Lightning strikes for Justin Haley at Daytona

DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA - JULY 07: Justin Haley, driver of the #77 Fraternal Order of Eagles Chevrolet, stands in the media center during a weather delay for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway on July 07, 2019 in Daytona Beach, Florida. Haley was declared the winner of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Coke Zero Sugar 400. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Just over a year removed from being denied a NASCAR Xfinity series win at Daytona International Speedway, the racing gods smiled on NASCAR underdog Justin Haley Sunday.

Haley was awarded his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup win after the persistent weather that had plagued NASCAR since it arrived in Daytona last Thursday forced the event to be called after 127 of 160 laps.

The storms and lightening had cancelled practices and qualifying on Friday; delayed Friday nights Xfinity race several hours and moved the start of the Coke Zero 400 to Sunday.  Sunday Haley found himself in the lead during a caution for a 17-car crash that took out many of the strongest contenders.  Haley’s team left him out while Kurt Busch, who had avoided the carnage and inherited the lead pitted just before the field was set to come to the green.  Lightening however struck within the 8-mile safety radius established by NASCAR and the restart was called off.  The field was brought down pit road and the red flag was displayed.

After a 30-minute period with no lightening strikes in the safety zone drivers were called back to their cars. Just before the engines were fired however lightening struck nearby and the clock began again.  A heavy rain shower soon washed over the track and after a two-hour delay, NASCAR declared Haley the winner.

The win for Haley came a year after he lost the NASCAR Xfinity race at Daytona when NASCAR ruled he had gone below the yellow out of bounds line just prior to the start-finish line despite leading.

“The stars aligned, and I didn’t ever think I was going to get redemption back from …last year at Daytona when I got the Xfinity win taken away from me,” Haley said.  “To come back and get redemption in the Cup Series is pretty cool, and it makes that second‑place finish with Kaulig last Friday a lot better.”

Sunday he was in 27th position when the 17-car crash happened and took the lead when he stayed out while others pitted.

“My thought process was even if we had four flat tires, we weren’t going to pit,” crew chief Peter Sospenzo said.  “We were going to ride it out and hope that we get something with the weather in our favor.  It was more lightning than it was actually rain at that point in time, but I know you get 30 minutes every time you get a lightning strike within seven, eight miles, whatever it is.  It was our only option to try and steal a win, if you want to call it, but there was no way we were coming in.  I was actually surprised that a couple of guys in front of us pitted in front of us.

“But my mind was made up ‑‑ really my mind was made up when we got back on the lead lap and noticed that the rain was coming, and I said to myself then, if we get in a position, I’m not going to pit, I don’t care what happens.  And it just worked out that way. “

William Byron was second followed by Jimmie Johnson, Ty Dillon and Ryan Newman.

The multi-car crash erupted on lap 118 when Austin Dillon in the lead tried to go down and block Clint Bowyer. The rear of Dillon’s Chevrolet made contact with the right front of Bowyer’s Ford. Dillon spun in exiting turn 1 setting off a 17-car crash.

Among those involved were all four cars from Joe Gibbs Racing, along with Alex Bowman, Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott and this year’s Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin.

Joey Logano who led from pole thanks to owner points, led 41 laps and won the first stage was also part of the melee; he finished 27th.  Dillon led a race high 46 laps won stage 2 and finished in the garage in 33rd.

The win for the underdog team is a rarity in the sport filled with multi-car operations. The team’s primary business model is to field a part time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup team to showcase initiatives from parent company Spire Sports an agency that specializes in talent management and motorsports consulting.  They purchased the charter from the now-defunct Furniture Row Racing which guarantees the team a starting spot. They don’t even have a traditional race shop instead sharing space with Premium Motorsports in Mooresville North Carolina.

“Is this PC in here?” team owner T.J. Pucher said in the media center.  “How is that going to work?  Like f‑‑‑ it, we did it, right?  It wasn’t pretty.  I’ve lost my fair share of races.  We’ve dominated races.  I grew up working for Todd Braun.  That was my first big job.  But I’ve been in racing all my life.  My dad was a chassis guy for the Rapid Roman Hall‑of‑Famer Richie Evans.

‘So this isn’t new to us.”

The win for Haley came in just his third Cup series start all coming this season.

