Elliott Sadler

Long: How signs pointed toward Justin Haley’s shocking Daytona victory

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — This wasn’t supposed to happen. There’s no way this little team could prevail at such a prestigious track that has celebrated the sport’s giants. And this driver? Well, he’d already had a win, at least in his mind, taken away here. So as he held the lead during a delay for lightning and then rain, surely series officials would wait for the weather to clear and run the final 33 laps, especially with seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson lurking in third place.

Yes, this wasn’t supposed to happen.

But the signs told Melissa Dennis that her 20-year-old son, Justin Haley, would win his first Cup race Sunday at Daytona International Speedway. No matter how much she tried, the signs kept pointing to one of the more unlikely victories in recent NASCAR history.

When the race began, Dennis couldn’t get her son’s radio channel on her headphones. Instead, she heard Seals & Crofts’ iconic song “Summer Breeze.”

The smooth melody and lyrics sent Dennis back to her childhood. Her family often heard that song when they spent summer days at an Indiana lake. When Dennis’ mother, Linda Braun, died in 2008, the family was asked to select a song to play at the service. They chose “Summer Breeze” for those memories on the lake.

When Dennis heard the song in her headphones Sunday, her first thoughts were “Are you kidding me mom? Why are you popping up today?”

Dennis said her son’s life changed the day after Linda Braun’s funeral. Haley, who was 9 years old, saw a quarter midget hanging from a family member’s barn and wanted to drive it.

“We pulled it down, let him drive it around the subdivision and couldn’t get him out of it,” Haley’s uncle, Drew Braun said.

After driving the quarter midget, he didn’t have to work hard to convince his mother and stepfather to let him race. His first quarter midget was not a thing of beauty, down to his black spray paint job on the car, but he had fun.

Justin Haley and Jimmie Johnson chat during the weather delay at Daytona. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

A year later, Haley’s family put him in a faster quarter midget and Dennis said her son “got scared.”

The family huddled.

“We said … we’re either going to go out and really try hard, or we’re just going to go have fun,” Dennis said Haley was told.

“I want to have a career,” Haley said of racing.

Soon, the family was spending more than 40 weekends a year taking him to races.

“We devoted every spare second we had to making sure he was on track,” Dennis said.

Haley moved to North Carolina with his stepfather in 2015 when he ran the K&N Pro Series East Series full-time. His mother and siblings stayed in Indiana. That arrangement lasted less than a year before the family reunited in North Carolina.

“Justin needed to have a family,” Dennis said of joining her son.

The following season, Haley won the K&N Pro Series East championship. He moved to the Gander Outdoors Truck Series in 2017. Haley won three races in 2018 and finished third in the points.

That year also saw him run three Xfinity races, most notably the July event at Daytona. Haley charged under Kyle Larson and Elliott Sadler coming to the checkered flag to cross the finish line first, but NASCAR penalized Haley for going below the double yellow line to make the move. Larson was declared the winner. Haley said at the time it was a “pretty BS call.”

Haley has never watched that race. And he does not intend to do so.

But his family sees that finish differently.

“Last year, we thought dad was the reason he didn’t win,” Braun said, “because we figured dad pushed him below the yellow line, saying, “Hey, this is going to help your career more than if your won the race,’ which we believe it did because it gave him a lot of notoriety by that mistake that he really wouldn’t have got. People have talked about that for a long time. In a lot of ways, it was better.”

Ross Chastain congratulates Justin Haley after Haley’s victory. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Haley, a rookie in Xfinity this season, came close to redemption Friday, finishing second to teammate Ross Chastain.

While Haley’s focus has been on the Xfinity ride, Sunday marked his third Cup start for Spire Motorsports.

His Cup debut came in April at Talladega. He failed to finish because of a crash.

It was with that race in mind that Haley’s focus Sunday was to make sure not to damage the car for the small team.

“Strategically today, I was just riding around,” Haley said, “and I would have been really happy with a lead‑lap finish.”

He rode in 27th when the leaders crashed, triggering an 18-car melee that he drove through.

