DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — NASCAR phenom Kyle Larson seemed to channel his inner Kyle Busch, NASCAR’s bad boy, Monday night to win the Whelen All-American series feature of the inaugural UNOH Battle at the Beach. The two-day event featured NASCAR’s three short-track series: K&N Pro Series, Whelen Modifieds, and the Late Model division of the Whelen All-American Series.
Larson, 20, of Elk Grove, Calif., was the busiest man at the beach Monday after he won his qualifying heat — in his first time driving a late model stock car — and borrowed a page from Busch’s playbook by spinning out race leader C.E. Falk in the last corner of the last lap to win the 150-lap All-American Series feature.
“It came down to the last lap and I wanted this trophy,’’ said Larson, the reigning NASCAR K&N Pro Series East champion and Rookie of the Year, who will attempt to run a full schedule as a Nationwide Series rookie this year.
“I got into him and didn’t get off of him and he spun around,’’ said Larson, who finished ahead of runner-up Ben Rhodes. “I hate doing it that way. It’s probably the first race I’ve ever won in that manner, but this was a pretty big race and I wanted to be the first to win it.’’
Falk stared at Larson as they passed in the press box without uttering a word. But the 25-year-old from Virginia Beach did his best to take the high road, making light of the situation by saying, “I think I got monster-trucked at the end.’’
“I’ve been short-track racing a long time,’’ said Falk, an ex-track champion at Langley (Va.) Speedway. “Last lap, when a guy is about 2 car lengths back, you’re free game up front, you’re just a sitting duck.
“He got into me and I thought I was going to be OK, but the wheels were spinning and I just couldn’t get enough forward traction. He got me that last time with a direct hit in the left rear and spun us out.”
It was a busy day for Larson, who has spent his inaugural Speedweeks driving virtually anything with four wheels at Daytona International Speedway.
He earned approval to make his Nationwide Series debut Saturday by earning his superspeedway rookie stripes with a runner-up finish to John Wes Townley in the ARCA Racing Series season opener last Saturday at Daytona.
While Danica Patrick was making history at Daytona, becoming the first woman in NASCAR history to win a pole for a Sprint Cup race, Larson was winning a USAC midget race Sunday night at New Smyrna Beach (Fla.) Speedway, where a year ago he won in his first career start in a stock car.
Larson was back at Daytona Monday preparing to compete in all three divisions of the Battle at the Beach on a 0.4-mile temporary oval on the backstretch.
Having never driven in a Modified, Larson posted the fastest lap (77.603 miles per hour) after turning 47 laps in the first Modified Tour practice session. He turned 42 laps and was 15th fastest on the speed chart (71.087) during the Pro Series practice, and he won his 25-lap All-American Series qualifying heat and the feature.
“It’s been a great week so far . . . well, it’s been a great 2013 so far,’’ said Larson, who has won five of his eight starts this season.
Grala finishes 18th
It was a tough night for Kaz Grala, of Westborough, Mass., whose No. 3 Chevrolet was damaged when it was involved in the first caution on Lap 14 of the All-American Series feature. Grala’s wrinkled hood was removed from his car, which allowed him to return and finish 18th . . . There will be nine New Englanders in Tuesday’s Whelen Modified Tour race: Todd Szegedy, of Ridgefield, Conn.; Ted Christopher, of Plainville, Conn; Ron Silk of Norwalk, Conn; Andy Seuss of Hampstead, N.H; Ryan Preece, of Berlin, Conn; Mike Stefanik, of Coventry, R.I.; Doug Coby of Milford, Conn; Woody Pitkat, of Stafford, Conn; and Bobby Santos of Franklin, Mass. Preece was the fastest among the New England group in Monday’s Modified practice when he finished fourth on the speed chart (76.829 m.p.h.).