DAYTONA BEACH, FL – For the third year in a row, the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East championship came down to the last race of the season as Max Gresham fended off Brett Moffitt and Darrell Wallace Jr. to capture his first title. Like the finale, the 2011 season was competitive from green to checkered.
Let’s take one final look back at some of the top stories of the 2011 campaign, the 25th in K&N Pro Series East history.
The maturation of Max Gresham: The ability to run up front was there from the beginning for Gresham as he finished fifth in his K&N Pro Series East debut at South Boston Speedway in 2009, and he reached Victory Lane in his fifth and sixth career starts. Gresham’s first full-time season of 2010 was a learning experience, however, as his three podium finishes were countered by seven results of 12th or worse. Gresham proved that an extra year of experience can make all the difference when he flipped the script in 2011 and finished outside the top 10 just once in 12 races, and completed every lap the series contested. With a pair of wins and additional seven top-fives, Gresham became a championship driver, and has now parlayed his K&N Pro Series success to a full-time ride in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series for 2012.
Hit or miss for Moffitt: In some ways, Brett Moffitt’s 2011 season was similar to Gresham’s 2010. Moffitt had championship aspirations this year after points finishes of third and second in his first two seasons competing in the K&N Pro Series East, but luck was not on his side. Moffitt had three wins and led all drivers with eight podiums this season, but unfortunately his other four starts resulted in finishes outside the top 15, including the season finale at Dover International Speedway when he was locked in a battle with Gresham for the crown before cutting a tire with four laps to go while in the lead. As it was, Moffitt finished third in points and has been on the championship podium in each of the last three years, something that hasn’t been done since Andy Santerre’s championship run from 2002-2005.
Wallace, Peña lead D4D: Drive for Diversity had its most successful season in eight years of K&N Pro Series competition as Revolution Racing’s Darrell Wallace Jr. and Sergio Peña combined to win half of the events on the calendar. Wallace captured the checkered flag at Richmond International Raceway, Columbus Motor Speedway and Dover to finish as the championship runner-up while Peña finished fifth in the final standings on the strength of victories at South Boston Speedway, Langley Speedway and Greenville Pickens Speedway. Teammates Ryan Gifford and Michael Cherry also finished 10th and 14th, respectively, in season points.
X Team’s immediate impact: A start-up organization for the 2011 season, X Team Racing made an immediate impact in the K&N Pro Series East. An unaffiliated four-car effort started by Laerte Zatta and run by former driver Robert Huffman, X Team drivers took three of the top five finishing spots in the season opener at Greenville Pickens to provide a sign of things to come. Matt DiBenedetto delivered the team its only win during the 12-race season, but he and fellow drivers Alex Bowman, Coleman Pressley, Dylan Presnell and Daniel Suarez combined for 27 top 10s in 40 total starts.
Year of the rookie: Among the 65 total drivers that competed in K&N Pro Series East events in 2011, 44 were considered rookies under the revised qualifications for Sunoco Rookie of the Year contention. While each of the top five drivers in points had at least one year of prior experience under their belts, rookies took up 11 of the remaining positions in the final top 20 standings. Bowman ranked sixth and took home Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors while Corey LaJoie and Chase Elliott joined him in the top 10. A rookie actually did not reach Victory Lane for the first time since 2005, but the sheer mass of first-year drivers that participated makes the 2011 class one of the most impactful in K&N Pro Series East history.
Welcome to the fold: Four facilities joined the schedule for the first time in 2011, including three long-time NASCAR Whelen All-American Series short tracks and a popular national series speedway. Wallace came out on ahead of a 38-car field in the inaugural Blue Ox 100 at Richmond and also topped a competitive contingent at Columbus during the Jegs 150. DiBenedetto fended off the competition in a bullring battle at historic Bowman Gray Stadium in the Army Strong 150 and Peña entered the record books as the first K&N Pro Series East winner at Langley’s VisitHamptonVA 175. All four tracks will return to the schedule in 2012.
Toyota sweeps season: For the first time since the manufacturer joined the series in four years ago as an approved body type, Toyota went undefeated in 2011. The 12 races were won between four organizations: Revolution Racing (6), Michael Waltrip Racing (3), Joe Gibbs Racing (2) and X Team Racing (1). Toyota has reached Victory Lane 24 times in the last three seasons, including a current streak of 14 wins in a row dating to 2010. Drivers who piloted a Toyota in 2011 also took the top six positions in the final season standings.