No, it was not the perfect storm at Daytona International Speedway—unless you’re Justin Haley.
Haley was at the right place at the right time, thanks to a call by veteran crew chief Peter Sospenzo to have his driver remain on the track with rain and lightning approaching the track. It’s a call any of the other 30 crew chiefs who still had cars running in the Coke Zero Sugar 400 could have made on Sunday.
But they didn’t.
Luckily for Haley, in just his third start in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, the 20-year-old celebrated his first win in a makeshift Victory Lane after the sanctioning body opted to cut the race short when rain drenched the track.
Haley won fair and square. He was 27th when the 18-car wreck occurred, but he kept his nose clean and capitalized at the end. During his three short years on NASCAR’s top tours, Haley has proven to be a sporty superspeedway racer. He finished second in the Xfinity Series race on Friday night and nearly won that race the year before, but for a penalty for making what appeared to be the winning pass below the yellow lines that separate the racing surface from the apron.
While some have called Haley’s victory with Spire Motorsports the biggest upset win in the history of NASCAR, there were other drivers on Sunday who also had career-best results.
Runner-up William Byron scored his first career top-five finish in 54 starts. Under the direction of Chad Knaus, Byron, 21, has also earned three poles this year and has nearly tripled his laps led over last year with only half of the season in the books. Byron has improved both his average start and finish by seven positions. With eight races remaining before the Playoffs, the driver of the No. 24 Chevy is 12th in the standings. He missed the postseason last year.
“It would have been cool to win, for sure,” said Byron who came from the rear of the field after Brad Keselowski punted him in practice and the team was forced to go to a backup car. “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 backup car is pretty good. Overall it was a good race for us.”
Fourth-place Daytona finisher Ty Dillon also earned his first career top five after starting 23rd in his 108th Cup race. Dillon was one of the 18 cars involved in the fourth wreck on Sunday but didn’t receive enough damage to sideline his Chevrolet. The 27-year-old, who is in his third full season, has been running at the finish of all 18 races this year. His two top-10 finishes are a career best.
“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,” Dillon said. “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.”
Corey LaJoie posted his first career top 10 with his sixth-place run at Daytona. The sixth-place result was also a career-best for GoFas Racing and the No. 32 Ford in the company’s sixth full season in Cup. LaJoie, 27, who is in his third season in Cup and first with GFR, has finished 12th or better in three of the last nine races. He has also shaved six positions from his average finishing spot from last year.
“Sixth for us, no matter what the circumstance, is a good day,” LaJoie said. “If you told me I could take a sixth-place finish before we even started, I would have taken it to the bank and ran with it…We had a good Shine Armor car. Our tactic was just to ride and try to miss those big ones and that’s what we did. In hindsight, we shouldn’t have pitted and we probably could have ended up second, but coulda, woulda, shoulda.”
Matt Tifft also earned his first top-10 finish in Cup at Daytona. Prior to finishing ninth, Tifft’s best result was 20th at both Charlotte and Phoenix. The 23-year-old rookie was the top driver for Front Row Motorsports on Sunday.
“Honestly, for us, it doesn’t matter how we get it a top 10 is huge for our team and for Front Row Motorsports any top 10 is awesome,” Tifft said. “It’s definitely one we’ll celebrate here and a ninth-place finish for our team is awesome. We put ourselves in spots through the race to make sure we were not getting caught up in the big ones and it worked out for us to get a good finish out of it.”