Battle at the Beach sees changes for 2014 event
February 17, 2014, Zack Albert, NASCAR.com
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- There are a handful of changes in store for Tuesday night's 2nd annual UNOH Battle at the Beach for NASCAR's touring series regulars, most notably some alterations to the layout on the backstretch of Daytona International Speedway.
But the formula remains the same -- close-quarters racing and a big-time showcase for stock-car racing's short-track stars.
"The track's going to be a little bit different, but a lot of beatin' and bangin' is going to go into play," said 16-year-old Gray Gaulding, a NASCAR Next developmental driver who finished second in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series portion of the inaugural Battle last year. "It's all about putting yourself in the right position."
The wrong position in last year's event was being the leader in the late stages. In all three non-points races last season for the K&N Series, NASCAR Whelen All-American Series, and the combined NASCAR Whelen Modified and Southern Modified tours, the leading car was spun out of contention in the final lap.
The All-American Series won't be competing at Daytona this year, and the Modified race will remain an exhibition, but the 150-lap K&N Series event will count toward the championship standings -- a new wrinkle that could lead to a more cautious approach.
"I know it's the beginning of the season, but I feel like at the end of the season, you always have to have top-10s so I feel like everybody might be a little more laid-back in that race," said K&N regular and NASCAR Next member Kenzie Ruston. "Try to get a top-10 instead of just wrecking each other."
Both series will return Tuesday night to find an altered track, designed to minimize the frequent dive-bombstyle of passing that bruised fenders and feelings alike in 2013. The straightaways of the makeshift track on the speedway's backstretch will be shorter and the turns will have rounder apexes, slightly shortening the course from 0.4 miles to 0.37. The tires outlining the course will also be stacked shorter and painted white to improve visibility.
"I think that's going to help a lot with the racing," said Cameron Hayley, last year's Battle at the Beach K&N Series winner and runner-up in the season championship race in 2013. "It's still short-track racing on a flat track and it's going to be tough, but I think it's going to be a lot better this year."
Hayley is already off to a strong start in defense of his Battle of the Beach crown. The Calgary, Alberta native won the pole position and finished second to NASCAR Drive for Diversity standout Daniel Suarez on Sunday night in the K&N Pro Series season opener at nearby New Smyrna Speedway.
As Hayley participated in last Thursday's NASCAR Media Day at Daytona, the memories of his victory last February came rushing back.
"It was an incredible experience just to be at Daytona, let alone to win at Daytona," he said. "Just even today, driving into the Daytona atmosphere is crazy, and I remember what it was like last year and it was just mind-blowing."
The Modified race won't count for championship points, but the 150-lapper will present one of a handful of opportunities this season for the northern-based tour to compete head tohead against its southern brethren. Regional bragging rights aside, reigning Whelen Modified Tour champion Ryan Preece says the 26-car field won't lack for motivation.
"We're here at Daytona, it's $20,000 to win, which for us weekend warriors, money like that it's just like dangling a piece of cheese when you're starving in front of your face," said Preece, a 23-year-old Connecticut native. "It's just going to be interesting and I'm looking forward to it. If I could win that race and come home with that trophy, it'd be one for the record books."
Pit notes: Both races will be broadcast live starting at 7 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 2, MRN Radio and Sirius XM NASCAR Radio Ch. 90. ... Modified owner/driver Rob Fuller has named Joshua Bell, a 22-year-old race fan and cancer survivor, as an honorary crew member for Tuesday night's race and events this week at New Smyrna Speedway. Fuller and Bell have teamed up with 15-40 Connection, a non-profit organization that raises awareness and encourages early detection of cancer in teens and young adults.