NASCAR.

Jeb Burton (20 years old, Halifax, Va.) – Four top-10 finishes in six NASCAR Camping World Truck Series starts this season with three pole wins as a rookie.

Chase Elliott (17, Dawsonville, Ga.) – A two-time Most Popular Driver in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East where he had a win and 15 top 10s and has two top-five finishes in three NASCAR Camping World Truck Series starts this season.

Gray Gaulding (15, Colonial Heights, Va.) – The NASCAR K&N Pro Series East rookie set series records for youngest pole winner and race leader in April at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway.

Ryan Gifford (24, Winchester, Tenn.) – The NASCAR Drive For Diversity product became the first African-American driver to win a NASCAR K&N Pro Series East pole – Martinsville (Va.) Speedway in 2010.

Cameron Hayley (16, Calgary, Alberta, Canada) – The NASCAR K&N Pro Series winner at inaugural UNOH Battle At The Beach at Daytona International Speedway in February is a K&N Pro Series West championship contender.

Ben Kennedy (21, Daytona Beach, Fla.) – Has two NASCAR K&N Pro Series East wins in five starts this season and will make his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series debut in August at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway.

Dylan Kwasniewski (18, Las Vegas, Nev.) – The 2011 NASCAR K&N Pro Series West Sunoco Rookie of the Year and 2012 series champion is competing for a NASCAR K&N Pro Series East title this season.

Brett Moffitt (20, Grimes, Iowa) – Has 31 top-five finishes in 52 career NASCAR K&N Pro Series East starts and is among the series’ all-time leaders in wins and poles.

Ryan Preece (22, Berlin, Conn.) – A two-time championship runner-up in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour with five career wins and 12 poles and is a top competitor in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series’ Modified Divisions in Connecticut.

Ben Rhodes (16, Louisville, Ky.) – Has driven his NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Late Model to podium finishes this year at the UNOH Battle At The Beach in Daytona and the Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown in Richmond, while also making his NASCAR K&N Pro Series debut.

Kenzie Ruston (21, El Reno, Okla.) – As a rookie, has three top-five finishes in five career NASCAR K&N Pro Series East starts and recorded the highest finish by a female driver in series history with a third-place effort in April at Greenville (S.C.) Pickens Speedway.

Michael Self (22, Park City, Utah) – As a relative newcomer to stock-car racing, he is a bona fide NASCAR K&N Pro Series West title contender and has four wins in last 13 series starts.

Daniel Suárez (21, Monterrey, Mexico) – A product of the NASCAR Drive For Diversity program, competes full time with Rev Racing in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and is a title favorite in the NASCAR Mexico Toyota Series.

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