“I was ahead of (Haley) going through the wreck, and I must have slowed down too much because the sucker passed me,” Corey LaJoie said with a smile after his career-best sixth-place finish.

Haley was seventh when the caution waved. He moved to third when those in front, including Johnson and William Byron pitted. That put Haley behind Kurt Busch and Landon Cassill. When NASCAR stated it would go to green on the next lap, Busch and Cassill pitted, giving Haley the lead.

Lightning was recorded within an 8-mile radius of the track and NASCAR stopped the race at 3:18 p.m. ET with Haley leading.

“We were just on the wrong side of a lightning bolt,” Busch said.

A little more than an hour later, drivers were called to their cars and were strapping in when lightning again was detected within the 8-mile radius, delaying a restart.

Haley sought cover in the drivers meeting room, as officials transformed it into a backup Victory Lane.

“I’ve never been too lucky here,” Haley said as he waited while hearing the rain pelt the building’s roof. “That’s why I’m trying not to get my hopes up.”

Haley concedes he does not show much emotion. He appeared calm as he waited. But he wasn’t. A tongue-tied conversation that ended with a nervous laugh, betrayed his anxiousness. As did his right hand. He rose it to show a friend how much it shook.

“Definitely a lot of stuff going on,” Haley said with a chuckle.

That included his stomach, which he described as a “little turned over” while he waited.

“To be in this position is pretty insane,” Haley said.

The waiting ended at 5:30 p.m. ET when NASCAR declared the race over and Haley the latest winner at Daytona, joining a group that includes those named Petty, Earnhardt and Andretti.

The Haley family celebrated while looking toward Linda Braun.

“I know she had a hand in it,” Drew Braun said. “I know that. No doubt in my mind.”

Dennis said she would deliver a message to her mom once the victory hit, but standing near her son as he had pictures taken with his team and the trophy, the shock was still there.

But Dennis, speaking through tears, knew what she would tell mom.

“I’m going to say thanks.”

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Tonight’s Xfinity race at Daytona: Start time, lineup and more

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Christopher Bell, Tyler Reddick and Cole Custer have combined to win the last nine Xfinity Series races heading into tonight’s event at Daytona International Speedway. Each has won three races during this stretch.

Will their dominance continue? Or will there be a new winner? Michael Annett scored his first series win in February at Daytona. Can he sweep Daytona?

Here’s all the info for today’s race:

(All times are Eastern)

START: David Morgan, vice president of Circle K, will give the command to start engines at 7:23 p.m. The green flag is scheduled for 7:35 p.m.

PRERACE: Garage opens at 1 p.m. Driver/crew chief meeting is at 3:25 p.m. Qualifying is at 3:45 p.m. Driver introductions are at 6:45 p.m. The invocation will be given at 7:16 p.m. by Sonny Gallman, pastor, Central Baptist Church, Daytona Beach. Kelly Parsons Kwiatek will perform the National Anthem at 7:17 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 100 laps (250 miles) around the 2.5-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 30. Stage 2 ends on Lap 60.

TV/RADIO: NBCSN will televise the race. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. with NASCAR America. Countdown to Green airs at 7 p.m. The Motor Racing Network’s radio broadcast begins at 7 p.m. and also can be heard at mrn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry MRN’s broadcast.

FORECAST: wunderground.com calls for mostly cloudy skies with a high of 84 degrees and a 17% chance of rain for the start of the race.

LAST TIME: Kyle Larson won this race a year ago, finishing ahead of Elliott Sadler and Christopher Bell. Justin Haley was the first to cross the finish line but was penalized for passing below the double yellow lines. Michael Annett won in February, finishing ahead of Justin Allgaier and Brandon Jones

STARTING LINEUP: Defending series champion Tyler Reddick will start on the pole. Click here for the starting lineup.

Friday 5: The impact Alex Bowman’s win had on a fellow competitor

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Seven words transported Landon Cassill through time and space last weekend.

After Alex Bowman retreated from the roof of his car at Chicagoland Speedway, celebrating his first career Cup win, he said of the triumph: “It’s all I’ve wanted my whole life.”

Those words struck Cassill.

