By Brian Eberly, Contributing Writer
HOMESTEAD, Fla. – Justin Haley entered the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series finale on Friday night at Homestead-Miami Speedway labeled as the dark horse behind GMS Racing teammate Johnny Sauter, Kyle Busch Motorsports’ Noah Gragson and Hattori Racing’s Brett Moffitt.
Haley rolled off the grid in the fourth position in the No. 24 Fraternal Order of Eagles Chevrolet as all four Championship 4 competitors qualified in the third through sixth positions. The Winamac, Indiana native quickly picked up two spots on the first lap but would lose several positions over the course of the first 30-lap stage as he battled a loose condition on his truck.
Finishing the first stage in the sixth spot, he hit pit road for four tires, fuel and chassis adjustments, losing one position and restarting in the seventh spot for the second stage.
It was more of the same in Stage 2, as he finished eighth. The GMS Racing pit crew gained two positions on the round of pit stops under the yellow for the stage break. Haley took four tires, fuel and air pressure and chassis adjustments to restart in the sixth position.
Unfortunately, he was a non-factor throughout the remainder of the race, taking the checkered flag in the eighth position and finishing third in the championship standings behind race-winner and 2018 Truck Series champion Moffitt and Gragson, who finished third in the race and second in the championship standings.
“We had a good run at it. At the start of the race I thought we were going to be contending. We had really good fire off speed all night,” said Haley. “We just fought balance all night.
“We just missed it. Me and (teammate) Johnny (Sauter) had pretty similar setups. The same front end and rear end packages and went to the Chevy simulator together. We just struggled. The truck drove ok, we just lacked a shit ton of speed.”
At 19-years-old, he was the youngest of the four championship competitors, but punched his playoff ticket with the first Truck Series victory of his career in June at Gateway Motorsports Park. He went on to pick up two more wins during the Playoffs, including five top-fives in the first six races of the championship portion of the schedule.
“Obviously we had a good season and it was more than I expected. You just got to have faith. Never give up. I think we’ve built a pretty good team behind us in the 24 camp. I think (crew chief) Kevin Bellicourt really formed a good group of guys behind us and I think that’s what led to most of our success.”