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Justin Haley’s rise in stock car racing

Justin Haley
Justin Haley poses for photos with his trophy after winning a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Daytona International Speedway, Sunday, July 7, 2019, in Daytona Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Terry Renna)

By Pete Byrne

Winamac, Indiana native Justin Haley hopped into the driver’s seat of a race car at a young age, and never seemed to want to hop out.

I went to one of my younger cousins birthday party who live in Winamac as well, he had a quarter midget, which is basically a go-kart.” reminisced Haley, ” He raced at Kokomo, so I wanted to go and see what it was like, so I asked my mom immediately if I could get a quarter midget when I got home.”

Haley quickly developed a knack for driving.

By the time he was 15, even before he had his driver’s license, Haley had a contract to drive full-time in the ARCA series, a minor, semi-professional league of stock car racing used as a feeder series to NASCAR.

Haley left Winamac in 2015 midway through his sophomore year of high school.

“The biggest thing my mom was worried about was schooling. I finished my junior and senior year in six months.” said Haley.

Two years after making the decision to move away from Michiana, Haley had earned a position as a full-time driver in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.

“I feel like it was probably my big break and just getting that experience was helpful knowing that I had another year in 2018.” said Haley.

As one might expect from a racecar driver, Haley hasn’t slowed down. In 2018, he won his first race on the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, taking the checkered flag at Gateway, locking him into the playoffs for the first time. Haley would go on to finish third in the series points standings that year.

Last year, Haley made his NASCAR Xfinity Series debut at Iowa Speedway driving the No. 23 car for GMS racing, filling in for driver Specer Gallagher. Haley would finish 12th in his first race but would parlay that into a full-time driving position on the series. In December 2018 it was announced that Haley signed a multi-year deal to drive the No. 11 car full-time for Kaulig racing, becoming the youngest driver in the Xfinity series at the age of 19.

Driving against seasoned pros, some nearly twice his age didn’t faze the teenager. Haley posted twenty Top-10 finishes in 33 weeks. Haley also got his next big break when he earned three rides for Spire Motorsports in the NASCAR Cup Series.

“The (NASCAR) Cup deal was huge for me.” said Haley. “I was probably pretty nervous the first two races but figured it out by the time I got to the Daytona race.”

At the famed Talladega Superspeedway, Haley hopped into the No. 77 car to run in the Geico 500. With seven laps left he was caught in a crash with four other drivers which caused him to finish in 32nd. The next month at Sonoma Raceway, Haley finished 34th, and then something nobody could have predicted occurred.

With 30 laps left at the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway, Austin Dillon and Clint Bowyer were tangled up, causing a massive wreck that knocked out most of the field. Haley, then sitting in 27th, narrowly avoided the wreckage, sneaking into third place. The two cars ahead of Haley would both choose to pit under caution, but Haley would not, inheriting the lead just before rain moved into the area forcing the red flag to come out. After hours of delays the race was called, and the 20-year old fill in driver had just won at Daytona.

“If there were 40 guys racing, only five knew who I was.” said Haley, “To see them all come up to me on pit road was pretty cool.”

By Pete Byrne, WSBT 22 Sports DirectorTuesday, April 14th 2020