“I’ve said the same thing a lot,” Cassill said Thursday, walking from the Xfinity garage to the Cup garage as he competes in both events this weekend at Daytona International Speedway. “If I could win just one race. I’ve thought that to myself.

“I think that hit me because I saw myself as (Bowman) winning that race. Then it kind of made me think about everything it takes from the time you are a little kid and everything that somebody like Alex Bowman or myself has had to do in his career.”

Landon Cassill says that Alex Bowman’s win provides ‘a tremendous amount of hope’ that a driver can climb up to a race-winning ride. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)

Every driver’s journey is different. Cassill was hired as a development driver for Hendrick Motorsports before he graduated high school in Iowa. He served as a test driver, helping the team develop the Car of Tomorrow. Cassill drove for JR Motorsports in 19 of 35 Xfinity races in 2008 but then ran only one Xfinity race the following season.

He moved to Cup in 2010. His 16 races were spread among three low-budget teams. Much of his career has been with such operations. Cassill, who turns 30 Sunday, has driven for four Cup teams that since have folded.

Still, he’s made 305 Cup starts but has never won. His best finish was fourth at Talladega on Oct. 19, 2014. Combined with Xfinity and the Gander Outdoors Truck Series, Cassill has made 440 starts in NASCAR national series. He continues to seek his first win in any of those series.

So when Bowman — whose first 71 Cup starts were with an organization that since has folded — won last weekend, the significance wasn’t lost on Cassill.

He tweeted about how he’s seen Bowman’s journey up close and how “there’s a lot of racecar drivers that felt that win.”

Bowman gives those racers hope, showing that one can climb from the depths of the sport to reach Victory Lane.

“It’s a tremendous amount of hope,” Cassill said of Bowman’s feat. “It’s a reminder to me, you still need massive support to get there, but it was hope that you still need to fight for the kind of support.”

Bowman saw Cassill’s tweet and appreciated the comments.

“Him and I raced each other a lot in the back half of the garage over the years,” Bowman said. “He’s obviously super good and does a lot with a little. You look at guys like Ross Chastain that have kind of had a similar career path. I feel like the back half of the garage doesn’t get the credit they deserve sometimes.”

It’s challenging to move up from the back half of the field. After losing his ride, Bowman was hired by Hendrick Motorsports to be its simulator driver. There were no races with that deal, but it led to nine starts for JR Motorsports, then to substitute for Dale Earnhardt Jr. after he missed the last half of the 2016 season because of a concussion. Bowman took over Earnhardt’s ride in 2018 after Earnhardt retired.

That Bowman’s victory happened just before Cassill’s 4-year-old son drove a go-kart for the first time also made Cassill pause.

“I was looking at a 4-year old,” he said, “and I’m like ‘Man, kid, there’s just no telling what it’s going to take to win just one race.’ ”

Bowman knows.

2. End of an era

This weekend marks the last time Daytona International Speedway is scheduled to host a Cup race on or near July 4. The track has held its race around that time every year but one since 1959. The exception was 1998 when wildfires forced the event to be rescheduled for October. Next year, Daytona will host the regular-season finale on Aug. 29.

In 1949, NASCAR’s inaugural season, the series raced on the beach at Daytona on July 10. When the track opened in 1959, the July 4 date became a staple.

While some view this as a significant weekend because of the date change next year, Clint Bowyer doesn’t see it that way.

“It’s a race, man,” Bowyer said. “I hate to say it. I hope this doesn’t rub someone the wrong way and me saying this, but it’s almost like don’t claim Fourth of July. That’s not the Fourth of July Daytona race. It’s the Fourth of Damn July. Make no mistake about it.

Richard Petty’s 200th and final career Cup race came in the July Daytona race in 1984. (Photo by ISC Archives via Getty Images)

“I don’t like having to be there practicing Thursday at Daytona. I feel like we’re asking our fans to be there as well. If we’re on the racetrack, that means you’re asking fans to be there. I don’t want it to take away from their Fourth of July.

