20 years ago, Jeff Gordon earned the nickname "Wonder Kid" from "The Intimidator," Dale Earnhardt. Just a few short years ago, Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch and Trevor Bayne were the "next big things" in NASCAR. These days, Gordon is one of NASCAR's elder statesmen, and the other young drivers listed are almost old men to the new batch of drivers coming through the ranks. Strong showings from youngsters Ty Dillon, Kyle Larson, Ryan Blaney and Darrell Wallace Jr. in NASCAR's Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series in 2012 helped cement their status as the next wave of NASCAR stars, and there are a few others waiting to join the "under-21-club."
Ty Dillon, 20 - Grandson of Richard Childress, son of former NASCAR driver Mike Dillon and younger brother of Austin Dillon, young Ty put up a good fight for the Camping World Truck Series title in 2012 - the same title his brother won in 2011 - finishing fourth. Dillon's background is Bandoleros, the K&N Pro Series East and the ARCA Racing Series, where he was champ in 2011. The 2012 Truck Series Rookie of the Year also competed in selected Nationwide Series (NNS) races in 2012, finishing third in the inaugural NNS race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Kyle Larson, 20 - Prior to 2012, Larson had never been in a stock car - he cut his teeth on USAC open-wheel cars. A development driver for Earnhardt Ganassi Racing, Larson qualified for the NASCAR Drive for Diversity Program due to his mother's Japanese heritage, and competed for Rev Racing in the K&N Pro Series East in 2012, winning his first championship and the first title for the D4D program. Larson also impressed in four Truck Series starts, earning three top 10 finishes for Turner Motorsports.
Ryan Blaney, 19 - The son of NASCAR veteran and World of Outlaws Sprint Car champ Dave Blaney, the third-generation driver is under contract with Penske Racing for the Nationwide Series and also drives for Brad Keselowski Racing in the Truck Series. Blaney's racing career began in midget cars at age 9, progressing to Late Models and winning two championships in the class. In 2012, Blaney ran six NNS races for Tommy Baldwin Racing and seven for Penske, also running nine Truck races for BKR. In just his third Truck Series start, Blaney went to victory lane at Iowa.
Darrell Wallace Jr., 19 - Wallace Jr., another D4D product, is a development driver for Joe Gibbs Racing. He got his start racing in Bandeleros and Legends cars, winning 35 of 48 Bandoleros races held in 2005. Moving up to the K&N Pro Series East in 2010 with Rev Racing, he won his first ever race in the series, at Greenville-Pickens Speedway, becoming the youngest driver ever to win at the track, as well as the first African-American driver to win there. Wallace Jr. competed in four NNS races for JGR in 2012, finishing no worse than 12th.
Dylan Kwasniewski, 17 - Kwasniewski became the youngest champ in the history of the K&N Pro Series West in 2012, capturing three wins and 10 more top five finishes. With the typical background of karts, Bandoleros and Legends behind him, Kwasniewski also competed in the ASA Speed Truck Series and the Lucas Oil/Rockstar Modified Series before moving to the K&N Series, where he was named Rookie of the Year in 2011.
Chase Elliott, 17 - The son of Cup Series champ Bill Elliott, Chase Elliott was signed as a development driver by Hendrick Motorsports in February 2011, just days after NASCAR changed the age requirement in its development series to 15. Elliott already has quite a resume, including being the youngest winner of the prestigious Snowball Derby in December 2011. In two seasons in the K&N Pro Series East, he has finishes of ninth and fourth in points and 15 top 10 finishes, including one win, in 26 races; he also has six top 10 finishes in six ARCA Racing Series events.
Ross Kenseth, 19 - Another champ's son - this time, 2003 Cup champ Matt Kenseth - Ross has caught the eye of his father's new teammate at JGR, Kyle Busch, who is hoping to put together a Truck Series ride for the Clemson University engineering student. Kenseth has cut his teeth on short tracks, winning the Redbud 300 at Anderson Speedway in Indiana in July 2012 and the All American 400 (Fairgrounds Speedway, Nashville) and Winchester 400 in Indiana in October 2012, beating Busch in both events.
Chris Buescher, 19 - The cousin of 2012 Truck champ James Buescher, Chris Buescher won the 2012 ARCA Racing Series title, besting perennial ARCA champ Frank Kimmel. In his fourth season in the ARCA Racing Series (second full time), Buescher has racked up 42 top 10 finishes in 53 races, including nine wins. He also made two NNS starts in 2011 for Roush-Fenway Racing, finishing 17th in both events.
Johanna Long, 20 - Even though she only had part-time funding in 2012 with ML Motorsports, Long proved numerous times she belonged in the Nationwide Series. In February 2012, she became the youngest woman to compete in the series when she finished 21st at Daytona; she bested that performance in July, finishing 12th - a career-best finish that she tied later in the season at Kentucky. Long also competed in the Truck Series for both Billy Ballew Motorsports and her family's Panhandle Motorsports in 2010 and 2011, and won the Snowball Derby in 2010, becoming just the second woman to win the event.
Ryan Truex, 20 - The younger brother of two-time Nationwide Series champ and current Sprint Cup star Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Truex won back-to-back K&N Pro Series East titles in 2009 and 2010 while driving for Michael Waltrip Racing. Truex has made 35 NNS starts through 2012, splitting his time between two big Toyota teams, MWR and JGR; he has nine top 10 finishes, including a runner-up finish at Dover in June 2012.