This is NASCAR at Daytona, but not like you've seen it before. There is no banking, no trioval and no pit lane. This is more like your local short track. Modifieds, Late Models and even a visit from NASCAR's regional "K&N Pro" touring series. It may be run over a Monday and a Tuesday, but make no mistake, the UNOH Battle at the Beach is for all intents and purposes Saturday night short track racing at it's finest.
On The Event
From 2003 to 2006, NASCAR's two regional touring series (the K&N Pro Series East and K&N Pro Series West) met just once a year, in a special non-championship all star race called the Toyota All-Star Showdown. It took place annually on the half mile short track in Irwindale, California in the month of January and, essentially, it existed as the world's biggest small race. It ended in 2011 as Irwindale scaled back it's schedule, and with it went the idea of an all star event for NASCAR's regional series, replaced by a more simple in-season East-meets-West event at Iowa Speedway.
In 2012, NASCAR decided to bring the idea back. This time, however, they weren't going to stay small. This time, the world's biggest small race was going to take place on NASCAR's biggest stage, with a temporary .4 mile short track at the legendary Daytona Interational Speedway replacing Irwindale as the venue for this now much grander event. the idea of a pure offseason race in mid January was canned too, and the event was moved to the only two days of cold track at Daytona during "Speedweeks", the moniker traditionally assigned to NASCAR's two week February trip to Daytona.
Furthermore, while the Toyota All-Star Showdown started as an event designed entirely for NASCAR's two national touring series, in it's transiton to the UNOH Battle at the Beach the event became something for all eight of NASCAR's "Home Track" series: the cumulative group of Late Model track championships (known as the "Whelen All American Series"), the two touring Modified classes (kown as the "Whelen Modified Tour" and "Whelen Southern Modified Tour"), the three international NASCAR Touring classes (known as the "NASCAR Canadian Tires Series", "NASCAR Mexico" and "Euro Race Car") and, finally, the two regional american touring classes (known as "K&N Pro Series East" and "K&N Pro Series West").
On The Cars
With the expansion to include all of the NASCAR Home Track programs, the race also expanded from one single main event at the Toyota All-Star Showdown (though there were local supporting events as well) to three main events, one for each class represented.
The slowest of the three classes, Late Models are purpose built stock cars designed for either local races. These are the "bridge", so to speak, between a single track championship and a regional tour. At about 30,000 per car, they are easily the most expensive thing you'll see on a normal night at a bullring, but they're still massively affordable for what they are. Usually, a Late Model has about 400 horsepower and weighs about 3000 pounds.
Fastest at the track, but a firm second in prestige, is the Modified, an ultra powerful and ultra light (for a stock car) open wheeled stock car. These, like Late Models, are seen in both regional tours and single track championships. However, the cars seen in single track championships have about 250 horsepower less than those that go on tours. A Tour Modified weighs about 2500 pounds and puts out about 650 horsepower.
The most prestigious class at the event, the Stock Car is a genuine generation 4 NASCAR racer. These are the cars that raced in the Sprint Cup Series and Nationwide Series in the late 90s and early 2000s. These cars run exclusively in NASCAR's two regional touring series, though they can be lightly modified to run in ARCA, a competing touring series. Since the Canadian, Mexican and European touring series all use completely different cars, their champions are represented in this class, with all three driving for experienced touring teams. A Stock Car weighs about 3400 pounds and has about 650 horsepower.
On The Track
While the original idea called for a perfectly flat and traditional short track, what's really been created is a bit strange. The corners are reportedly more like a hairpin on a road course than a traditional set corners at a short track. Thus, teams are using a road course style setup, and some are even reportedly downshifting into turns 1 and 3.
What does this mean? Well, it means that the racing will be slightly different than what was expected. It could mean more passing, but it could also mean plenty of mistakes from people underprepared for the track. Expect plenty of incidents in all three races.
On The Drivers
With so many drivers entered, it's hard to do a full field handicapping as I've done in the past for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and Grand-Am Rolex 24 at Daytona. Instead, I'll be simply pointing out a few drivers to watch in each class and why you should be watching them.
The only driver running in all three classes, the guy you've got to keep your eyes on is Kyle Larson. Having never driven a stock car before 2012, the 20 year old from Elk Grove, California is now running in five different stock car classes over an 8 day stretch, as well as at least one open wheel race. He's already run two of those races, finishing second in the ARCA race on the full Daytona track and winning the USAC Midget race at the New Smyrna short track, and he's spent today practicing all three of his UNOH Battle at the Beach cars. So, how'd he do? Well, before today Larson had never driven a Tour Modified. He lead the only Modified practice toay.
Oh, and he came here to run the Daytona Nationwide race and JUST the Daytona Nationwide race. Everything else is purely just him accepting offers from owners who want him to run their cars. He's the clear favorite for all three events.
The next guy you'll be looking at in the Late Model race is C. E. Falk III, the 25 year old nephew of Sprint Cup Series owner Joe Falk who's had more than a few big wins in his time. There's many other talented Late Model tourers out there, but without Ross Kenseth, Kyle Busch (who runs big Late Model races on his free time), John Hunter Nemechek, Steven Wallace or Johanna Long in the field, he's got a chance of being in a class of his own tonight. Some other drivers to keep your eyes on during this segment: Coleman Pressley, Wes Falk and Ben Rhodes.
In Modifieds, keep your eyes on Steve Park. Thrice a Sprint Cup Series winner, the 45 year old Park is now basically retired, running very few races every year but going all out when he does. He pulled himself out of the Modified ranks to join DEI not with luck but with talent, and he'll be putting that talent on display tonight. Some other drivers to keep your eyes on during this segment: Burt Myers, Jason Myers Todd Szegety, Bobby Santos and Ted Christopher.
In the K&N Pro Series class, make sure you watch 2012 K&N Pro Series West champion Dylan Kwasniewski. The 17 year old Kwasnieski is an absolutely incredible short track driver, and he's going to be moving up to the K&N Pro Series East in 2013 with a new team run by the Nationwide and Truck Series race winners at Turner-Scott Motorsports. This is the first ever K&N race for the new dedicated TSM team. Some other drivers to keep your eyes on during this segment: Corey LaJoie, Derek Thorn, Greg Pursley, Sergio Pena and Cale Conley
Where Do I Watch This?
Thankfully, SPEED is showing all three final races live over the next two nights, starting at 7 PM EST in both cases. NASCAR is also providing a youtube stream for the heat races, with Late Model heats starting right now and both K&N and Modified heats taking place tomorrow. That stream has been embedded above, so I suggest you hit "play" and start watching!
UPDATE: Unsurprisingly, Kyle Larson has won the first Late Model heat. The second is starting now.
UPDATE 2: Ben Rhodes wins the second Late Model heat. An hour or so to the start of the feature.