By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
“I don’t think I’m going to get an explanation. That’s just how NASCAR works,” said Justin Haley.
In just his second NASCAR Xfinity Series start, the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series regular appeared to have snookered the field and scored his first win in Friday’s Coca-Cola Firecracker 250 at Daytona International Speedway.
However, the celebration was snatched away after NASCAR made the call that Haley advanced his position below the yellow line on the final lap in Turn 4 to get by both Kyle Larson and Elliott Sadler and cross the line in first.
As a result, Larson was awarded the race win, beating Sadler by 0.005 seconds and ending his Xfinity Series season with back-to-back wins after winning at Chicagoland Speedway last Saturday.
The penalty relegated the 19-year-old down to the tail end of the lead lap in 18th. After receiving the word that his victory was revoked, Haley got out of his No. 24 FOE Chevrolet Camaro, and voiced his displeasure about NASCAR’s call.
“It’s all fly by the wire calls,” Haley added. “I don’t think anyone really agrees with it except for Kyle (Larson).”
Haley said the decision was given when he and Larson were doing burnouts, which at that point he knew the Cinderella Story was over.
“I didn’t know until after my burnouts. That’s when it got translated to me,” said Haley. “That was the first indication, so I just came back and parked it. That’s what happens.”
After sponsorship woes led to the dismissal of Kaz Grala from GMS Racing’s No. 24 team, Haley’s start in the car marked the first start for the team since Dover in May. Although he struggled finding the right drafting partner for most of the race, Haley worked his way through both late-race big wrecks, and became a contender for the win.
On the white flag in overtime, Haley was quietly running the high line in fifth as both Larson and Sadler ran door-to-door, playing defense to prevent one another from taking the top spot. Entering Turn 2, Haley went with Larson before blocking a Christopher Bell entering the next corner, losing Larson and was briefly passed by Ryan Blaney for third.
The top-two continued their aggressive blocking, and looked to be the only ones battling for the win entering the final turn. Then from out of nowhere, Haley went from the high-line and getting assistance from Bell to snookering both Larson and Sadler.
Haley saw an opening on the inside, using his momentum to slingshot the leaders, clipping the double-yellow line before shooting up the middle, clearing the two and had him crossing the line in first.
Unfortunately, what was supposed to be the biggest win of his young NASCAR career, and the second national series win in a span of three weeks, turned into bitter disappointment as his banzai move was overshadowed because of the penalty.
Haley described the pass as an opportunity of taking advantage of the open room the two leaders had left as both were using the middle lane in the process.
“I got backed up to the No. 20 (Bell) and there was an opening for me to come and split the guys, so it just happened,” Haley added. “I just had a big run. I didn’t know where anyone else was. I just saw a gap and shot it.
“In the moment, you really don’t think about it. I wasn’t on the apron, so that’s how I always took it. Oh well.”
Fans and racing personnel’s alike came to comfort his frustrating and controversial loss, which Haley appreciated, but is self-aware that he won’t win the battle with the sanctioning body.
“It’s cool to have the garage’s support and everyone behind me,” said Haley on the support. “You know, I think it was a pretty BS call, but it’s NASCAR and you can’t reverse it.”
The agony of defeat will last for days, but Haley’s mindset will now shift to his Truck team as he’ll look to score his second career win in the Buckle Up in Your Truck 225 at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta Thursday July 12.