NASCAR names 2018 Drive for Diversity participants

As three graduates of the program prepare to compete full-time in the Monster Energy Cup Series next season, the newest class is named for NASCAR competition.

NASCAR names 2018 Drive for Diversity participants
NASCAR 2018 Drive for Diversity Driver Development Class, Ernie Francis Jr., Ryan Vargas, Isabella Robusto, Nick Sanchez, Ruben Garcia Jr., Chase Cabre
Ruben Garcia Jr.
Ryan Vargas
2017 NASCAR Drive for Diversity participant Ryan Vargas waits in his car
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Less than one month after holding tryouts during its annual combine, NASCAR named the six participants of the NASCAR Drive for Diversity program Tuesday afternoon at REV Racing headquarters in Concord, N.C.

This year’s class is smaller than In previous seasons as the program has been restructured to focus on helping prepare the drivers on and off the track.

The 10-year program will feature three of its graduates competing in the top level of NASCAR next season with Kyle Larson, Daniel Suarez and Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. all slated for full-time Cup rides.

The class will feature four returnees from 2017 and welcomes two new members.

Mexico City native Ruben Garcia, Jr. and Tampa, Florida's Chase Cabre return to compete in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and will be joined by Ernie Francis Jr., who will be a development driver at REV Racing and compete on road courses.

Nick Sanchez and Isabella Robusto also return after competing in Legend’s cars last season. Sanchez will compete in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series in a Late Model Stock car while Robusto will return to Legends cars again in 2018.

The second new member of the program will be 2016 Wendell Scott Trailblazer Award winner and California native Ryan Vargas.

For team owner Max Siegel, this year’s class shows the commitment to providing young drivers an opportunity to break through in NASCAR.

“I’m so proud of this program, when I took over this program we were just trying to get some credibility,” said Siegel. “Our goal was for people to take the program seriously and show that the sport was committed to help us develop drivers. To see Darrell (Wallace Jr.), Kyle (Larson) and Daniel (Suarez) make it to the Cup Series it’s so rewarding.”

Jim Cassidy, NASCAR senior vice-president of racing operations, is pleased with the level of interest in the program.

“This is one of the times of the year I look forward to and have throughout my career being a part of this program since its inception,” said Cassidy. “It’s humbling to get the list of drivers and look at their accomplishments and have them look at NASCAR as a destination of where they want to be and there are a lot of options out there is something very rewarding.

“What we’re seeing with these six drivers is a group of very talented racers who have shown the ability on and off the track to excel at the next level. With an increased focus on seat time and competition among the drivers, we’re looking forward to watching them perform next season.”

For Cabre and Garcia, the opportunity to be ‘veterans’ this year offer endless opportunities.

“It’s a gratifying feeling being a veteran,” Cabre said. “Last year I was a rookie and I learned a lot of things on and off the track. The caliber of racing I came from to here in NASCAR where the competition is tough and do everything you can to get there. Last year we wanted to run laps and get experience, this year I want to run for race wins and get a championship.”

For Garcia, who also competed in the NASCAR Peak Mexico Series when he can, his thoughts echoed many of Cabre’s.

“I’m 21 and I’m now the old guy here,” Garcia said laughing. “It gives me a lot of confidence in having enough experience to run as many as races as we will next year. It’s time to think of winning a championship and races.”

Here are the members of the 2018 class of drivers:

  • Chase Cabre, 20, Tampa, Florida. Cabre finished sixth in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East championship standings and was runner-up for Sunoco Rookie of the Year. He won the 21 Means 21 Pole Award twice and recorded four top-five finishes. He will return to compete in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and will also race a Late Model in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series. 
  • Ernie Francis Jr., 19, Dania, Florida. Francis has already locked up his fourth Trans Am Series championship, becoming the youngest driver in series history to do so. He has 32 Trans Am Series wins – the most in series history – and 15 Pirelli World Challenge victories. Francis will be a development driver with Rev Racing, running road-course events in the K&N Pro Series East and select Late Model events, as well as testing, as he transitions to oval-track racing. 
  • Rubén García Jr., 21, Mexico City, Mexico. García will return to Rev Racing for his third season. The 2015 NASCAR PEAK Mexico Series champion finished fifth in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East this year and is third in the PEAK Mexico Series standings with one race remaining. The NASCAR Next graduate will join Cabre in the K&N Pro East in addition to racing in the Late Model. 
  • Nick Sanchez, 16, Homestead, Florida. Sanchez finished fifth in the 10-race Bojangles Summer Shootout at Charlotte Motor Speedway with Rev Racing’s Legends Car program last year, and will move up to the team’s full-time Late Model in 2018. Sanchez had a win among five podium finishes in the Summer Shootout.
  • Ryan Vargas, 17, La Mirada, California. Vargas won the Wendell Scott Trailblazer Award in 2016 as the highest finishing multicultural or female driver in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Division I. He was runner-up for NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Josten’s Rookie of the Year for California in 2016 while racing at Irwindale and Bakersfield’s Kern County Raceway Park and the Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. This season, he scored a pair of wins this year to finish third in the state standings and 16th in the national standings. Vargas will drive in the third full-time K&N Pro Series East car and also race in the Late Model.
  •  Isabella Robusto, 13, Fort Mill, South Carolina. Robusto will anchor Rev Racing’s Youth Driver Program as she returns to the team to drive in the Legends car. Robusto will be one of four youth development drivers, with the remaining three to be announced at a later date. She was third overall at the Bandolero Winter Nationals and was the South Carolina Legends Young Lions champion in 2016 and was third overall in points in the Bojangles Summer Shootout Series in 2015.
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