DAYTONA BEACH, FL :: Monday night’s opening night of the Inaugural UNOH Battle at the Beach at Daytona International Speedway kicked things off with a bang.
The temporary track built on the Daytona Superstretch was challenging and kept drivers on the edge of their seats which led to an overabundance of caution flags and created a much talked about finish. However, just because controversy surrounded the event doesn’t mean that it was the only story from the race.
The Battle at the Beach was full of feel good stories. Let’s breakdown some of those stories for you.
In nearly every other instance where one driver blatantly ran over another for a win, NASCAR and nearly every sanctioning body have penalized the offending driver. One clear example would be January 2009 in the Toyota All-Star Showdown (the race the UNOH Battle at the Beach replaced) when Joey Logano made a dive-bomb move on Peyton Sellers and, despite crossing the finish line first, was penalized for rough driving.
Had NASCAR penalized Kyle Larson for his intentional spin of CE Falk, Ben Rhodes would have hoisted the trophy in victory lane. Rhodes certainly wouldn’t have just fallen into the victory either. He led much of the race early on and stayed in contention the whole way, coming up just short in second at the line. Unfortunately, as controversy often does, it overshadowed the kid’s best run to date. While he has no victories to his credit, his runs at Richmond International Raceway and Martinsville Speedway last year and the Daytona performance has shown that he’s a contender. His winless streak will almost certainly come to an end this season
Coming into the race, the Late Model Stock Car contingent were almost all worried over the rules for this race mixing them with straight-rail Super Late Model type cars. It caused a shorter field and it caused several LMSC drivers to make a switch to the straight rail variety. Some of those drivers had previous experience in straight rails and one of those was Anthony Anders. Anders had competed in select straight rail races and brought his straight rail to compete in the Battle at the Beach.
Anders proved that the straight rails were going to be strong along with others such as Nate Monteith and Lee Pulliam among others. Anders battled through adversity to rally to a fourth place finish and felt that if he had a built engine and not a crate that he would have been able to battle for the win. He certainly proved that the rules package combining the two types of cars was near perfect.
Deac McCaskill wasn’t the fastest at Daytona. He didn’t have the best car and he might have been struggling a little. However, in the end of the race, he proved to be veteran savvy and grabbed a top five finish while others had their cars trashed and feelings hurt. McCaskill has proven over time that he might not be the fastest bullet in the chamber but his aim is pretty good.
Matt Bowling started his heat race in sixth position but, by the time he made it to turn one, his run in the heat race was ruined. He and Anthony Anders made hard contact as the race began. Bowling spun and finished dead last in his heat race. Starting 29th, shotgun on the field for the feature, Bowling this time kept his nose clean and made it to a sixth place finish. The young driver has proven that he can get the job done and if not for his heat race mishap, he might well have been in the battle for the win.
Lee Pulliam is the reigning NASCAR Whelen All-American Series National Champion and he got there behind the wheel of his family owned Late Model Stock Car. However, instead of taking that Hedgecock Racing Chassis to Daytona, he opted to take a Hedgecock built straight-rail chassis instead. That proved to be the wrong decision as the first straight-rail at the finish was fourth and the Late Model Stock Cars proved to be the optimal car. Pulliam no doubt made an incredible run, overcoming a heat race spin and troubles in the feature to come back and finish seventh but how good would he have run in more familiar equipment?
Dalton Zehr is a local Daytona Beach, FL resident and for him to get the chance to race his Late Model on his hometown track had to be the thrill of a lifetime. He wasn’t the strongest car there but, in the end, he managed an 8th place finish, which was tops of the non-Late Model Stock Car drivers in the field.
LOW BUDGET, HIGH PERFORMANCE
Brandon Rogers isn’t exactly a household name. He’s one of those low budget racers that, despite not having the funds to compete with the Philip Morris’ and the Lee Pulliam’s, he shows up every week and puts in 110%. Rogers did just that at Daytona and it paid off with a ninth place finish.
TOUGH DAY AT THE TRACK
Many of the drivers who brought straight-rails to Daytona felt as if they would be so much better than the Late Model Stock Cars. Garrett Campbell probably had a twice as much reason to feel that way as he has experience competing in the very straight-rail he brought to Daytona despite being one of Late Model Stock Car racing’s brightest young stars. Campbell, however, struggled mightily all day, but in the end came home with a tenth place finish. It’s certainly no success story but it is better than the way the day started.
If it wasn’t for bad luck, Mike Looney would have no luck at all. The underfunded veteran driver made a last minute decision to take off from the Roanoke Valley of Virginia to Daytona Beach, Florida for a chance to compete at Daytona International Speedway. The opportunity was too much to pass up and, with funding to go, Looney was all in. He was fast all day and, when it came race time, he proved to be up to the challenge of the challenging track. While running with the leaders a mechanical failure took Looney out of contention, but he still managed a 15th place finish.
GOOD CAR, BAD BREAK
Jake Engle might not have had the best car at Daytona but he had a car that could have contended with the front runners if not for some mechanical issues. Engle practiced fast and proved to be one of the cars to beat but, come race time, bad luck was looming around the corner. Engle’s car died after his battery was drained and from there, his night was all but done. He still managed a 17th place effort but he could have had so much more.
If it was really Kaz Grala’s first Late Model race, he could have fooled almost anyone around. The young driver was indeed running his first Late Model race and he impressed right from the word go. He practiced as the fourth fastest and then qualified eighth. He followed that up with a fourth place finish in the heat race. In the feature, he was doing a good job of staying out of trouble until he got torn up in an early crash where he got into the back of another car. Despite the 18th place finish, the Legends car stand out stood out in his first Late Model appearance.
UP IN SMOKE
Nate Monteith had a rocket at Daytona. He posted the fastest time in practice and qualified second. Then his night got turned upside down on the start of the heat race when CE Falk would get into the back of his ride turning him in front of the field at the same time as a crash occurred behind them. Monteith wouldn’t recover so nicely in the heat race after restarting in the rear and would finish the heat in seventh. In the feature he would climb from mid-pack to challenge the leaders but, as he raced in the top five, his engine went up in smoke. He might not have got the chance to challenge for the lead, but he certainly showed that he would have been a contender come the end of the race.
If Daytona’s “Battle at the Beach” proved anything, it proved that Late Model Stock Cars can stand up all too well against the Super Late Model type cars under the rules that NASCAR set forth for combining the two. The rules package scared away many teams but most of them spent Monday night and Tuesday wishing that they had gathered up the guts to take their cars to Daytona Beach, FL and raced in what was one of the biggest races ever for the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series competitors.