Thanks in large part to the crash Haley was among a group of relatively unfamiliar names who finished in the top 10.

Corey Lajoie finished a career best sixth, Aric Almirola was seventh, Matt DiBenedetto was eighth, Matt Tifft finished a career best ninth with Kurt Busch coming home 10th.

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series heads to Kentucky Speedway Saturday night.


Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Race Coke Zero Sugar 400
Daytona International Speedway
Daytona Beach, Florida
Sunday, July 7, 2019

1. (34)  Justin Haley(i), Chevrolet, 127.

2. (12)  William Byron, Chevrolet, 127.

3. (14)  Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 127.

4. (23)  Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 127.

5. (18)  Ryan Newman, Ford, 127.

6. (30)  Corey LaJoie, Ford, 127.

7. (11)  Aric Almirola, Ford, 127.

8. (25)  Matt DiBenedetto, Toyota, 127.

9. (31)  Matt Tifft #, Ford, 127.

10. (8)  Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 127.

11. (33)  Landon Cassill(i), Chevrolet, 127.

12. (37)  JJ Yeley, Ford, 127.

13. (28)  Michael McDowell, Ford, 127.

14. (2)  Kyle Busch, Toyota, 127.

15. (29)  Bubba Wallace, Chevrolet, 127.

16. (20)  Paul Menard, Ford, 127.

17. (22)  Chris Buescher, Chevrolet, 127.

18. (24)  Daniel Hemric #, Chevrolet, 127.

19. (39)  Brendan Gaughan(i), Chevrolet, 126.

20. (13)  Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 126.

21. (9)  Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 126.

22. (5)  Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 126.

23. (17)  Erik Jones, Toyota, 125.

24. (19)  Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 125.

25. (1)  Joey Logano, Ford, 125.

26. (6)  Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 125.

27. (40)  Joey Gase, Chevrolet, 125.

28. (35)  BJ McLeod(i), Ford, 124.

29. (4)  Kevin Harvick, Ford, 124.

30. (38)  Ross Chastain(i), Chevrolet, 122.

31. (36)  Parker Kligerman(i), Toyota, Accident, 121.

32. (26)  Ryan Preece #, Chevrolet, Accident, 119.

33. (21)  Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, Accident, 118.

34. (16)  Clint Bowyer, Ford, Accident, 118.

35. (7)  Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, Accident, 118.

36. (10)  Ryan Blaney, Ford, Accident, 118.

37. (32)  Quin Houff, Chevrolet, 108.

38. (27)  David Ragan, Ford, Accident, 86.

39. (3)  Brad Keselowski, Ford, Accident, 85.

40. (15)  Daniel Suarez, Ford, Accident, 83.

Average Speed of Race Winner:  141.146 mph.
Time of Race:  2 Hrs, 14 Mins, 58 Secs. Margin of Victory:  Under Caution Seconds.
Caution Flags:  6 for 25 laps.
Lead Changes:  24 among 14 drivers.
Lap Leaders:   J. Logano 1;K. Busch 2;J. Logano 3-35;K. Busch 36-37;K. Harvick 38-49;J. Logano 50-51;R. Preece # 52;C. Elliott 53-55;R. Stenhouse Jr. 56-57;A. Dillon 58-60;C. Bowyer 61-62;A. Dillon 63;R. Blaney 64;A. Dillon 65-96;C. Bowyer 97;A. Dillon 98-102;C. Buescher 103;J. Logano 104-105;A. Dillon 106-109;J. Logano 110-111;P. Menard 112;D. Hamlin 113-117;A. Dillon 118;K. Busch 119-126;J. Haley(i) 127.
Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led):  Austin Dillon 6 times for 46 laps; Joey Logano 5 times for 40 laps; Kevin Harvick 1 time for 12 laps; Kurt Busch 1 time for 8 laps; Denny Hamlin 1 time for 5 laps; Clint Bowyer 2 times for 3 laps; Kyle Busch 2 times for 3 laps; Chase Elliott 1 time for 3 laps; Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 1 time for 2 laps; Ryan Blaney 1 time for 1 lap; Paul Menard 1 time for 1 lap; Chris Buescher 1 time for 1 lap; Ryan Preece # 1 time for 1 lap; Justin Haley(i) 1 time for 1 lap.