“I got a family, I got kids. Everybody likes to come over to my house. And unfortunately, that’s going to be a Wednesday night show instead of on the Fourth. Still you could go down then and still put on a show. In my opinion, Daytona stands on its own two feet and it always will. It doesn’t need Fourth of July to be a part of that. Daytona is a celebration all of its own.”

Ryan Blaney said: “I always liked having the Daytona race that weekend, but at the end of the day, it is just a weekend and just a race, and you can move it to whatever date you want. As long as you are going there, you know you are going to a very special racetrack. I always enjoy it being on the weekend of the Fourth.”

But Daytona isn’t the only track to host a Cup race on July 4. Oswego, New York (1952), Spartanburg, South Carolina (1953), Weaverville, North Carolina (1954) and Raleigh, North Carolina (1956-58) also have held races with NASCAR’s top series on July 4.

David Pearson has the most Cup wins on July 4 with five. Tony Stewart and Cale Yarborough scored four wins each on or around July 4.

3. A new idea

Ty Dillon has expressed many ideas on ways the sport can engage fans. With NASCAR’s help, he had a link to a camera in his car at Sonoma that immersed fans in his world during the race.

“I just think the basis of that idea was to have live-streaming cameras in every single race car,” Dillon said. “We can afford that in this sport and whoever wants to do it can do it. That way, we can maybe live stream from each driver’s personal account, team’s account or it can vary week to week. This is to drive fan engagement to certain sponsors, teams and add value that way.”

Dillon wants to do more. He wants drivers to have the ability to respond to fans during a race. He’s willing to extend a stage break caution to do so.

“Drivers, owners, race teams, TV providers all have to understand the importance that we have to open our minds to the fact that between stages is just as important to the future of the sport to communicate to our fans as it is to get in the right call of information,” Dillon said. “Yes, you have to get the right information into our crew chief first, but we can maybe take an extra pace lap under caution for a social lap.”

It’s an interesting concept. Maybe there will come a day where competitors will take an extra lap of caution during stage breaks to answer questions from fans.

4. Not looking back

Justin Haley crossed the finish line first in this Xfinity race a year ago at Daytona International Speedway but was penalized for going below the double yellow lines at the bottom of the track to get by Kyle Larson and Elliott Sadler to cross the finish line first.

As he returns for tonight’s race (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN), he’s seeking to forget last year’s finish.

“I was more upset with myself and disappointed in myself,” Haley said of that finish. “I’ve never watched the race back. I’ve never seen the finish. I probably won’t watch the race still. It’s just a sore subject for myself. I’m upset that I let my team down and my family down more than anything.”

Even though he has not watched the end of that race, Haley showed Friday he had not forgotten what he calls his first Xfinity win, tweeting about the finish.

5. Tough trick

Only once since 1983 has a driver won both Daytona races in the same season. Jimmie Johnson performed the trick in 2013.

Why is it so much more difficult to sweep at Daytona and Talladega than other tracks?

Let Denny Hamlin, who is going for the sweep Saturday (7 p.m. ET Saturday) after winning the Daytona 500, explain.

“The reason it’s so hard is it’s not about a fast car,” Hamlin said. “It’s not like you can hit on a setup at a racetrack and sweep both races. You see that a lot in a season. Whoever wins the first race at say Pocono or Martinsville, or Richmond, they’ve won that race because they have hit on a setup and their car is fast. When they go back there, they use those notes and they are going to be fast again.

“At Daytona, it’s not setup driven. It is strategic that you really have to make yourself a great race-car driver here. It’s just putting yourself in the right position here at the right time and avoiding the wrecks. It’s hard enough to win one, let alone two, because of all of the variables. It’s so hard to do. The odds are stacked so far against you. That’s why you don’t see it happen very often.”

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Entry lists for Cup, Xfinity at Daytona

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Get ready for lots of fireworks this 4th of July weekend – both on and off the race track at Daytona International Speedway.

This race marks the first time the 2.5-mile track hosts a Cup race without restrictor plates since 1988, utilizing instead the tapered spacer – which we’ve already seen used once this year at Talladega Superspeedway.

Both the Cup and Xfinity Series will be in action at Daytona. The Truck Series is off until July 11 at Kentucky Speedway.

