GOODYEAR, Ariz.—Justin Haley’s first top 10 of 2023 was hard-fought and well-deserved.
In his last three starts with the Next Gen car at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the 23-year-old racer has shown steady improvement, from 17th one year ago to 14th in the fall.
Sunday’s eighth-place finish behind the wheel of the No. 31 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet was no exception.
“We had a really good long-run car today,” Haley said following the Pennzoil 400. “This is our Fontana car. We’re like one of three teams—three individual cars—that repaired our stuff and brought it this week.
“Just proud of the effort and proud of our grind. They hung the body for this thing in the snow in Fontana (Auto Club Speedway) a few days ago. Pretty awesome for our little team. I appreciate Matt (Kaulig, owner), Chris Rice (president), everyone at Leaf Filters. This is a good run for us, especially with the start of the season that we’ve had.”
Haley was swept up into a 13-car wreck when the Daytona 500 went into overtime. His luck didn’t improve at Auto Club Speedway. He was one of nine drivers collected in a “big one” on the two-mile track and salvaged a 21st-place result.
After his Trent Owens-led team scrambled to repair the car, Haley qualified 27th at Las Vegas and was running 16th in the final stage when Aric Almirola hit the wall to force the race into overtime. Haley picked up eight positions over the final two laps for his first top 10 since the Charlotte Roval race in October.
“It was definitely an opportunity race,” Haley said. “And I felt like we were good. So that’s positive momentum. If it’s a gauge for where we’re at, then I think we’re pretty good.
“They’ve been working hard over the offseason at Kaulig Racing and I’m proud of their effort. It’s a lot for a little team like this. Not sure what happened to (teammate) AJ (Allmendinger, who crashed on the last lap), but he was pretty good, too.”
NASCAR teams will receive an additional 50 minutes of practice at Phoenix Raceway to work with the new lower-downforce short-track package, which features a rear spoiler trimmed from four to two inches in height. Haley, who had a successful run with a dirt modified at Volusia Raceway last month, is interested to see where his team matches up.
“There will be a lot of sim time this week,” Haley added. “Then we’ll see how that translates to the race track. I’m not even sure what the package looks like, but we’ll hit it this week.”
Superman getting a Cup opportunity at Bristol
Kaulig Racing announced on Thursday that dirt superstar Jonathan Davenport will wheel the No. 13 Nutrien Ag Solutions Chevrolet in the Bristol Dirt Race on April 9.
The 39-year-old from Blairsville, Ga., scored 24 wins in dirt late model competition last year. He’s participated in the XR Super Series Bristol Dirt Nationals during the last two seasons.
“This is literally a dream come true for me,” Davenport said. “I’ll get to race against the best race car drivers in the world and will get to do it at one of my favorite tracks (Bristol).
“I have a lot to learn but have two great teammates in AJ (Allmendinger) and Justin (Haley) to learn from. We started working on this last October during the ROVAL weekend in Charlotte and to see it come to fruition is absolutely amazing.”
Davenport attempted to qualify for a NASCAR Craftsman Truck race at Martinsville in 2013 but withdrew. Bristol will mark his first start with NASCAR.
“Jonathan Davenport is an all time favorite of mine because of how well he has done in his dirt racing career,” Rice said. “I’m super excited to have his side of dirt racing intermix with NASCAR and see what he can do in one of our Kaulig Racing Chevrolets.
“He’s a great guy, a great racer and we’re looking forward to making our relationship with Nutrien Ag Solutions deeper.”