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GREENVILLE, S.C. - Although he might not have started where here wanted in the race, Corey LaJoie finished right where he hoped in the Kevin Whitaker Chevrolet 140 Saturday at Greenville Pickens Speedway.
LaJoie, who had to start in the rear of the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East 22-car field after missing the driver's meeting during the original race day on Sept. 3, quickly worked his way through the field in the first half of the event postponed by rain and positioned himself in contention for the stretch run. He was in second place on the green-white-checkered two-lap sprint to the finish.
Brett Moffitt, who started from the pole and led the entire way, was passed by LaJoie in Turn 3 and LaJoie led by a nose coming to the white flag. LaJoie and Moffitt made contact coming out of Turn 4 headed for the checkers and LaJoie cleared the competition for his series-leading fifth victory of the season.
As a result, LaJoie unofficially took over the points lead heading into next week's season finale at Rockingham (N.C.) Speedway.
“I just wanted to win the race – you win the race, you get the most points,” LaJoie said when asked whether he was more motivated at the end to win the race or remain in championship contention.
Moffitt ended up making contact with Darrell Wallace Jr. following his run-in with LaJoie and a melee ensued which cause a huge cloud of smoke that engulfed nearly the entire frontstretch.
Chase Elliott wound up in second with Jesse Little a career-best third.
“The first thing I saw was smoke, the second thing I saw was smoke, and the third thing I saw was more smoke,” Little said of the last-lap accident. “I followed [Elliott] through and luckily we were able to get out of there safely.”
Kyle Larson, who entered the race as the points leader, finished fourth and Brandon Gdovic fifth.
LaJoie now leads Larson by six points with Moffitt third – 16 points out – after he slid sideways across the line in eighth place.
Sixth through 10th was Bryan Ortiz, Sam Hunt, Moffitt, Sergio Peña and Eddie MacDonald. Hunt and Peña, like Moffitt, were involved in the last-lap crash and skidded to the finish.
Thirty-three points out and in fourth in the standings on July 21, LaJoie’s mad dash into championship contention has been fueled by three wins in the last for outings. With only Rockingham left, he is in the points lead for the first time in his career. With five total wins on the season, he became just the sixth driver in K&N Pro Series East history to rack up that many checkered flags in a year, and the first since Joey Logano in 2007.
Of those previous five competitors to record five wins in a year, only one failed to win the championship.
LaJoie, Larson and Moffitt will take their three-way battle for the 2012 K&N Pro Series East crown to Rockingham for the inaugural Classic 3 Championship presented by RCR Racing Museum on Saturday, Nov. 3. Race weekend will begin with practice and qualifying on Friday, Nov. 2.
As Corey LaJoie drives under the flagstand and the checkered flag, Brett Moffitt (11) and others wreck behind. Jason Smith/pixelcrisp for NASCAR