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For the fourth year in a row, the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East championship came down to the last race of the season as rookie Kyle Larson came out on top against Corey LaJoie and Brett Moffitt to capture his first title. Like the finale, the 2012 season was competitive from green to checkered.
Let’s take one final look back at some of the top stories of the 2012 campaign, the 26th in K&N Pro Series East history.
Larson fast to make a name for himself: Kyle Larson came into the 2012 season with plenty of name recognition in the open wheel ranks thanks to his success in USAC, but he had no experience in asphalt stock car racing. It took little time for the rookie to accommodate, however, as he finished in the top five in his third start and drove to Victory Lane for this first time in his sixth race. Larson went on to become just the third driver in K&N Pro Series East history – along with Joey Logano and Ryan Truex – to capture the championship as a rookie. Larson’s performance positioned him for opportunities in NASCAR’s upper ranks, where he’s already turned heads in four NASCAR Camping World Truck series starts.
LaJoie’s breakout: Third-generation racer Corey LaJoie had seven top-five finishes in 19 career starts entering 2012. He had shown flashes of brilliance, but it had yet to result in a checkered flag. That all changed this past season when he exploded for five wins and 10 top 10s – both series-best totals. The breakthrough first win came at historic Bowman Gray Stadium. His unbridled enthusiasm was on full display that night when he defied house rules by doing donuts on the football field grass inside the racing oval, then the driver nicknamed “Supershoe” started a new and unique tradition by giving away his racing shoes to a lucky fan. A late-season penalty damaged LaJoie’s title hopes, and as a result, he will go down as having the greatest season in K&N Pro Series East history that didn’t result in the championship.
More heartbreak for Moffitt: After he finished in the top three in points in each of his first two seasons, Brett Moffitt was in championship contention and leading the 2011 season finale with just four laps left before a cut tire ended the dream. As disappointing as that was, he had an even more excruciating end to the 2012 season. Just half a mile and two turns away from that elusive championship, Moffitt wrecked on the last lap of the season while racing to the checkered flag. While Moffitt has finished on the championship podium four years running, something that hasn’t been done since Andy Santerre’s title run from 2002-2005, the accomplished driver’s quest for the ultimate prize remains unfulfilled.
No sophomore slumps here: Chase Elliott, Brandon Gdovic, Ben Kennedy and Cale Conley all made huge strides during their second K&N Pro Series East seasons. Elliott led the season standings for five races earlier in the year and improved from ninth in 2011 to a fourth-place finish in 2012. Gdovic had four top fives and moved up from 15th to eighth in points while Kennedy improved from 13th to ninth and had his first career pole to go along with nine top 10s. In part-time action, Conley came from out of nowhere to capture a pair of poles and a checkered flag at Columbus.
Steady Eddie: The established veteran of a series that sees frequent turnover from year-to-year, Eddie MacDonald continues to stay competitive within the ever-changing K&N Pro Series East landscape. In 2012 he tied with the champion Larson for the series lead with 12 top-10 finishes and ranked sixth in points. MacDonald has finished in the top 10 in the final standings in each of his last six full-time seasons.
Next9’s next-level success: In just the second year of the Next9 program, an initiative to identify and promote NASCAR’s rising stars, the group’s members are already showing plenty of promise at the next level. Ryan Blaney had one of the best debuts in NASCAR Nationwide Series history and combined with NASCAR Camping World Truck Series opportunities, he registered 12 top 10s in 22 total starts, highlighted by a win at Iowa in just his third truck start. Darrell Wallace Jr. also made a splash in the Nationwide Series with a top-10 average finish in four races, and at Dover he became the first African-American in series history to earn a pole. Larson also tallied three top-10s in his aforementioned four Camping World Truck Series starts, including a runner-up finish at Phoenix.
Rev Racing continues rise: For the second season in a row, Rev Racing placed a pair of its drivers in the top five of the final standings. Driving for the NASCAR Drive for Diversity initiative’s flagship program, Darrell Wallace Jr. and Sergio Peña were both top-five in 2011, which afforded them other opportunities for 2012. Larson then led the new Rev Racing lineup this season by capturing D4D’s first NASCAR touring series championship while fellow first-year teammate Bryan Ortiz ranked fifth in points.
NASCAR’s melting pot: There is no place in the NASCAR system where more driver diversity can be found than in the K&N Pro Series East, especially from an international perspective. A total of 19 international drivers – representing 10 different countries – made starts during the season. Six foreign nations were represented in the opener at Bristol and international participation during the 2012 season reached a crescendo when 10 such drivers entered the event at New Hampshire.
Toyota’s tide tempered: A year after Toyota race cars went undefeated, the “Big Three” manufacturers made a comeback in the K&N Pro Series East in 2012. Toyota still led the way with seven wins across the 14-race schedule – including two apiece by series champion Larson and third-place Moffitt – but all-time series wins leader Chevrolet got back into Victory Lane with Chase Elliott’s first career triumph at Iowa in May. Ford and Dodge cars were also able to end long droughts in 2012. LaJoie’s five wins were the first for Ford since 2005 while Tyler Reddick’s surprise victory in the season finale at Rockingham delivered Dodge just its second win in series history, and first since 2006.