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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Gene Price Motorsports won each of the last two NASCAR K&N Pro Series West championships, but the team owner of the same name still felt this offseason like there was a lot more to do.
Price is motivated by the goals he sets for himself, and one of the ones he set this winter was to be better in the combination races with the K&N Pro Series East – particularly at Iowa, where the two series go head-to-head twice annually. This week at the inaugural UNOH Battle At The Beach at Daytona International Speedway, Gene Price Motorsports showed they might have made strides toward Price's latest carrot.
Not only did 16-year-old Cameron Hayley, who replaced 2012 series champion Dylan Kwasniewski, win the Battle At The Beach Tuesday, but teammate and 2011 champion Greg Pursley set the fastest time in practice, sat on the pole and led a race-high 127 laps.
“I don't think there really is a secret,” Hayley said. “The guys on this team just work their tails off. They work as hard as they possibly can, and we're out there driving as hard as we can. I think we've just made that connection right off the bat, and that's what's making us successful.”
GPM tested recently at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in preparation for the Battle At The Beach, and they took a unique approach to their multi-day session. The team set up cones in a parking lot at the speedway to simulate the uniquely flat and narrow .4-mile short track on the Daytona backstretch.
“That was interesting, I have to say. We did get it pretty close, but it was pretty hard with no grip in the parking lot. We got kind of a general idea, but I don't think it helped us a ton. I think it helped us a little bit.
“We needed to know what was going to work and what wasn't.”
ON TRACK: The most-asked question of drivers during the two days of the Battle At The Beach had to do with the track itself, which provided long 660-foot straightaways leading into corners with extremely tight radiuses.
The reviews of the configuration – which produced predictable contact and bump-and-run passes for the lead in all three races held – were mixed. NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour regular mainstay Ted Christopher, who races numerous types of cars on numerous tracks each season, initially said he didn't favor it.
But he also expanded on that, saying that the caution-filled Modified race could be a good starting point for going forward.
“It will probably get better, too. Every time you go to a race the first time, it's an unknown for everyone,” Christopher said. “Guys who were off, everybody will make their cars better and do different things that you hope would make for a better race."
Eric Goodale, who finished second behind Steve Park in the Modified race, thought it was tough to gauge how much was the track and how much was the newness of it.
“I could go either way. It's a challenging track to get around,” Goodale said. “It's different from what we normally do, but it's just a shame there were so many cautions tonight. You didn't get to really see what kind of racing these cars are capable of doing.
“I'd be happy to come back, to be quite honest with you.”
TO LEAD OR NOT TO LEAD: It wasn't a good night to be out in front, particularly in the Whelen Modified Tour race.
Several leaders and early race contenders saw their nights end early from either contact or attrition. Danny Bohn flipped over on the backstretch, Todd Szegedy led the first 126 laps from the pole before encountering suspension problems, and Ryan Preece, Kyle Larson and Ron Silk were just a few of the drivers who ran into trouble.
Perhaps the hardest luck of all went to Mike Stefanik, the seven-time Tour champion and winningest driver in series history. He was leading on the final lap when chain-reaction contact from Steve Park set him spinning out of the lead.
He was understandably frustrated at night's end.
“I don't want to say anything,” Stefanik said. “I'm just going to say the wrong thing here. I am that freaking (mad). This is (garbage).”
Green flag of the Whelen Modified portion of the UNOH Battle At The Beach. Getty Images for NASCAR