With the departure of two-time defending champion Ryan Truex to the NASCAR Nationwide Series, the chase for the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East crown will be wide open in 2011. That journey will begin on Saturday, March 26 with the Kevin Whitaker Chevrolet 150 at Greenville (S.C.) Pickens Speedway.
Among the title contenders that return from a year ago, Brett Moffitt is the head of the class. The Grimes, Iowa driver's third season in the series figures to be his best. After a third-place effort in the final standings as a rookie in 2009, and a runner-up finish to Truex a year ago, Moffitt has the experience to go along with the talent to be a championship favorite. He has also moved over to Michael Waltrip Racing and into the seat vacated by Truex, which can only enhance his chances for a title.
Darrell Wallace Jr. and Max Gresham also figured to be in the title hunt. Like Moffitt, both won two races a year ago in their first full seasons in the K&N Pro Series East. Wallace remained in championship contention through the first three-quarters of the 2010 schedule while Gresham had an up-and-down year. While both figure to be a threat to win everywhere they go, they'll need to focus on consistency to mount a championship run.
While the previously-mentioned trio figures to be the odds-on favorites, there is no lack of other talent in the garage that could contend for the championship. Wallace's Revolution Racing teammates Michael Cherry, Ryan Gifford and Sergio Peña learned valuable lessons from their experience a year ago, as did D.J. Shaw, who finished ahead of each of them in the standings. And the elder statesman among the returners - Eddie MacDonald - will take another swing at what would be his first East crown. Also, don't forget about Corey LaJoie. While this will technically be his rookie season, he has logged seven starts across the two previous seasons, and finished in the top 10 in four of those outings.
What To Watch For
The 2011 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East season-opener at Greenville Pickens Speedway shapes up to be similar to those of recent seasons past with a number of new teams, a lot of new faces and plenty of storylines to keep an eye on.
More History for a Historical Track: Not only has Greenville Pickens produced esteemed track champions such as David Pearson, Ralph Earnhardt and Robert Pressley, but it is also one of just nine facilities that has been a sanction member of each of the 30 years of the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series. Now it will become the first host track for the 25th season of the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East.
Notable Newcomers: While the list of possible newcomers to the series seems to be endless, there are a number of recognizable names that will look to launch their NASCAR career's in Greenville. Ben Kennedy - great-grandson of NASCAR founder Bill France - will launch his first full season at Greenville Pickens after one start in 2010. Then there's past NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion Bill Elliott's son, Chase, former crew chief and NASCAR on Fox analyst Larry McReynold's son, Brandon, and former Cup driver Robert Pressley's son, Coleman.
Formation of X Team Racing: Led by successful crew chief Robert Huffman, and with strong ties to Toyota Racing Development, the newly-formed X Team Racing has already made a splash with its stable of drivers. A standout during the 2009 K&N Pro Series East season, Joe Gibbs Racing development driver Matt DiBenedetto will return to the series full-time with X Team this year. His teammate will be USAC standout Alex Bowman, and the plan is for Pressley to pilot a third car part-time.
Who Makes History This Year?: With the minimum competition aged lowered to 15 in the offseason, Elliott stands to become the youngest driver to take the green flag in series history. Could he also surpass Brett Moffitt's mark as the series' youngest pole sitter, or Darrell Wallace Jr.'s record for youngest race winner? Both of those marks were established at Greenville Pickens.
Women's Movement: The 2011 season-opener could potentially have two females take the green flag. Michelle Theriault has returned to the series for the first time since her 2007 rookie campaign while Ali Kern will also attempt to make the starting grid. The series could also see Sloan Henderson at some point in 2011.
Five Years, Five Different Winners: Each of the first five K&N Pro Series East races have produced different pole and race winners. Will Moffitt be the first with multiple poles, will Wallace be the first to get a second trip to Victory Lane, or will the trend continue?
25 for 25
The 2011 season is the 25th in series history. From its days as the Busch North Series, to the present-day NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, there are countless moments that have come to define the series. Each week we will take a look back at those moments and figures that have defined the series.
Logano Launches: While he may have already had a win under his belt from the K&N Pro Series West race at Phoenix International Raceway, budding star Joey Logano launched his memorable 2007 K&N Pro Series East title run with an impressive performance at Greenville Pickens Speedway. The impact was immediate as the 16-year-old drove to the pole with a lap that still stands as the track record, then led 75 of the 150 laps for the first of his five triumphs en route to a record-shattering season that resulted in the championship.
Last Year's Event
As with a number of the previous NASCAR K&N Pro Series East races at Greenville Pickens Speedway, last year's Kevin Whitaker Chevrolet 150 was once again a history-maker. After Cole Whitt earned the 21 Means 21 Pole Award presented by Coors Light in his first series start to get the festivities started, Darrell Wallace Jr. took the headlines in the end as he took the lead for the third and final time on the white flag lap and held on for the checkers.
In his first race, Wallace made history on two fronts. Not only did he surpass Brett Moffitt's previous mark as the youngest race winner in K&N Pro Series East history, but he also became the first African-American to reach Victory Lane.
Up Next: South Boston150
For the fifth season in a row, the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East will visit South Boston (Va.) Speedway for the South Boston 150 on Saturday, April 16.
The first four visits for the series to the famous Virginia short track have produced four-different winners. Matt Kobyluck was the victor in the inaugural 2007 event, followed by Brian Ickler in 2008. This year's event will feature the last two race winners as Brett Moffitt (2009) and Max Gresham (2010) will vie to become the first drivers to triumph multiple times at the fast half mile.