We all saw it, and we probably still are trying to decide if it’s true or not.
Justin Haley, the same one who’s a NASCAR Xfinity Series rookie and fresh off a trip to the championship finale in the Gander Trucks in 2018, is a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race winner.
Shortly after a massive wreck at the front of the field cleared the way, race leader Kurt Busch headed to pit road being told the race was a lap away from going green, and while there lightning struck over Daytona International Speedway. It immediately sent the Coke Zero Sugar 400 into delay. Everyone’s initial reaction to the delay seemed to be taking and double taking over who was marked as the leader.
20-year-old Justin Haley, making his third start for the No. 77 Spire Motorsports Chevrolet, was at the point. The delay ticked on as cameras followed a nervous Haley. Eventually drivers strapped in again, but another lightning bolt struck. The wait continued. Finally, it was over, and Haley was a first-time winner.
Haley has certainly had his moments at Daytona already in his young career. In second career Xfinity Series start last year he swooped under Kyle Larson and Elliott Sadler, beating them to the stripe for his apparent first Xfinity Series win. Nope. NASCAR said he dropped below the double yellow line to make the pass. Larson won, and Haley was left to say it was a “pretty BS call.”
Fast forward to Friday night, and Haley thought he redeemed that night to an extent, finishing second behind teammate Ross Chastain.
He couldn’t have guessed what was coming on Sunday afternoon. Many are saying it’s the most improbable victory in NASCAR history, but what’s it up against? Let’s take a look at just the past 10 years.
David Ragan – 2013 Aaron’s 400: Another superspeedway race with rain, Front Row Motorsports teammates David Ragan and David Gilliland finished 1-2 after Ragan made a last lap pass on Carl Edwards. The win was met with high praise from the rest of the field, even Edwards, who said, “As frustrated as I am by this loss, I’m really happy for (Ragan and Gilliland).”
Chris Buescher – 2016 Pennsylvania 400: Rookie Buescher, from Prosper, Tex., qualified for the playoffs with a win in the fog-shortened race at Pocono. The win stands as Buescher’s lone Cup Series victory so far.
Regan Smith – 2011 Southern 500: Regan Smith is better known for his success in the Xfinity Series, but when he yelled “We’re not supposed to win this thing!” as he crossed first in the Southern 500, it was a sign of things to come for his team, Furniture Row Racing. Once again it was Edwards who was the hard luck loser. The win was Smith’s only one in the premier series.
Trevor Bayne – 2011 Daytona 500: The second youngest winner in Cup history won the Daytona 500 in his second career starts, both categories where he’s one better than Haley’s feat. It wasn’t quite the same on the David vs. Goliath level because Bayne was racing for the historic Wood Brothers team, but it was the first time the team won Daytona since 1976. And yes, Carl Edwards finished second to yet another surprising upstart.
So is Haley’s win the most improbable? Given he was making his third career start in a part-time ride for a Rookie team, it has to be, but was it the most impressive on this list? Not by a long shot. Either way, a win’s a win, and if his budding resume means anything it won’t be the last time we see Haley make his mark.
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