The annual NASCAR K&N Pro Series East-West combination race at Iowa Speedway has provided a great opportunity for young drivers in the series to showcase their talent on a national stage. Joey Logano was 16 years old when he won the inaugural event in 2007 and Brian Ickler was 22 when he won the prestigious combination race a year later.
Although he did not win at Iowa; Trevor Bayne, this year's winner of the Daytona 500, did experience success there as a teenager. He was 17 when he finished third in the East-West combination race in 2008.
The display of talent by NASCAR's future stars was evident last year at Iowa when three young up-and-coming stars of the series, all still in their teens, sailed down the front stretch three-wide to take the white flag. Max Gresham, who was 17 at the time, emerged with the victory.
The trend is continuing this year, with more than two dozen drivers who are 21 years old or under on the entry list for the Pork 'Be Inspired' 175 presented by Tompkins Industries on Saturday, May 21. It will mark the fifth year for the .875-mile track in Newton, Iowa to host the prestigious combination race.
Some of the young drivers have already tasted victory this season in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East. Brett Moffitt won the season opener at Greenville (S.C.) Pickens Speedway, marking his fifth career series win. Sergio Peña scored his first career series win, meanwhile, with a victory at South Boston (Va.) Speedway. Darrell Wallace Jr., Peña's teammate in NASCAR's Drive for Diversity program at Revolution Racing, registered his third career series win with a victory at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway.
"It's really exciting to see so many talented young drivers competing in this series," said George Silbermann, NASCAR vice president, regional and touring series. "As NASCAR's top developmental series, the NASCAR K&N Pro Series provides a great opportunity for these up-and-coming drivers who aspire to reach NASCAR's three national series.
"This event, in particular, is the one time each year when the drivers from the East and the West compete head-to-head with championship points on the line," he said.
There are approximately 60 entries for this year's combination race, with drivers representing 22 states and three other countries. The NASCAR K&N Pro Series East-West race is part of a big NASCAR weekend at Iowa Speedway, with the NASCAR Nationwide Series race on Sunday, May 22.
Drivers entered at Iowa from the K&N East who are 21 and under include Chase Elliott, 15; Julian Albarracin, 16; Tanner Berryhill, 17; Ryan Blaney, 17; Darrell Wallace Jr., 17; Alex Bowman, 18; Max Gresham, 18; Brett Moffitt, 18; Sergio Peña, 18; Tanner Whitten, 18; Chad Boat, 19; Matt DiBenedetto, 19; Cale Conley, 19; Brandon Gdovic, 19; Cody Hodgson, 19; Ben Kennedy, 19; Cory LaJoie, 19; Daniel Suárez, 19; Michael Cherry, 21; and D.J. Shaw, 21.
Drivers entered from the K&N West who are 21 or under include Dylan Kwasniewski, 15; Isaac Sherman, 16; Alex Kennedy, 19; Travis Milburn, 19; Michael Self, 20; Taylor Cuzick, 20; Luis Martinez Jr., 21; Spencer Gallagher, 21; and Brennan Newberry, 21.
First pitch... On Thursday, May 19, Brett Moffitt will toss the ceremonial first pitch at the Iowa Cubs game. Moffitt will represent the NASCAR K&N Pro Series and Michael Waltrip racing at the Chicago Cubs Triple A affiliate's Principal Park in downtown Des Moines. He will also be available for autographs on the concourse during the game.
Bowles returns ... Jason Bowles, winner of the NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown in January, is returning to the series to race in this event. The 2009 champion of the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West competed in three previous East-West combination races at Iowa, with a best overall finish of ninth in 2009.
LaJoie excels on bigger tracks ... Of his 10 career NASCAR K&N Pro Series East starts, Corey LaJoie has raced at tracks in which NASCAR's national series compete seven times, and all four of his top-five finishes have come in those races. He finished fourth at Iowa Speedway a year ago and was third last time out at Richmond.
Bowman leads stout rookie class ... A total of 26 drivers have earned Sunoco Rookie of the Year points through the first three NASCAR K&N Pro Series East races, but none have been as impressive as true rookie Alex Bowman. Driving for the new X Team Racing, Bowman crossed the line third in his series debut and has finished in the top 10 in each of the three races to start his career. He was fifth last time out at Richmond.
Smith aims to extend string of top 10 finishes ... Moses Smith has six consecutive top 10 finishes in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West, dating back to last season. He looks to extend that string to seven at Iowa.
Five straight top 10s for Mayhew ... David Mayhew has five straight top 10 finishes in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West, dating back to last season, and will be looking for a sixth at Iowa.
Travis Pastrana Returns To Competition
Action sports star Travis Pastrana will be back in competition in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series, driving the No. 99 Boost Mobile Toyota for Pastrana-Waltrip Racing in the East- West Combination race at Iowa.
The event is another step in his move to NASCAR, as he plans to compete in seven NASCAR Nationwide Series races later this year.
Pastrana made his series debut with a sixth-place finish in the NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown in January. He finished 25th in the K&N Pro Series West opener at Phoenix International Raceway in February and his stock car learning curve continued last month in the K&N Pro Series East race at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway, where he finished the race 33rd, three laps down.
Will Richmond Translate To Iowa?
The last race for the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East took place at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway on April 28. Iowa was built in Richmond's likeness, only slightly bigger. The banking of the two tracks varies by just two degrees in the turns and the frontstretch.
While there are a number of teams that have Iowa notebooks from recent seasons, the fact that all of the East teams recently raced at Richmond could prove to be an advantage.
Will Third Time Be A Charm?
