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Nine drivers selected for 2018 NASCAR Next class

Nine up-and-coming drivers have been named to the 2018 NASCAR Next class. This year‘s group includes five new drivers revealed Tuesday, joining four returning members from the previous year.

Since the inaugural class was unveiled in 2011, 38 of the 51 drivers who have participated in the program have gone on to compete at the NASCAR national series level. More than a quarter of the drivers have competed in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, while 13 NASCAR Next alumni have broken into Victory Lane in a NASCAR national series race.

RELATED: Get to know the NASCAR Next class

The following drivers comprise the 2018 NASCAR Next Class:

Anthony Alfredo (@anthonyfalfredo): Fresh off his win in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East at South Boston Speedway on May 12, Alfredo enters NASCAR Next for the first time. The 18-year-old from Ridgefield, Connecticut, nicknamed “Fast Pasta,” also earned a pair of victories driving for Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the JR Motorsports Late Model effort in 2017.

Hailie Deegan (@HailieDeegan): Deegan, 16, is from Temecula, California, and drives for Bill McAnally Racing in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West. Deegan has three top-10 finishes in three starts this year. The daughter of former freestyle motocross rider and Monster Energy athlete Brian Deegan is in her second year with NASCAR Next.

MORE: Deegan lets driving do the talking

Riley Herbst (@rileyherbst): In his second year with the program, the 19-year-old from Las Vegas is running full time for Joe Gibbs Racing in the ARCA Racing Series in 2018. Herbst captured his first ARCA victory at Pocono Raceway in 2017. He also has eight top-five and 12 top-10 finishes in 16 NASCAR K&N Pro Series West starts.

Derek Kraus (@derek9kraus): The 16-year-old Stratford, Wisconsin, native is racing in his second full-time season with Bill McAnally Racing, capturing a win at Kern County Speedway by beating Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver Kevin Harvick in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West race.

Chase Purdy (@chasepurdy12): Purdy, 18, returns to NASCAR Next for a second year, driving for MDM Motorsports in a full 2018 ARCA Racing Series season. The Meridian, Mississippi, native earned five top fives, eight top 10s and four poles on his way to placing fourth in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East points standings in 2017.

Will Rodgers (@willrodgers65): The 23-year-old Solvang, California, native has received praise from Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver Kevin Harvick for his driving ability early on in his career. Rodgers entered two NASCAR K&N Pro Series East events in 2017 — Watkins Glen and New Jersey Motorsports Park — winning on both occasions. His path to NASCAR has drawn comparisons to that of fellow California native and seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson.

Zane Smith (@zanesmith41): Another California kid in this NASCAR Next class, the 18-year-old is also “California cool” — on and off the race track. Returning for a second year in the Next initiative, Smith has earned two victories in the ARCA Racing Series in 2018 — Nashville and Talladega.

Tanner Thorson (@Tanner_Thorson): This 22-year-old will race anything and everything. The Minden, Nevada, native is a former USAC Midget Champion and currently is running various touring series races throughout the year. Thorson also made his maiden NASCAR Camping World Truck Series start at Dover earlier this year. This dirt-track racing expert bleeds racing because when he‘s not competing in a race, he‘s driving to one.

Ryan Vargas (@The_Rhino23): Vargas, 17, is a full-time driver for Rev Racing in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East. The La Mirada, California, native has one top-10 finish and ranks fourth in the points standings in 2018.

Each of the nine — whether they’re new or returning class members — share a common goal: Climbing the NASCAR ladder to the national series level. After establishing a solid foundation for the next steps in her NASCAR career in 2017, Deegan says she’s eager to build upon the relationships she developed, while also letting her personality shine.

“Now that I can see a lot of faces in the NASCAR world and meet a lot of new people, it‘s helped out with sponsor opportunities and getting noticed,” Deegan told NASCAR.com. “I think I have made a base from last year with sponsor deals and meeting new people, but I think just expanding those relationships and making some new content to show my personality more. I feel like last year was to try to get noticed and get my name around, but now I‘m able to show who I am more.”

Rodgers is looking forward to the fruits the program has to offer in order to spring his blossoming racing career to the next level in his first year with NASCAR Next.

“What I hope to gain most is a new presence in the sport,” Rodgers told NASCAR.com. “(Being a part of the program) not only holds clout in itself, but (helps) to hopefully understand the business side of things a little bit better. That will hopefully move my program forward, not only on the race track, but away from the race track. Being part of NASCAR Next will be very influential on what I‘m doing on that business side.”

The newest class kicks off the eighth year for the industry initiative, as NASCAR Next alumni Ryan Blaney, William Byron, Matt DiBenedetto, Chase Elliott, Erik Jones, Kyle Larson, Daniel Suárez and Darrell Wallace Jr. all find themselves competing full time in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

The past four Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Sunoco Rookies of the Year are also NASCAR Next alumni — Larson (2014), Brett Moffitt (2015), Elliott (2016) and Jones (2017). Former NASCAR Next drivers Byron and Wallace also are in the hunt for 2018 Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors in the Monster Energy Series.

The NASCAR Next program was created with the goal of establishing credibility and marketplace awareness, focusing on sculpting potential future stars of the sport. The drivers taking part in the initiative have proven they are capable of success on the race track, and this program gives them the opportunity to stand out among the competition when striving to gain attention of the industry, sponsors, media and fans.

Members will be able to receive invaluable benefits in their association with NASCAR Next, including media training, driver brand development, photo/video/content assets, incorporation into fan-facing events, stakeholder relationships and driver interaction.

The NASCAR Next selection process includes input from industry executives, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Drivers Council and media members. Drivers must be between the ages of 15-25, aspire to compete in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and show potential — on and off the track — to realize that goal.

For more information, visit www.NASCAR.com/next and make sure to follow the drivers on Twitter and on the track. Join the social conversation by using #NASCARNext.