By Jason Cunningham, NASCAR
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The second event on the 2012 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East schedule will be at Greenville (S.C.) Pickens Speedway on Saturday, March 31 with the Kevin Whitaker Chevrolet 150.
After opening the current campaign with the inaugural visit to the high concrete banks of Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway, the K&N Pro Series East will return to familiar territory at the historic half mile in Pickens County. The series has raced at GPS each year since 2006, which marks the third-longest association among the tracks on the 2012 slate and NASCAR’s top developmental series.
While the veterans of the K&N Pro Series East have plenty of familiarity with the half mile at GPS, which is nearly flat, it will still be quite a change in driving style from the first race of the season on the 33-degree banks at Bristol. One of those veterans, Ryan Gifford, sees a definite challenge in transition from Race 1 to Race 2.
“A place like Bristol you get in the corner with quite a bit of speed then you have to slow yourself down, where at Greenville you really have to back the corner way up and roll for a long ways,” Gifford said. “It’s going to be a challenge mentally to say ‘you’ve got to slow down to go faster’.”
For all intents and purposes, Gifford is the season points leader heading to Greenville. Gifford finished third at Bristol behind Nelson Piquet Jr. and Ryan Blaney. Bristol was a one-off deal for Piquet while Blaney is running just five races this season and will not be in attendance at GPS.
Now in his fourth season of competition in the series, Gifford has a pair of runner-up efforts in his career and carries an average finish of ninth in three previous starts at GPS, with a best finish of fourth in the 2010 opener.
After a few near misses in his K&N Pro Series East career, Gifford hopes to break through for his first win in the Kevin Whitaker Chevrolet 150.
“After talking with my crew chief, Dennis [Connor], I think we’ve got a really good shot at it,” Gifford said. “They spent a couple days at TRD at the pulldown getting everything right – and [me] knowing how to save tires there plays into it a lot.
“I want to go get my first win there, and if not, hopefully we can keep the car clean and come out of there with a top five,” Gifford said.
No multiple winners: In seven previous K&N Pro Series East races at Greenville Pickens, there has yet to be a driver reach Victory Lane twice. This year three drivers will have a shot: Brett Moffitt and teammate Sergio Peña along with Darrell Wallace Jr. Two drivers have come as close as you can to a second win at GPS without ending up in the Winner’s Circle – Sean Caisse was the runner up in 2007 following his win the previous year while Moffitt finished second to Peña last September after his win in the 2011 opener.
First-time winners: Greenville Pickens has a habit of producing first-time winners in its brief association with the K&N Pro Series East. Previous Kevin Whitaker Chevrolet 150 race winners Joey Logano, Austin Dillon and Wallace all nabbed their first series win at the track.
Kwasniewski to make East debut: NASCAR K&N Pro Series West sophomore Dylan Kwasniewski will attempt to make the first of a handful of K&N Pro Series East starts this weekend at GPS. Kwasniewski registered two wins, two poles and nine top 10s in 13 West races last year to capture Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors. He will pilot the No. 20 Toyota for owner Steve deSouza, a vice president at Joe Gibbs Racing.
The first of two: Greenville Pickens is one of two tracks that will entertain the K&N Pro Series East for a pair of races in 2012 along with Iowa Speedway, which has added a second combination race with the K&N Pro Series West. GPS added a second date – which is on the Monday of Labor Day weekend – for the first time in 2011.
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