Brett Moffitt will be competing in his third East-West Combination race at Iowa Speedway. The Grimes, Iowa native finished sixth in the 2009 event and 17th last year.
As the only full-time NASCAR K&N Pro Series driver to hail from the state of Iowa, a win at his home track is something that Moffitt has had atop his wish list since joining the series.
An Iowa native has yet to reach Victory Lane in nine total NASCAR races at Iowa Speedway.
Double-Duty For Martinez
Luis Martinez Jr will have a busy weekend at Iowa. In addition to competing in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East-West combination race, the 21-year-old California driver is set to make his debut in the NASCAR Nationwide Series.
Martinez, last year's Sunoco Rookie of the Year in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West, will be driving the No. 39 King Taco Ford for Go Green Racing in making his first appearance in the NASCAR Nationwide Series.
East: Final Notes From Richmond
Wallace takes the checkers ... For the first time in 2011, and the third time in just 13 career starts, Darrell Wallace Jr. found Victory Lane in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East's inaugural event at Richmond International Raceway. Wallace took the lead from pole winner Max Gresham for the second and final time on Lap 79 and cruised to the win.
LaJoie third, cleans up contingencies ... The best finish of the year, third, for Corey LaJoie resulted in a big payday. By virtue of a 29th-place finish in the previous race, and a starting position of 21st, LaJoie took home the Featherlite Most Improved Driver and Coca-Cola Move of the Race Awards at Richmond. He also nabbed the Sunoco Rookie of the Race Award.
Blaney impressive in debut ... Up-and-coming Late Model driver Ryan Blaney finished eighth in his K&N Pro Series East debut at Richmond. The son of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Dave Blaney, the younger Blaney only has plans for two races this year, but he impressed right out of the gate.
West: Final Notes From Miller
Momentum continues for Pursley ... Greg Pursley's NASCAR K&N Pro Series West win at Miller Motorsports Park in Tooele, Utah on April 30 gives him four wins in six races, dating back to last season. He leads the K&N West championship standings by 58 points.
Back-to-back runner-up finishes ... Moses Smith is coming off back-to-back runner-up finishes in the series - at Roseville, Calif., and Tooele, Utah. Those finishes matched his previous career-best finish of two years ago and moved him to second in the standings.
First career top-10 finish ... Greg Rayl finished 10th at Utah to notch his first career series top-10 finish. It marked his 19th series start.
Career-best finishes ... Several other drivers also had career-best finishes in Utah. They included Carlos Vieira, who finished 11th in just his second series start; Brady Flaherty, who finished 12th in his third series start; and Spencer Gallagher, who finished 17th in his second series start.
Last Year's Event
Max Gresham got the better run off Turn 4 of the final lap - just barely - and beat Ty Dillon to the finish line by .039 seconds to win last year's NASCAR K&N Pro Series East-West combination race at Iowa Speedway.
The top four finishers were all East rookies with Darrell Wallace Jr. in third, followed by LaJoie. David Mayhew finished fifth overall and was credited with a West win as the series' top finisher.
On the final restart, Dillon drove to the inside of leaders Gresham and Corey LaJoie to make it three-wide as they crossed the line to take the white flag. Dillon and Gresham continued side-by-side for the entire final lap with Gresham taking the checkered flag first by just a few feet.
Dillon had a slow qualifying run and started 39th in the 44-car field, but slowly worked his way to the front. Likewise, LaJoie started 21st and was in contention for the win on the final restart. After they went three wide, he lost the leaders and then Wallace was able to get by for third.
For Wallace, who won the East opener at Greenville (S.C.) Pickens Speedway but wrecked the following week at South Boston (Va.) Speedway, Iowa was a perfect way to bounce back.
Ryan Truex, Eddie MacDonald, Jonathon Gomez, Kevin Swindell and Eric Holmes rounded out the top 10. Gresham's win as a Joe Gibbs Development driver, gave the organization three victories at Iowa.
Mayhew led the first 72 laps and a race-high 86 overall. Pit stop strategy, however, cost him the lead and he was unable to work his way back to the front. He did take over the West points lead, though, with his finish and Greg Pursley's misfortune. Pursley hit the Turn 2 wall while running second on Lap 130. The two had begun the weekend with the same points total, with Pursley in first on the tiebreaker.
Brett Moffitt led 54 laps, but wound up 17th after he wrecked on Lap 195. He and LaJoie were battling for second when they made contact coming out of Turn 2. That incident set up the final restart.
25 For 25
The 2011 season is the 25th in NASCAR K&N Pro Series East history. From its days as the Busch North Series, to the present-day, 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 turns back Harvick ... In the inaugural East-West Challenge at Iowa Speedway in 2007, NASCAR K&N Pro Series East rookie Joey Logano legitimized his growing legend by holding off NASCAR Sprint Cup Series veteran Kevin Harvick to take the win. Harvick earned the pole and Logano started beside him in the first row, the two then proceeded to swap the lead a whopping 14 times throughout the 200-lap event. Logano beat Harvick on a restart on Lap 194 and pulled away in the closing circuits for the second of what would turn out to be five wins during his championship season.
Up Next: East: Bowman Gray, West: Las Vegas
The NASCAR K&N Pro Series East travels to Winston-Salem, N.C., for the inaugural 150-lap event at legendary Bowman Gray Stadium on June 4. The .25-mile oval is known as NASCAR's longest running weekly race track.
The NASCAR K&N Pro Series West heads to The Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for a race on June 10. The series visited The Bullring each year from 2001 to 2003, with those three events races resulting in three different race winners.