Haley wins weather-shortened Coke Zero Sugar 400
As if restrictor-plate races weren't enough of a wildcard event to begin with, throw in an extra day and some rain and lightning in the mix and you've got one of the most unexpected moments in NASCAR.
On Sunday at Daytona International Speedway, everything aligned – for better or worse – for driver Justin Haley, who found himself leading the race after 127 laps when lightning brought out the red flag in the Coke Zero Sugar 400 and was declared the winner after drenching rain forced NASCAR officials to throw in the towel.
Haley lead just one lap – officially, the lap where the field was brought to pit road for the red flag – and earned his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory in just his third Cup Series start.
"It's absolutely a blessing," said Haley, a 20-year-old Indiana native. "It's pretty incredible that I have so many great people around me that have given me this opportunity to come here to this level and stage that we are performing on. I never even saw myself running a Cup race until I got a call a few months ago to do Talladega. It's just unreal and I don't know how to put it. I don't know how to feel."
Haley, a rookie driving full-time for Kaulig Racing in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, patiently waited out the rain delay knowing everything could change – he'd experienced this before.
Just a year ago Haley thought he had won his first Xfinity Series race after beating out Kyle Larson at Daytona, but NASCAR officials ruled he had passed under the double-yellow line and awarded the win to Larson.
Haley found a bit of redemption on Friday, when he finished runner-up in Friday night's Xfinity race behind teammate Ross Chastain.
Sunday's victory was the first for Spire Motorsports – a motorsports management and marketing agency that bought the charter and the assets of the defunct Furniture Row Racing last year.
While this weekend was without a doubt a memorable one for Haley, but it was certainly not the finish anyone, including NASCAR, was expecting.
Track officials had been chasing the unpredictable Florida summer weather all weekend – first with a rain delay in Friday night's NASCAR Xfinity Series race, and then forcing to postpone Saturday night's Cup Series race due to rain.
Sunday's race started under increasingly cloudy skies and the threat of rain played a big role in how the race strategies played out with everyone wanting to be out front in the third and final stage in case weather ended the race early.
Defending Cup Series Champion Joey Logano and 2014 Daytona 500 winner Austin Dillon were the drivers to beat early on – leading a combined 75 of the first 100 laps and winning the first and second stages, respectively.
Logano won the race off pit road with a two-tire stop and lined up at head of the field for the restart, followed by Newman, Erik Jones, Austin Dillon and Chase Elliott.
At the start of the third stage, Jones and Austin Dillon powered to the front with Logano running close behind, setting the stage for another back and forth battle for the lead.
Finally on lap 117, the wheels came off.
While battling a hard-charging Denny Hamlin for the lead, Austin Dillon and Clint Bowyer made a power move on the high side. After clearing Hamlin, Bowyer made a move to low side and Dillon came down to block, sending Dillon spinning off the front bumper of Bowyer and touching off an 18-car pile up that claimed nearly all the drivers in the top 10, including Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex, Jr., Chase Elliott and last weekend's winner Alex Bowman.
When the smoke cleared, Kurt Busch found himself out in front under the yellow flag, but both he and Haley elected to stay out under the ensuing caution – putting them 1-2 for the restart.
Byron won the race off pit road ahead of Johnson, Ty Dillon and Ryan Newman and lined up behind Kurt Busch and Haley
As the field was given one lap to go under the caution flag, Kurt Busch headed to pit road for his final pit stop just moments before a lightning strike in the vicinity of the track forced NASCAR to throw the red flag – putting Haley out front as the cars were brought to pit road.
Kurt Busch's team obviously not happy with the call, believing the decision cost them a chance to win the race.
"I feel like we were in a really good position to win the race and it's just a matter of when the one random lightning bolt comes down to decide when you make the call," said Kurt Busch. "It was a judgment call on their part."
NASCAR held the cars on pit road for more than an hour and at one point called drivers back to their cars, but continued lightning in the area and rain showers prompted officials to call the race.
William Byron was credited was a second-place finish, followed by Jimmie Johnson, Ty Dillon and Ryan Newman
For Byron, the second-place finish marked a career-best – coming one position short of joining teammate Alex Bowman as a first-time winner.
"It took us a little while to get to the front from the back and finish second. So that was good," said Byron. "You're up and down a lot here. it would have been cool to win, for sure. But, it would have been a really weird way to win. So, I'm glad that we got the day out of it that we did. I would have liked to go back racing and win it the way I wanted to, but our team did a great job this week managing all the chaos and finishing second with a back-up car is pretty good. Overall it was a good race for us."
Despite winning the race, Haley is ineligible to compete in the Cup Series playoffs due to his status as a full-time Xfinity Series driver.
JUSTIN HALEY, NO. 34 FRATERNAL ORDER OF EAGLES CAMARO ZL1 - Race Winner:
YOU ARE A MONSTER ENERGY NASCAR CUP SERIES WINNER. CAN YOU BELIEVE IT?
“It's absolutely a blessing. Its pretty incredible that I have so many great people around me that have given me this opportunity to come here to this level and stage that we are performing on. Obviously Todd and my family have done a great job, but the Fraternal Order of Eagles has given me this opportunity with Spire Motorsports and its truly a blessing. I never even saw myself running a Cup race until I got a call a few months ago to do Talladega. It's just unreal and I don't know how to put it. I don't know how to feel.”
