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Hardest part of the K&N East season comes Saturday for Justin Haley

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Last December Justin Haley sat in the back of the room at the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East banquet with what he cracked was his “participation trophy” for finishing sixth in points.

Haley watched as William Byron enjoyed all the perks of being the champion. Then he turned to his family.

“I said, ‘You know, that’d be cool to be up there,’ and they told me we’d get it this year,” Haley told NBC Sports during a champion’s outing at GoPro Motorplex on Thursday. “I guess I get to experience it now and see what it’s like.”

Haley will be formally honored Saturday at the NASCAR Night of Champions Touring Awards. He’s looking forward to going from the back of the room to the spotlight at the front. It will be a nice feeling to be recognized and know his face will be the one on the screen all those in attendance will be looking at.

There’s just one thing about Saturday night Haley is not looking forward.

“The speech is low on my list,” he said with a laugh.

Speaking in front of the room filled with champions and competitors from the NASCAR K&N West Series, Pinty’s Series, Whelen Euro Series, as well as the Whelen Modified and Southern Modified Tour, might be the only thing that trips Haley up this season.

He made winning his first championship look easy with 14 top-10 finishes in 14 races. He finished no worse than ninth in those 14 races and had two victories and three poles. His average finish was 3.4.

It’s worth noting that 2016 was just his second full-time season and he entered it still looking for his first career win. Haley lets out a laugh of disbelief when talking about his statistics.

“We had 14 races and 13 top fives, which was incredible,” Haley said. “The other race we finished ninth in, which we were running third at Mobile (International Speedway) and it was my fault because I jumped a restart, so we should have 14 top fives. But it’s incredible because it goes to show HScott Motorsports with Justin Marks gave me a fast car but also a reliable car.”

There was also the luck factor, Haley admitted. His No. 5 Chevrolet wasn’t one to find trouble through cut tires or mechanical failures. He also led a total of 216 laps on the year.

“We had tons of luck on our side, which is great,” Haley said. “A season like that doesn’t come often. But I was just super thankful when I saw (my numbers) and just to have all that luck – it was really a season that you don’t come by very often, and I was lucky to just put my name on the map a little bit more.”

Since winning the championship at Dover International Speedway on Sept. 30, Haley has enjoyed all the obligations that come with his accomplishment, as well as the various Twitter notifications, which he called “pretty exciting.” The night prior the karting outing at GoPro Motorplex, Haley and his fellow Touring and Weekly Series champions were welcomed to the NASCAR Hall of Fame where they had dinner and placed their names in the Whelen Hall of Champions.

Haley also recently celebrated in the Bahamas by going on a cruise with his team. Each experience has been thrilling for the 17-year-old. But it all leads to the hardest part yet.

“It’s been done for a while,” Haley said of his banquet speech. “We’ll practice it a few more times. It’s definitely going to be – we’ll see how many times I can stumble.”

Justin Allgaier, Cole Custer tied at top of Xfinity playoff standings

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Justin Allgaier and Cole Custer are tied for the top spot in the Xfinity playoff standings after the playoff opener at Kentucky Speedway.

Each driver has 2,057 points.

Allgaier finished third after bouncing back from losing a tire on Lap 19 and going two laps down. He was two laps down for 27 laps and one lap down for 30 before getting back on the lead lap.

Custer, who finished fifth, won the first two stages of the race, earning two playoff points in the process.

The top five in points are Allgaier, Custer, Elliott Sadler (-2), Daniel Hemric (-5) and William Byron (-6).

Click here for the points standings.

Results from Xfinity race at Kentucky Speedway

Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images
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Tyler Reddick scored his first career NASCAR Xfinity Series win, leading a 1-2 finish for Chip Ganassi Racing on Saturday night at Kentucky Speedway.

Reddick beat teammate Brennan Poole by 14.5 seconds in the playoff opener.

Reddick is the seventh different winner in the last seven series races. He led twice for 66 laps. Reddick had not led any laps until Saturday night.

Playoff contender Justin Allgaier rallied from two laps down after a right front tire went down early in the 200-lap race to finish third. Ryan Preece placed fourth. Rookie Cole Custer, who won both stages, finished fifth.

Click here for race results

Tyler Reddick wins playoff opener at Kentucky for first career Xfinity victory

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Tyler Reddick, a part-time driver for Chip Ganassi Racing, led 66 laps to win the Xfinity Series playoff opener at Kentucky Speedway.

In his rookie year in the series, Reddick earned the win in his 15th start in the No. 42 Chevrolet.

The 21-year-old driver beat teammate Brennan Poole, Justin Allgaier, Ryan Preece and Cole Custer.

“I don’t know if it was necessarily me making a statement, it’s just Chip Ganassi Racing making a statement,” Reddick told NBCSN. “(Crew chief) Mike Shiplett has brought me from ground zero all the way to here. All the guys at Ganassi have gone above and beyond in helping me become a better driver. To be here today is surreal.”

Reddick, who had not led a lap before Saturday night, took the lead for the first time on Lap 126 of the 200-lap race.

Reddick is the fourth Xfinity driver to get his first win this season.

Saturday’s win comes after it was announced on Sept. 14 that Reddick would join JR Motorsports full-time in 2018.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Cole Custer

STAGE 2 WINNER: Cole Custer

MORE: Race results

MORE: Points standings

WHO HAD A GOOD NIGHT: Justin Allgaier bounced back from losing a tire and going two laps down to finish third. He leaves Kentucky tied with Cole Custer at the top of the playoff standings. … Brennan Poole’s runner-up finish is a career-best result in 77 starts … Ryan Preece has finished in the top four in all three of his starts for Joe Gibbs Racing. … Ryan Reed finished 10th, ending an eight-race streak without a top 10.

WHO HAD A BAD NIGHT: Sam Hornish Jr. finished 31st, nine laps down after contact with Brandon Jones on Lap 53 caused him to hit the wall at the exit of Turn 2, forcing him to pit for repairs. … William Byron finished 18th, two laps down after he was forced to pit on Lap 101 for a loose wheel.

NOTABLE: The No. 2 of Ben Kennedy failed rear heights in post-race inspection. … Reddick is the seventh different driver to win in the last seven races this season. … Reddick is the seventh different winner in the last eight races at Kentucky.

QUOTE OF THE NIGHT: “I was about the color of my car (red) there for a little bit.” – Justin Allgaier after finishing third following a rebound from going two laps down early in the race.

NEXT: Drive Sober 200 at Dover International Speedway at 3 p.m. ET on Sept. 30 on NBCSN.

Social Roundup: Sights from first Martinsville night race

Marty Snider
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The wait is over.

Night racing at Martinsville Speedway is now a reality.

After tests and practice sessions, the half-mile track in Virginia hosted the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 and its qualifying races Saturday night for the NASCAR Late Model Series, which was won by Timothy Peters.

In attendance at the race were Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin and Daniel Suarez, as well as NBCSN’s Marty Snider, who watched his son Myatt compete in the race.

Here’s a look at some of the sights and sounds from the historic night for NASCAR’s oldest track.