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Steve Park and Cameron Hayley win controversial races at Daytona’s Battle of the Beach

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Steve Park and Cameron Hayley became two more controversial feature winners Tuesday night at NASCAR’s inaugural UNOH Battle at the Beach, both doing so in crazy dust-ups that took out the race leader on the last lap of wild green-white-checkered finishes.

The two-day showcase of NAS-CAR’s premier short-track series — the Late Model division of the Whelen All-American Series, the Whelen Modified Tour, and the K&N Pro Series East — culminated with a pair of action-packed 150-lap features in the Modified and K&N Pro Series over a 0.4-mile temporary asphalt oval on the superstretch of NASCAR’s biggest stage, Daytona International Speedway.

Park, 45, of East Northport, N.Y., went to the front when he punted Mike Stefanik from behind as Stefanik led the field through Turn 2 of the final lap. It followed the controversial finish of Kyle Larson’s victory Monday night in the 150-lap Late Model feature when he spun out race leader C.E. Falk in the last corner of the last lap.

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Hayley, 16, of Calgary, Alberta, won the 150-lap Pro Series feature with a green-white-checkered finish in which runner-up Gray Gaulding, 15, wiped out race leader Michael Self, who finished eighth. Hayley then passed Gaulding, who went wide coming out of the final corner, to take the checkered flag.

Park, who started 30th in the 33-car grid, last started a Modified race two years ago on the Southern tour. Driving the No. 20 car backed by the event’s title sponsor, UNOH, Park rammed Stefanik and spun him out on the last lap to record his 17th career Modified victory, and first in 17 years, in a race marred by 17 cautions for 89 laps and halted twice by red-flag periods.

Eric Goodale, of Riverhead, N.Y., finished runner-up and Ted Christopher, of Plainville, Conn., finished third.

“I think I’ve raced here 14 or 15 times and never come out of here with a trophy,’’ said Park, a veteran of 191 career starts in a Modified who has raced in Sprint Cup, Nationwide Series, and Camping World Truck Series events at Daytona. “It took running a Modified at the Battle at the Beach for UNOH to walk out of here with a trophy from Daytona.’’

But it came at the expense of Stefanik, 54, of Coventry, R.I., who took the lead with 23 laps to go when Todd Szegedy, who led the first 126 laps, fell out of the top spot while running under caution because of a right front suspension problem. He returned to the race with 13 laps to go to finish 21st.

“I hate to get into Mike Stefanik, he’s a good friend of mine,” Park said. “But I was getting shoved from the back and it’s just short-track racing. He had a car capable of winning the race, but we had the luckiest car and we’re just glad to be here in Victory Lane.’’

Asked if he accepted Park’s explanation, a seething Stefanik replied, “Yeah, right. That’s a bunch of [baloney].’’

Larson started the Modified feature on the outside pole after winning his qualifying heat and finished 16th when he missed a shift on a late restart with five laps to go. The reigning K&N Pro Series East champ and Rookie of the Year then finished 10th in the Pro Series feature after starting 15th.

Scary situation

The scariest of the two red-flag cautions came on Lap 119 to clear the track after a fiery crash involving Danny Bohn, 24, of Freehold, N.J., and Ryan Preece, 22, of Berlin, Conn.

Bohn and Preece touched tires as they were racing side-by-side coming out of Turn 4, causing Bohn, who got pinched on the outside, to climb the wall and roll over on his roof after skidding about 100 yards. When Bohn’s car came to a stop near the start-finish line, the engine caught fire.

Rescue workers quickly extinguished the fire and extracted Bohn, who was not hurt. “I’ve never been upside down before in a car,’’ Bohn said.

Starts and stops

Nine New Englanders were among the starters in the 33-car grid of the Modified feature, with Christopher the best of the group with his third-place finish . . . Szegedy started from the pole and finished 21st, while Stefanik finished 13th after starting sixth and Preece was 26th. Ron Silk of Norwalk, Conn., was 11th after starting fourth; Doug Coby of Milford, Conn., was fourth after starting seventh; Woody Pitkat of Stafford, Conn., finished 12th; Bobby Santos of Franklin, Mass., was 24th; and Andy Seuss of Hampstead, N.H., placed 31st.

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