DID YOU EVER DREAM YOU WOULD RACE ON THIS LEVEL, MUCH LESS WIN HERE?
“No. Absolutely not. The stars aligned and I didn't ever think I was going to get redemption back from a few years back in Daytona, and last year when I got the Xfinity win taken away from me. So, to come back and get redemption in the Cup Series is pretty cool and makes that second place finish with Kaulig last Friday a lot better.”
HOW NERVE WRACKING WAS IT SITTING HERE TALKING TO REPORTERS WHILE YOU WERE WAITING FOR WORD ON THE RACE?
"I just don't know. They keep on asking you how you feel and I can't do anything about it. If we go racing, we go racing. If it rains out, it rains out and we can't do anything about it. At the end of the day, I was just waiting."
“I want to thank Spire Motorsports for giving me this opportunity and also the Fraternal Order of Eagles. This is my third Cup start. Talladega was supposed to be my debut but it didn’t quite go our way. So, we were kind of running around in the back there just trying to stay out of trouble. I saw lightning. I’ve never been too lucky at Daytona. It’s pretty good to be in first.”
THE CARS LOOK LIKE THEY ARE A HANDFUL
‘Yeah, they are. It’s super loose. With the Xfinity cars, they were pretty easy to drive, but it was a lot cooler at night. So, it’s hot and slick out there. It’s just super-hard to hang on to them. I was having to lift. I couldn’t run wide-open on the track or I’d spin out. A lot of car control here at Daytona. And, you really don’t think you should have to, but this package fits that as well.”
WILLIAM BYRON, NO. 24 AXALTA PATRIOTIC CAMARO ZL1 – Finished 2nd
“It took us a little while to get to the front from the back and finish second. So that was good.
THIS IS YOUR BEST CAREER FINISH
“Yeah, you’re up and down a lot here. it would have been cool to win, for sure. But, it would have been a really weird way to win. So, I’m glad that we got the day out of it that we did. I would have liked to go back racing and win it the way I wanted to, but our team did a great job this week managing all the chaos and finishing second with a back-up car is pretty good. Overall it was a good race for us.”
WOULD YOU SAY IT WAS SUCCESSFUL FOR ALL OF CHEVROLET WORKING TOGETHER TODAY?
‘Yeah, it was really successful. All of us worked really well together and I feel like that’s what got us to a second place position. It was great.”
JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 ALLY CAMARO ZL1 – Finished 3rd
“These Ally crew members on this No. 28 Ally team have been working really hard. I think we’re really starting to get our stride as a group now.”
YOU HAD A SOLID FINISH UP UNTIL THEY RED-FLAGGED THE RACE. WHAT DID YOU THINK YOU COULD GET FROM THERE?
“You never know. A lot of the aggressive drivers and the strength of the pack was so different. If it did go back to green, I think there was only a handful of cars that were still in good shape. We were certainly willing to do everything we could to get a Hendrick car to Victory Lane, but it is what it is. The race has been called and we’ll take the third place points and head home.”
HOW DO YOU THINK THE CHEVROLETS WORKED TOGETHER?
“We did good. It’s hard to predict every scenario. It’s hard to put everybody together and hard to manage. We had to stay very disciplined in the car but I think in general, I netted a better finish as a result in working closely with my Chevrolet teammates.”
ON THE MULTI-CAR CRASH:
“We had a bunch of Chevys on the bottom. As we entered Turn 1 I saw the door number on the No. 3 car (Austin Dillon), and I knew things were going down. William (Byron) did a nice job of moving to the top in front of me. A couple of cars disappeared in front of me. And the spinning cars on the outside took out the No. 88 (Alex Bowman) behind me. I was just in a very fortunate position on track and drove through and out without a scratch."
ON THE CHEVY PLAN: "It's been working well. We are still learning how to use each other in the right way and protect as many lanes as possible. We are all committed to the bottom and the bottom seems to prevail some how which is surprising. In the car, it doesn't feel like that is what is going to work out. But so far it has. So, hats off everyone in the Chevy camp. We are working really well together. My Ally Chevy has been very strong. And I am sitting in a good spot. I hope we go back racing because today is my oldest daughter's birthday and we are supposed to be fly-fishing. I'm sorry Sweetie - maybe I can bring you a trophy back."
ON THE CARS: "Everyone one is getting comfortable with the fact that deeper in the traffic there is less air. We ran front row from the front row to the last row. I think everyone is driving well and being smart but it's not easy.
TY DILLON, NO. 13 GEICO MILITARY CAMARO ZL1 – Finished 4th
“We didn’t have a chance to race for the win but this was a first top-five and best finish ever and I’m pretty pleased with that. I’m thrilled for our Germain Racing Team. It’s a nice little shot in the arm for our team to get the second half of the season going. There has been a little bit of disappointment the last couple of weeks. So, to be able to have a good finish is going to catapult us in the second half of the season. And hopefully we continue to build off that momentum. I’m proud of our effort today. Sometimes it just seems to work out.”
ON THE TEAM CHEVY EFFORT
“I think there is just great leadership at the top at Chevy that got us all together and that we had a game plan before we got to the race track the led us to being successful today as far as keeping our Camaros up front and keeping speed in the cars.”
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