DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Finishing second behind GMS Racing teammate Johnny Sauter certainly wasn’t what Justin Haley came to Daytona Int’l Speedway to do, but after a chaotic NextEra Energy Resources 250, it was a well-received strong run to open his season.
Haley came through a three-wide scrum on the final lap of Friday night’s race to record his best-career NASCAR Camping World Truck Series finish in 28 starts, coming just short of doing what best friend Kaz Grala did in last year’s Daytona season-opener by actually winning the race.
The Winimac, Indiana teenager actually charged to the lead on a restart with 19 laps left, holding command until being shuffled into the middle lane at the 10 to go mark, falling back to eighth before working with Sauter to move back forward in the closing sprint.
After climbing from his No. 24 Fraternal Order of Eagles Chevrolet Silverado, Haley recounted his run to the finish.
“Man, those last few laps were pretty crazy,” Haley said. “We ran pretty good there with David (Gilliland) trying to block the runs, and then finally just got shuffled back a little bit in the last lap. The energy wasn’t really there on the high side. There was only nine or ten of us, and I was working with Joe Nemechek because he was a Chevy … I was going to back up to him on the backstretch there to try to get a run to go for the win, but if I’d pulled out there on the backstretch and Joe didn’t go with me, I’d have ended up around 15th.”
“The outside actually happened to have a good run; the opportunity just wasn’t there. Scott Lagasse tried to go up and block it, and I side drafted him and took the opportunity of that to move forward in the last turn. I thought maybe we were going to have Johnny there towards the end, but it didn’t quite work out. I’m glad Johnny won for GMS, though. It’s a good win for the team.”
Despite the goal always being to win, Haley admitted that he was pleased with the speed his truck showed and how his team performed — especially since a year ago, age restrictions kept him from even competing at the ‘World Center of Racing’.
“When you’re in the position we were at the end, you’re definitely thinking about winning, but you can’t let it get to your head,” Haley explained. “All week, everyone has been asking me if I’m nervous running at Daytona or not, but I’ve just put away the nerves because I feel like focusing on the task at hand is the best way to win a race.”
“That was fun racing right there; it was bad-ass and probably the most fun I’ve ever had racing a truck. I don’t know what it looked like from outside, but it was pretty intense for us. We were three-wide, which trucks don’t do a lot. Overall it was a pretty good night. I’m really proud of what we’ve done as a team and I think this is just the beginning for us.”
Haley leaves Daytona second in points behind Sauter, heading to Atlanta Motor Speedway with momentum and confidence as he chases a win to lock himself into the playoffs.
“You obviously want to start off at Daytona on a good foot, because it just gets the attitude of the whole team and the atmosphere around you going in the right direction. With Johnny getting a win, that helps GMS as a whole.”
“I’m excited; I really am. Being able to run the full season this year, I feel like there’s no reason we shouldn’t be in the Championship 4 at the end of the year. … Our mile‑and‑a‑half stuff has been really good, and we tested Charlotte, so we’ll go to Atlanta with all the positives we took away from tonight and try to win there.”
About the Writer
Jacob Seelman is the Managing Editor of Race Chaser Online and creator of the Motorsports Madness radio show, airing at 7 p.m. Eastern every Monday on the Performance Motorsports Network.
Seelman grew up in the sport, watching his grandparents co-own the RaDiUs Motorsports NASCAR Cup Series team in the 1990s.
The 24-year-old is currently studying Broadcast Journalism at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C., and is also serving as the full-time tour announcer for the Must See Racing Sprint Car Series.
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