As the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series returns to Daytona for its annual July date, everywhere you look in the garage is another fresh face looking to make an impact at NASCAR’s top level.

This youth movement isn’t restricted to the top series – it is a tidal wave moving through the NASCAR system, starting at its foundation: The NASCAR Whelen All-American Series.

Not only are younger drivers racing, but they’re winning. And chasing championships.

This year, they have a new prize to pursue: The UNOH Youth Achievement Award.

“We wanted to implement a program in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series that recognizes the best young talent at the sport’s grassroots level,” said Steve Famer, vice president of corporate development at the University of Northwestern Ohio. “These drivers are the future of motorsports, and we could not be more excited to reward their efforts on the track.

“With our automotive technology and high performance motorsports program, UNOH is heavily invested in providing the opportunities and resources to today’s youth who want to become involved in the sport. The UNOH Youth Achievement Award, which spotlights the successes of young drivers across the short-track level, is a perfect fit.”

It’s a great added opportunity for drivers like 17-year-old Garrett Denton of Waterford, Connecticut.

Denton picked up his second Mini Stock win of the season at Waterford Speedbowl Saturday to move up to fourth in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Division IV standings.

In addition, Denton is seventh in the UNOH Youth Achievement national standings.

The UNOH Youth Achievement Award is open to NASCAR drivers between the ages of 14-17 – drivers may accumulate points until their 18th birthday – and are based on the best 14 finishes regardless of division.

Track champions will receive a $500 cash award and a $500 UNOH Scholarship. The national champion will receive a $10,000 UNOH Scholarship and will be recognized at the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Awards in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Dillon Bassett of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, is the national leader with 464 points, followed by Spencer Davis with 451. While Bassett, 17, has raced his Division I Late Model at pavement tracks across the southeast, Davis, 15, ran multiple divisions during New Smyrna Speedway’s World Series of Asphalt Racing in Florida in February as well as events in two divisions at Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem.

Joe Wilder, 15, who competes in Div. I Late Models at South Carolina’s Anderson Speedway and Greenville Pickens Speedway, is third, followed by Christian McGhee, 15, who races Div. I Late Models and Div. II Race Trucks at Irwindale (California) Speedway. Payton Ryan,15, is fifth racing in Div. I Late Models at New Smyrna as well as North Carolina’s Hickory Motor Speedway and Southern National Raceway Park, and South Carolina’s Myrtle Beach Speedway.

Brady Walsh, 16, is sixth with a win in the Div. V Pure Stocks at Oklahoma’s Salinas Highbank Speedway.

In 2011, Denton became the youngest winner in NASCAR Whelen All-American Series history with his win at 14 years, five months and 10 days. While that mark has since been eclipsed twice – it’s currently held by Jesse Lewis at Nebraska’s Junction Motor Speedway, who won at 14 years, 3 months, 14 days – Denton has continued his winning ways.

He picked up five wins last season and finished 22nd in Div. IV under the old Finalist Program format. This year, he started his season at Waterford with three finishes outside the top 10. Since, however, he’s rattled off a pair of wins, four seconds and four thirds in his last 10 starts to move into national title contention.

The NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Division II-V Championship program determines support division national championships. In each division, dirt and asphalt tracks are combined in point standings. The four national champions will receive a trophy and a trip to the series national awards event. In addition, the top-three dirt and top-three asphalt drivers will be invited to the series awards event.

At season’s end, drivers in Divisions II-V will be ranked by their best 14 NASCAR point race results. The season concludes September 21.

The NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Championship Division II-V leaders this week include:

  • Division II: 1. Jared Umbenhauer, Grandview Speedway, Bechtelsville, Pa.; 2. Ryan Robertson, Bowman Gray; 3. Jesse Dennis, I-80 Speedway, Greenwood, Neb., Adams County Speedway, Corning, Iowa; 4. Taylor Branch, Bowman Gray; 5. Keith Rocco, Waterford, Thompson (Conn.) Speedway Motorsports Park.
  • Division III: 1. Jerod Weston, I-80, Adams County; 2. John Ketron, Kingsport (Tenn.) Speedway, Lonesome Pine Raceway, Coeburn, Va.; 3. Blain Petersen, I-80, Adams County; 4. Josh Sink, Adams County, I-80; 5. Jason Ketron, Lonesome Pine, Kingsport.
  • Division IV: 1. Brad Derry, Adams County, I-80; 2.  AJ Sanders Jr., Bowman Gray, Caraway; 3. Corey Kyer, Columbus (Ohio) Motor Speedway; 4. Garrett Denton, Waterford, Thompson; 5. Dave Trudeau, Waterford, Thompson.
  • Division V: 1. Brian King, Anderson (S.C.) Motor Speedway, Greenville (S.C.) Pickens Speedway; 2. Donavan Beacham, Anderson, Greenville; 3. Chris Harvell, Greenville, Anderson; 4. C.J. Huitt Jr., Greenville, Anderson; 5. Don Tavernia, Anderson, Greenville.

Established in 1982, the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series is NASCAR’s national championship program for weekly short track auto racing. In all, 58 paved and dirt tracks throughout the United States and Canada participate.

Connecticut-based Whelen Engineering is the series’ title sponsor. Whelen Engineering is the leading manufacturer of automotive, aviation, industrial and emergency vehicle lighting. NASCAR tracks and pace cars across North America are among the many showcases for Whelen products.

Division II Standings: http://hmtk.co/RuKE6j

Division III Standings: http://hmtk.co/1uG2JOn

Division IV Standings: http://hmtk.co/1hzYScC

Division V Standings: http://hmtk.co/1ns5E9a

NASCAR IMC – Photo Keith Cyr, RaceDog Photography

UNOH Youth Achievement Award Spotlights Rising Stars