In a race filled with veterans from the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and West, a pair of teenagers battled for the win in the inaugural UNOH Battle of the Beach at Daytona International Speedway.
NASCAR K&N Pro Series Cameron Hayley Victorious at UNOH Battle of the Beach
Cameron Hayley, a 16-year-old from Calgary, Canada, won the crash-filled race, rubbing fenders with 15-year-old rookie Gray Gaulding from South Carolina on the final lap.
Hayley, making his first start for Gene Price Motorsports, led only one lap in the race. He led for a little more than a quarter mile, taking the lead from Gaulding on the final turn, and won the first NASCAR K&N Pro Series race of his career by 0.158 seconds.
Cameron Hayley, on the inside, beats Gray Gaulding, on the outside, to the K&N Pro Series checkered flag.
"I'm just lost for words," Hayley said. "I spent a whole year last year, I really wanted that win. We weren't able to get it. It was on a rail all night. I was just trying to save my stuff till the end. Save, save, save. Tires, brakes and just stay out of trouble."
He was able to stay out of trouble on a night when almost everyone crashed at one point. There were 10 cautions for 58 laps in the 155-lap race. Hayley's teammate, Greg Pursley, won the pole and led a race-high 127 laps. But he was collected in a late-race incident that knocked him out of the lead and nearly out of the top 10.
Michael Self took over the lead and was out front for 27 laps before a crash on the last lap created a green-white-checkered flag finish.
NASCAR K&N Pro Series inaugural race action at Daytona International Speedway
Gaulding had the lead on the restart, but Hayley worked his way around the South Carolina teenager. The two drivers locked front fenders out of turn 4 with Hayley scraping slightly ahead.
"At the end there, were got shuffled back," Hayley said. "That just shows you never give up. We ended up with the win. It was amazing."
Hayley said growing up in Canada didn't present many opportunities to race. But he started racing go-karts when he was a toddler and it kindled a passion that led him to NASCAR.
"I got into racing at a very young age," Hayley said. "Jeff Gordon became my idle very quickly. When I was 4 years old I got my first go-kart. It was just this tiny little thing. My dad put me in it for the first time and he was scared to death. He didn't know if I knew what the gas and brake was. That's kind of how my racing career began."
Gaulding, who was making his NASCAR K&N Pro Series debut, was second working his way to the front through the crashes during the final laps.
Serious excitement at NASCAR K&N Pro Series UNOH Battle of the Beach
"They were pretty wild for sure," Gaulding said. "I can't thank my team enough. They worked so hard all weekend. We just had an amazing race. It was my first K&N start, so to be able to come out here and battle for the win, almost had it, it's just a great opportunity to be here at Daytona. Being able to race here at 15 and nine days is truly an honor. To be able to almost win the race, it was really, really close."
Brian Ortiz overcame an early crash and finished third.
"It was a pretty interesting one," Ortiz said. "We started in the back and just tried to conserve the car and get into a pace. I really didn't know what was going to happen. We just kept working. We got the lucky dog like three yellows after. I'm really surprised we finished third. It was really crazy at the end. It's a great way to start the season."
Hayley said it was a tough race to win.
"There was tons of wrecks and it was really hard," Hayley said. "We got into trouble with 20 (Gaulding) to go I believe, and we got shuffled back to 15th. We just needed to keep pushing and pushing. I was sitting there on that last restart, all I was thinking is they're going to wreck in front of me. There's going to be something happening in front of me. My crew chief and my spotter were coming over the radio and saying, just be patient, be patient. When you see a hole, go."
Ryan Gifford was fourth and Ben Kennedy, the great grandson of NASCAR founder Bill France Sr., was fifth.
The NASCAR K&N Pro Series West season starts at Phoenix International Raceway on March 2.
The NASCAR K&N Pro Series East season begins at Bristol Motor Speedway in Tennessee on March 16.
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