DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — The last lap provided all the drama for the second consecutive night at the UNOH Battle At The Beach.
As a result, NASCAR veteran Steve Park and rising star Cameron Hayley walked off with the winner’s trophies Tuesday in the inaugural non-points event at Daytona International Speedway.
Thanks to a bump from behind, Mike Stefanik looped his car off of Turn 2 on the final circuit of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour race as Park of East Northport, N.Y., drove to his first career Daytona win Tuesday night. It was the two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race winner’s first Modified victory since 1996.
“It was just short-track racing. He probably had a car capable of winning, but we had the luckiest car. I’m just glad we won,” Park said. “It’s huge. You can win races all over this country, but you’re not going to have a Daytona trophy like we have here (for winning somewhere else).”
Park’s win came in the first half of a doubleheader of racing on the .4-mile short track on Daytona’s backstretch. In the nightcap, 16-year-old Hayley of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, won the 150-lap NASCAR K&N Pro Series event after a similar last-lap bump-and-run move didn’t pay off for Gray Gaulding.
“I went to the outside, and (Gaulding) kind of pushed me to the wall a little bit and I had to back out,” Hayley said of the green-white-checkered restart that produced his first career NASCAR K&N Pro Series win. “But I just kept on it hard, hard into (Turns 3 and 4), and we ended up with the win. It was pretty crazy.”
Gaulding held on for second with Rev Racing driver Bryan Ortiz third.
The NASCAR K&N Pro Series race was tame compared to the fireworks from the Modified event. Pole-sitter Todd Szegedy led most of the way before suspension woes sidelined him just a few dozen laps from the finish, while Danny Bohn’s car flipped and caught fire on the frontstretch. Bohn was fine after the incident and climbed out of the car under his own power. Several other contenders, including Ryan Preece, Woody Pitkat and Ron Silk all were out of contention before the closing laps.
But the real drama came in the final lap of the caution-filled race, when leaders Stefanik, Park and Eric Goodale freight-trained their way through Turns 1 and 2 on the tight oval. Park got into the back of Stefanik to send him spinning, though he felt he’d gotten too much of a push from Goodale.
“I don’t know what happened there on those last laps. I just know that guys got aggressive,” Park said. “Mike Stefanik’s a good friend of mine, and I got into the back of him, but I was getting it from the guy behind me who never lifted through the corner.”
Stefanik wasn’t as diplomatic — or as unclear — about what took place. Nor was he buying Park’s explanation.
“Yeah, right,” Stefanik said when apprised of Park’s summation. “I don’t want to say anything. I’m just going to say the wrong thing here. I am that freaking (mad). This is (garbage).”
Goodale thought the contact he initiated wasn’t enough to cause Park to hit Stefanik hard enough to spin.
“Could have been (that I touched Park),” Goodale said. “It could have been, but if it was, it wasn’t malicious. He didn’t even get out of balance at all. His car was completely straight. As soon as his bumper made contact with Stefanik, Stefanik went around.”
Goodale came home second, while Ted Christopher took third following an ending that was similar to the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Late Model finish on Monday night. In that race, Kyle Larson moved leader C.E. Falk III out of the way off the final turn en route to victory.
For Hayley, he won the NASCAR K&N Pro Series race not by being the aggressor on the final lap but by capitalizing on the chaos that was around him.
Gaulding charged into the back of leader Michael Self with two laps remaining, nearly stopping in the center of the track to avoid the backlash. Once back under acceleration, he bolted to the lead with Hayley — who had been fourth on the restart — in tow.
Gaulding made it to Turn 4 with the lead, but he bobbled on his own and washed up the track to open the door for Hayley to win the drag race to the checkered flag. It was a bit of redemption for Gene Price Motorsports, Hayley’s team, which had seen Greg Pursley led 129 laps from the pole before being booted out of the lead.
“The car was on a rail all night,” Hayley said. “I was just trying to save my stuff to the end, just save, save, save. … It was just trying to stay out of trouble with all the wrecks and stuff.”