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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – One of the breakout stars of the 2011 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East season, it has been a year since Sergio Peña has celebrated in Victory Lane, a place he hopes to revisit this coming week.
Peña’s third and final win of the previous campaign came in the Kevin Whitaker Chevrolet 140 at Greenville Pickens (S.C.) Speedway. As the K&N Pro Series East returns to the historic half mile for the second running of the 140 on Labor Day, Monday, Sept. 3, Peña hopes to continue this season’s upward trend after a rocky start.
After finishing fifth in the standings in 2011, Peña suffered two blown engines and had just a pair of top 10s through the first five races this year. In his five outings since, Peña has four finishes of sixth or better, including a season-best third place last time out at Iowa Speedway.
“We had a slow start,” Peña said. “It didn’t have anything to do with the team’s performance, and I was giving 100-percent every race, but we just had bad luck. But luckily the past few races have turned around, so we’ve got a lot of good momentum to carry into Greenville, which I’d say is the best track we race at.”
The success Peña had in his second year with Rev Racing and NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity initiative afforded him an opportunity with the newly-formed Hattori Racing Enterprises in 2012. All of the pieces of the puzzle were in place for Peña to continue his past success with the new team – his crew chief Matt Goslant and competition director Andy Santerre also went to HRE – but the team is still digging for its first victory.
“I’m really happy with the new team. The bad luck came in the beginning, but it’s really turned around,” Peña said. “We’re fast everywhere we go, so that’s a good thing.”
Peña and the No. 1 NRC/NISCO Toyota team were fast in the first trip to Greenville this year on March 31. They led both practice sessions, but the engine let go on the fourth lap of the race.
Regardless of what has happened to this point, Peña stands to be one of the favorites as the series returns to Greenville for the second time this year. Although he suffered that blown engine in the first trip, Peña has plenty of reason for optimism.
“I’m excited. We went testing last week at Greenville and we learned a whole lot,” Peña said. “We’re taking back the same car that we had last time, so I’m going to try to get my first win of the year, and second win at that track.”
The third-year driver also feels that his racing background prior to his NASCAR career helps him excel at tracks like Greenville Pickens.
“One of the things that I like about it is that it’s really flat,” Peña said. “I think – coming from a road course background – that flatter tracks give me a little bit more of an advantage. I’m more used to being on a flat surface.
“I just really like it,” Peña said of Greenville Pickens. “You have to have a lot of throttle control and patience there. That’s something that took me a long time to learn, but Andy Santerre and Matt Goslant have taught me so much over the years about patience. That’s the main thing I was lacking there.”
Peña’s background and experience have him confident heading into the event.
“I know I’m young and everything, but this is my third season and I’m kind of like a veteran there [at Greenville], so I think that puts me over a lot of guys there,” Peña said.
|RACE:||Kevin Whitaker Chevrolet 140|
|PLACE:||Greenville (S.C.) Pickens Speedway|
|DATE:||Monday, Sept. 3|
|TIME:||6 p.m. ET|
|TV SCHEDULE:||SPEED, Sept. 13, 3 p.m. ET|
|TRACK LAYOUT:||Half-mile asphalt oval|
|2011 WINNER:||Sergio Peña|
|2011 POLESITTER:||Corey LaJoie|
|EVENT SCHEDULE:||Practice 11-11:45 a.m., Final Practice 12:15-1 p.m., Qualifying 4 p.m., Driver Autograph Session 4:45 p.m.|
|TRACK PR CONTACT:||Tammy Hawkins, (864) 269-0852, firstname.lastname@example.org|
|EVENT TWITTER HASHTAG:||#WhitakerChevy140|
|NASCAR IMC CONTACT:||Jason Christley, (386) 547-2469, email@example.com, Twitter: @jay_christley|
The Race: The second edition Kevin Whitaker Chevrolet 140 will mark the ninth all-time event for the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East at Greenville Pickens Speedway, and the second of two in 2012.
The Procedure: The starting field is 28 cars, including provisionals. The first 24 cars will qualify through two-lap time trials. The remaining four spots will be awarded through the provisional process. The race will be 140 laps (70 miles) straight through with no tire changes.
The Track: Greenville Pickens is a half-mile asphalt oval with five degrees of banking in the turns. The facility opened in 1946 with a dirt racing surface and was paved in 1970. There were 29 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races held there from 1951-71.
