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The Biggest Misses of the NASCAR Next Classes

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What’s Happening?

Throughout the 2010s, NASCAR implemented a program called NASCAR Next, which was a program for some of the sport’s top prospects to develop themselves on and off the track. While plenty of current NASCAR stars including Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson, Ryan Blaney, and Bubba Wallace, amongst many others, are alumni of this program, some drivers flamed out. Who were the biggest misses from the old NASCAR Next program?

  • To be eligible for this list, a driver simply needs to be an alum of NASCAR Next. Anyone who was involved in the program while it existed between 2011 and 2018 is eligible.
  • Emphasis will be placed on those who flamed out on the way up. However, those who particularly struggled in the Cup Series could be included as well.
  • Fans and NASCAR tend to hype drivers up as they’re winning in the lower ranks. However, not every driver succeeds once they hit the big three national series.

Dylan Kwasniewski (Class of 2011, 2012, and 2013)

Dylan Kwasniewski looked like a can’t-miss prospect in the early 2010s. He won the K&N Pro Series East and West (Now ARCA East and West) Championships, and he was jumping straight to the Xfinity Series with Turner-Scott Motorsports for 2014. His career started off strong, winning the pole and finishing 8th at Daytona with major Rockstar Energy Drink on board.

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Things quickly turned south as Kwasniewski would only record 2 more top-10s the rest of the season, while teammate Kyle Larson won 2 races. Kwasniewski lost his sponsorship with Rockstar, and that pretty much did his racing career in. He made a few starts in 2015 for Obaika Racing, but, he never finished better than 17th.

Cameron Hayley (Class of 2012 and 2013)

Cameron Hayley followed a similar path to Kwasniewski. Hayley was picked up by Turner-Scott Motorsports, and he raced for the team in the regional touring series. He made 3 Truck Series starts for the team including 2 top-10s, and that was enough for him to sign a contract with ThorSport.

Unfortunately, Hayley was not great with ThorSport. He had 23 top-10s over two seasons with 2 runner-up finishes, but, he failed to win a race. After 2016, he was out at ThorSport, and he became another NASCAR Next bust.

Gray Gaulding (Class of 2013 and 2014)

Gray Gaulding is still actively competing in NASCAR, so, his career has not been a complete failure. However, he has not lived up to some of his fellow NASCAR Next alumni. He had success early in his life, winning in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series at the tender age of 15, but, he never translated that into a top ride.

Gaulding has bounced around from team to team throughout his career across all three National Touring Series. His best opportunity came in 2015 when he made 3 starts for Kyle Busch Motorsports, but, Gauldling only managed one top-10. Still, he is in the sport today, so his career is not a total bust.

Jesse Little (Class of 2014 and 2015)

Jesse Little is the son of former NASCAR driver Chad Little. He won a pair of races in the Regional Touring Series, but, like Gaulding, never got a top ride. He did have his moments, however.

Little made part-time starts here and there across the Xfinity and Truck Series, but, he never quite got over that hump. He did land a full-time ride with JD Motorsports in 2020, but, he could only manage 2 top-10s. The future of Little is currently very uncertain.

Hailie Deegan (Class of 2018)

Hailie Deegan is still in the sport, and she can still rebound. However, her career to this point has been underwhelming. She started off strong by winning 3 races in the ARCA Menards West Series and putting up solid results in the ARCA Menards Series. Since then, she has bottomed out.

She failed to make the Playoffs for either ThorSport or DGR-Crossly in three Craftsman Truck Series seasons, and she recorded only 3 top-10s. She is spending 2024 with AM Racing in the Xfinity Series. Is this her last chance to prove herself?

Which other drivers were busts from the NASCAR Next program? Did we miss anyone?

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