Untimely Pit Stop Puts Justin Haley in Winner's Circle at Daytona 400
Historically, superspeedway racing has been all about the "Big One", the inevitable crash that occurs near the front of the main field, which typically eliminates an impressive list of possible race winners. After foul weather Saturday night delayed the start of the Daytona 400 spring race for the Monster Energy Cup drivers, Sunday's race got underway with an already existing threat of weather being tracked on radar. NASCAR was hopeful the teams could complete Stage 2 to make it an official race should rain or lightening halt the event.
In just his third career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race, rookie driver Justin Haley would quietly endure the first 127 laps of the Coke Zero Sugar 400 before bring his Spire Motorsports No. 77 Chevrolet down pit road under a red-flag stoppage. On Lap 120, the race got heated as the Ford -group of drivers worked furiously to position themselves ahead of select groups of Toyota and Chevrolets. Rules changes had eliminated locked bumpers, however, a heave-ho push was still allowed.
Entering turn one, Clint Bowyer's No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Mustang snagged on Austin Dillon's rear bumper sending 18 lead-lap cars, including most of the pre-race favorites, such as polesitter Joey Logano and last-weekend's winner Alex Bowman, slamming into the wall. Near the front of the field, Kurt Busch and Erik Jones slipped past the carnage to run up front as the caution flag flew. When NASCAR gave the signal for one lap to go before the green flag, Busch and others hit pit road for fresh tires and a splash of fuel.
As rookie Justin Haley, driving for the underfunded Spire Racing team lead the remaining cars down the back stretch, a nearby lightening strike forced NASCAR to abandon the restart. Minutes later the rain began to fall to and an unhappy Kurt Busch and disappointed defending race winner Erik Jones had to watch as Haley celebrated his first ever Monster Energy Cup victory. The bittersweet victory came after Haley was penalized last year for driving below the yellow line and was demoted from an Xfinity win at Daytona.
As the 2019 NHRA Monster Energy Cup series heads to Kentucky Speedway next week, Penske driver Joey Logano maintains an 18-point lead over the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry driver Kyle Busch in the Monster Energy Cup championship standings.
Photo courtesy of Action Sports Photography