It's race week at Bristol Motor Speedway, a brand new venue and brand new start for the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East.
As usual with this incredibly competitive development series on the NASCAR ladder, there are a lot of offseason story lines and changes within the garage to wrap your head around. Most significantly, perhaps, is the season getting started at a brand new track for the division.
Bristol is something of an anomaly on the Sprint Cup Series side, one of only two half-mile tracks on the schedule each season and one of only three tracks that are less than a mile in length. But while it's not the norm for the Cup circuit, Bristol's half-mile is something K&N Pro Series teams know well.
There's Bowman Gray Stadium, Gresham Motorsports Park and Greenville Pickens Speedway all on the schedule this season. All are Saturday-night short tracks; all are the kind of rough-and-tumble venues where the series and its drivers were first initiated.
Surely, Bristol is a different animal – but a lack of experience on that track shouldn't add up to a bad race on Saturday night under the lights in the Widow Wax 125.
Here's what we're watching:
NEW MAN AT THE TOP: 2011 series champion Max Gresham has graduated to the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series this season, leaving both the season title and his seat at Joe Gibbs Racing vacant.
Former Rev Racing driver Darrell Wallace Jr. (a JGR development driver) will fill the seat of the No. 18 JGR Toyota Camry, and with championship-winning crew chief Bryant Frazier calling the shots, expect Wallace to make a serious bid for the 2012 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East championship, too.
Wallace has five wins in 22 career starts, including three poles and 18 Top-10s. He was the series runner-up last season after finishing third in his rookie campaign in 2010.
EXTREME STAR: We were supposed to see more of Travis Pastrana last season in the series, until a leg injury at the X-Games derailed his stock car efforts.
He's in for the bulk of the schedule this season in the Pastrana-Waltrip Racing No. 99, and he's got multi-time champion crew chief Mike Greci calling the shots. Pastrana's best career finish is 22nd (twice), in three starts a year ago.
QUOTABLE: “It's going to be a big challenge with so many cars there, but everyone on this series is willing to jump through hoops to make it work just to have the chance to run that track.” – Eddie MacDonald, No. 71 Grimm Construction Chevrolet
NEW TEAM: Like the debut of X Team Racing last season, there's a superpower on the horizon that has yet to turn even a single lap in the series.
Hattori Racing Enterprises has enlisted the services of four-time series champion and former Rev Racing competition director Andy Santerre to serve in the same role for his new team, and Santerre has lured both Sergio Pena and Brett Moffitt to drive the cars this season.
Pena and Moffitt have combined for 10 wins between them in their careers, including six of the 12 races held in 2011.
NOTES: Chase Elliott and Ben Kennedy have teamed up to run out of the Hendrick Motorsports shop in 2012, with former Dale Earnhardt Jr. crew chief Lance McGrew serving in that capacity for Elliott... Nelson Piquet Jr. is entered in the X Team Racing No. 14 for the season opener at Bristol... Coleman Pressley, who won the pole for the series' inaugural visit to Bowman Gray Stadium in 2011, will serve as crew chief on the No. 16 of Daniel Suarez this season... Of the 36 drivers entered in the Widow Wax 125, seven of them are from outside the United States – including Australian driver Scott Saunders... Every race winner this season is automatically entered into next February's UNOH Battle on the Beach at Daytona International Speedway's yet-to-be-constructed short track on the backstretch of the famed superspeedway.