Here are the updated entry lists for this weekend’s races:

Cup – Coke Zero Sugar 400 (7:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBC)

There is a full 40-car field of cars and drivers entered for this race.

For the second time this season, Garrett Smithley is entered in Premium Motorsports’ No. 15 Chevrolet.

Quin Houff will drive the No. 15 for Premium Motorsports.

Ross Chastain will be in the No. 27 for Premium Motorsports.

B.J. McLeod makes his ninth start of the season for Petty Ware Racing in the No. 51 Ford

J.J. Yeley makes his third start of the season for Rick Ware Racing in the No. 52 Ford.

Joey Gase makes his first start of the season for Rick Ware Racing in the No. 53 Chevrolet.

Brendan Gaughan makes his third start of the season for Beard Racing in the No. 62 Chevrolet.

Justin Haley is back in the No. 77 Spire Motorsports Chevrolet.

And Parker Kligerman makes his eighth start of the season in the No. 96 Toyota for Gaunt Brothers Racing.

Last year, Erik Jones earned his first career Cup win in this race. Martin Truex Jr. was second and A.J. Allmendinger finished third.

Click here for the entry list.

Xfinity – Circle K Firecracker 250 (7:30 p.m. ET Friday on NBCSN)

There are 42 cars entered. Four cars will not make the race.

Sheldon Creed makes his third Xfinity start of the season and the first for JR Motorsports in the No. 8 Chevrolet.

A.J. Allmendinger makes his first Xfinity start of the season in the No. 10 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet.

Joe Nemecheck makes his second Xfinity start of the season in the No. 13 Motorsports Business Management Toyota.

Riley Herbst makes his fifth start of 2019 in the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.

Joe Graf Jr. makes his second start of 2019 in the No. 21 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet.

Chris Cockrum makes his third start for ACG Motorsports in the No. 25 Chevrolet.

Shane Lee makes his third start for H2 Motorsports in the No. 28 Toyota.

Austin Hill makes his Xfinity Series debut in the No. 61 Hattori Racing Enterprises Toyota.

Jeffrey Earnhardt is on the entry list with the No. 81 XCI Racing Toyota but stated on Twitter that the team would not be competing this weekend. 

A spokesperson for True Speed Communications, which had done PR for XCI Racing, said they had no additional info and that its agreement with the team was only through Chicagoland.

Caesar Bacarella makes his third start of 2019 in the No. 90 DGM Racing Chevrolet.

Cody Ware makes his second Xfinity start of the season in the No. 99 B.J. McLeod Motorsports Toyota.

Kyle Larson won this race last year, followed by Elliott Sadler and Christopher Bell.

Click here for the entry list.

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Today’s Xfinity race at Dover: Start time, lineup and more

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The Xfinity Series competes in this afternoon’s Allied Steel Buildings 200 at Dover International Speedway.

Here’s all the info you need for today’s Dash 4 Cash race:

(All times are Eastern)

START: Collin Burich, North American Sales, Allied Steel Buildings, will give the command to start engines at 1:38 p.m. The green flag is scheduled for 1:46 p.m.

PRERACE: Driver/crew chief meeting is at 11:45 a.m. Driver introductions begin at 1 p.m. The invocation will be given at 1:30 p.m. by Captain Ryan Taylor-Byers, Dover Air Force Base Chaplain. Technical Sergeant Justin Allen and the U.S. Air Force Heritage of America Band will perform the National Anthem at 1:31 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 200 laps (200 miles) around the 1-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 45. Stage 2 ends on Lap 90.

TV/RADIO: Fox Sports 1 will televise the race. Coverage begins at 1:30 p.m. Motor Racing Network’s radio broadcast begins at 1 p.m. and also can be heard at mrn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry MRN’s broadcast.

FORECAST: wunderground.com calls for a high of 73 degrees and a 24 percent chance of rain for the start of the race.

LAST TIME: Justin Allgaier won this race last year, finishing ahead of Elliott Sadler and Daniel Hemric. Christopher Bell won last fall’s playoff race, finishing ahead of Cole Custer and Allgaier.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the row-by-row lineup.

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