By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Correspondent
CONCORD, N.C. – After two weeks off for the NASCAR Xfinity Series, Justin Haley overcame adversity to earn his first career top-five finish.
As the Alsco 300 neared its completion, Haley’s LeafFilter Gutter Protection Chevrolet Camaro SS climbed up the running order. With his competition bouncing off the wall, the Kaulig Racing driver sneaked into the top-five at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
The 20-year-old driver avoided several incidents as Cole Custer, Brandon Jones, and others bounced off the wall in the closing laps. He battled fellow Chevy Racing drivers Noah Gragson and Michael Annett for position. Ultimately, Haley finished with over a second took the checkered in fifth.
“We went from the back to the front, then back to the front,” Haley explained. “Obviously that issue in qualifying, we couldn’t control that. Early on in stage one, I thought we had a flat right front, but it was just the crush panel. I put us a lap down and we just came from the back all day.”
Haley’s journey to finish fifth was a long and arduous one. Prior to the end of stage one, he ran over a crush panel, which cut his right front tire. Haley managed to make it to pit road unscathed, but without a caution. The crush panel was hit by second-place Custer and altered his day.
During the 92-degree day, many drivers suffered from heat exhaustion. Haley was seen on the NASCAR on FOX broadcast as dumping cold water on himself to deal with the scorching heat inside the car.
“It was obviously extremely hot out there,” Haley admitted. “It was almost unbearable. I think you can tell by all of the drivers receiving medical attention. I wish it was so much cooler in those cars. I dumped the water on my face, the AC unit was okay. I have this little fanny pack that runs cool air to my abdomen.”
In qualifying, Haley ran an uncharacteristically slow lap. The cause was a broken rear axle. The axle repair sent Haley to the rear of the field prior to the green for unapproved adjustments.
The race weekend started off with issues as Haley’s tachometer did not work correctly as he practiced pit road speed on Thursday. His team had to take the tach back to their shop in Welcome, N.C. to correct the issue.
“It’s been a rough week for me, qualifying happened and I was like man, ‘I can’t catch a break,’” Haley said. “We had tach issues Thursday. It was a little unknown if our tach was going to be good or not. Thankfully it was good. I’ll have to go back and look at our numbers.”
The fifth-place finish is the first top-five for Haley and came in his 14thcareer start. It is also just the third top-five finish in the history of Kaulig Racing.
The Rookie of the Year contender remains 11thin the championship standings, 168-points behind race winner Tyler Reddick. Haley is just eight points ahead of the cutoff for the playoffs, held by Brandon Jones.