Race Winners: The eight previous K&N Pro Series East races in Greenville have produced seven different winners. Only Darrell Wallace Jr., who captured the first event of the season at GPS, has won at the track twice.
Pole Winners: Like with race winners, there has been only one driver to earn multiple poles at GPS, Brett Moffitt. Moffitt set the qualifying record at 20.534 seconds (87.659 mph) in the 2011 season-opener, and his 2010 pole eclipsed Joey Logano’s series record as the youngest pole winner at 16 years, eight months.
GREENVILLE RACE NOTES
Points Leader Moffitt Looks to Continue GPS Success: As if a 20-point lead in the standings isn’t daunting enough for the competition, Brett Moffitt has excelled at all three tracks left on the schedule that the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East has previous race at, including Greenville Pickens Speedway. In five career starts at the track he has a win, two poles and four top fives. Moffitt has been successful just about everywhere he’s gone this year as well. Since having trouble in the opener at Bristol Motor Speedway he’s finished in the top five in eight of nine events, including a fourth-place finish in the first race at GPS this year on March 31.
Elliott Counting on Past GPS Success to Stay in the Hunt: At 22 points behind Moffitt and just two tallies back of Kyle Larson in third place in the season standings, Chase Elliott is still very much in championship contention with four races remaining, and Greenville is a spot where he hopes to gain some ground. In three starts for the second-year driver at the venerable half mile, Elliott has posted finishes of fourth, third and sixth, which constitutes nearly a quarter of his career top-10 finishes.
LaJoie Looks for Win No. 4: With a series-leading three wins through 10 events, Corey LaJoie has had more than a break-through season in 2012. After two runner-up finishes and other close calls prior to this year, it seemed only a matter of time before LaJoie would become a winner. The last K&N Pro Series East driver to earn four wins in a year was Matt Kobyluck during his 2008 championship season while the last driver to attain four checkered flags and not capture the title was also Kobyluck, in 2005.
Little to Make Debut With Coulter at GPS: The Kevin Whitaker Chevrolet 140 will mark the first race for the recently-announced pairing of driver Jesse Little and Coulter Motorsports. Little has made three starts so far this year with his family-owned team, with a best finish of 11th at Richmond International Raceway. Coulter Motorsports started the season with Dylan Presnell as their driver before Presnell went out on his own following the fifth race of the year at Bowman Gray Stadium. Little and Coulter plan to run together through the remaining four races of the current season and compete full-time for Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors in 2013.
HOME TRACKS: Enders Leads South Carolina Standings
Anthony Enders is well-positioned for the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series state championship in South Carolina with the points season winding down. Enders, who competes at both Myrtle Beach and Greenville Pickens Speedways and hails from Easley, had forged a 113-point lead on Toby Porter through the last posted national standings on Aug. 21. Greenville’s own Porter is the points leader at his home track by 50 on Marty Ward while Enders, who runs GPS on a part-time basis, is fourth in the Late Model division standings. A driver’s best 18 results through Sept. 16 are counted toward their states and national point totals.
LAST TIME OUT: Iowa
The most recent NASCAR K&N Pro Series East race, the Pork Be Inspired 150, was held in combination with the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West on Aug. 3 at Iowa Speedway in Newton, Iowa. Here are some highlights:
• Corey LaJoie nabbed his series-leading third win of the season when he trumped the combined K&N Pro Series field. LaJoie led three times for a race-high 134 laps en route to Victory Lane.
• Cale Conley recorded his second pole in five appearances this year and led the first four laps. He finished seventh.
• Iowa native Brett Moffitt, the track’s all-time leader in laps led, ran up front for three circuits and finished fifth.
• The Pork Be Inspired 150 marked the first time that the K&N Pro Series East had visited Iowa twice in the same season since the series began running there in 2007.
NEXT TIME OUT: Loudon
Following the Kevin Whitaker Chevrolet 140, the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East will return to action on Saturday, Sept. 22 with the G-Oil 100 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, N.H. It will be the 57th all-time event at the “Magic Mile,” the most at one facility in the 26 years of the K&N Pro Series East. Brett Moffitt is the defending race winner while Darrell Wallace Jr. set the series’ qualifying record in this event last year. New England native Eddie MacDonald is the active wins leader at Loudon with three.