DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Cameron Hayley spent most of the 2012 NASCAR K&N Pro Series West season wondering if the pressure was starting to get to him.
As a member of NASCAR’s Next9 program – highlighting rising stars climbing the NASCAR national ranks – Hayley’s season was highlighted by just five top-5 finishes in 15 races. With other Next9 drivers like Corey LaJoie, Dylan Kwasniewski and Kyle Larson winning races and championships, Hayley wasn’t sure he belonged in such accomplished company.
But the native of Calgary, Alberta, shrugged off the pressure to win the inaugural UNOH Battle At The Beach on the short track at Daytona International Speedway last week in his first start after joining Gene Price Motorsports in the off season.
Hayley hopes to keep the momentum rolling this week, as the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West opens its 2013 season at Phoenix International Raceway with the Talking Stick Resort 60 on March 2. Hayley’s best finish in three series starts at the one-mile track in the Valley of the Sun was fifth, last November.
“It was hard being in the Next9 last year and watching all those guys around you when you’re not getting wins,” said Hayley, who replaced Kwasniewski this season at GPM. “It was a time where it did hit me that I’m replacing Dylan Kwasniewski, the K&N Pro Series West champion last year. That sort of put pressure on me early. But then I was like, I need to forget about this. He’s gone, I’m in and I just need to focus on making my race career better and making the most of what I have.
“The pressure was there at first, but now it’s just pretty much the pressure I put on myself.”
It’s not been an easy path to NASCAR’s touring ranks for Hayley, particularly coming out of Western Canada. The 16-year-old in his sophomore season in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West got an early start in racing thanks to his godfather.
“When I was four years old, I got my first go-kart,” Hayley said. “It was just this tiny little thing, and my dad put me in it for the first time and he was scared to death. He didn’t know if I knew where the brake and gas were. That’s kind of how my career started.
“We decided to come down here and hopefully make a name for myself.”
A win at Daytona this year, coupled with a championship-caliber run in the K&N Pro Series West could certainly do that.