By Brian Eberly, Contributing Writer
NEWTON, Iowa — Heading into the 2018 NASCAR season, it wasn’t the plan for Justin Haley to make any starts in the XFINITY Series. But with the suspension of Spencer Gallagher in April for a violation of the sport’s substance abuse policy, it allowed the opportunity to present itself and Haley is set to take advantage.
“I had intentions to run XFINITY, I always wanted to but it wasn’t something that we talked too deeply about. It was a last minute type deal. I’m thankful to have the opportunity. It was one of those deals where I was really excited when I got the opportunity to do it,” Haley told Motorsports Tribune on Sunday morning at Iowa Speedway.
Haley is making his XFINITY Series debut in the No. 23 GMS Racing Chevrolet with sponsorship from the Fraternal Order of Eagles. The 19-year-old driver will also compete in a second GMS entry in July at Daytona International Speedway and in August at Watkins Glen International.
“This race just kind of came up how it did. But with Daytona and Watkins Glen, it’s going to be in a second car. I’m really good at superspeedways and I’ve got a lot of road racing background so that’s kind of where those two came up. It fits my type of racing better than the short tracks and the mile-and-a-halves, which I’m not bad on, but if I were to do it I would want to do road courses.”
Haley is competing full-time in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series this season and currently sits eighth in the championship standings. Pulling double duty this weekend at the 0.875-mile track in Newton, Iowa has been made difficult with extremely hot and humid conditions. The heat took its toll on many drivers during Saturday’s early evening Truck race.
The Saturday schedule was filled with two practice sessions each for the Truck Series and the XFINITY Series, in addition to Truck Series qualifying and the 200-lap race. Haley turned a total of 47 laps in the Truck Series sessions and 68 laps in the two XFINITY sessions, finishing sixth on the chart in the opening XFINITY practice and 18th in final practice. Haley finished in 16th, four laps down, in the Truck Series race after experiencing alternator issues.
“I lost 12 pounds. There’s not much of me to lose,” said Haley, noting that he’s never really checked his weight loss before from a race. “That was a hot race by itself. Just the guys that run only Trucks were pretty worn out. It was pretty tense.”
While the XFINITY car is new to Haley, the sponsor logos on the hood and quarter panels of his Fraternal Order of Eagles Chevrolet are very familiar, as is the 0.875-mile Iowa Speedway.
“The FOE has always been good to me. They’re kind of family friends. They first hopped on to my (NASCAR) K&N (Pro Series) car in 2016 and their first race was at Columbus and we won with them. After that win, they got pretty excited and we kind of grew with them. It’s really special to have them on the XFINITY car this weekend and they’ve been on the Truck for quite some time. It’s a really good partnership.”
Haley has made four starts in the K&N Pro Series East at Iowa, recording three consecutive fourth-place results. In last season’s Truck race, he finished 10th.
“I love this track. I’ve always been really good here. I ran really well here in Trucks last year, almost finished third, but we got wrecked coming out of (Turn) four. Yesterday we had a really fast Truck too and we were really solid in XFINITY practice.”
As for his goals for Sunday afternoon’s Iowa 250?
“I just want to finish the race and wherever it plays out, it plays out. Our goal for qualifying is to make the final round and get up there in the top-12 and then make a mistake free race. I think if we do that we will be around the top-10. I really have no big, set goals for me considering it’s my debut, but obviously I’m with a great team, so it should be a good day.”