Justin Haley, making just his third career start in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, took advantage of crazy, stormy weather in central Florida on Sunday and won the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway.
Haley, driving for tiny Spire Motorsports, earned his first victory after the race was red flagged due to lightning in the area with 127 of the scheduled 160 laps completed.
“Pretty incredible,” he said after his win was made official. “I never even saw myself running a Cup race until I got a call a few months ago to do Talladega. It’s just unreal.”
The 20-year-old native of Winamac, Ind, who is vying for rookie of the year honors in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, grabbed the lead when he opted not to pit after a big wreck on Lap 119 took out many of the sport’s biggest hitters. Shortly thereafter, the red flag waved.
“We were praying for rain,” Haley said when asked what he was thinking after getting to the front.
What he got was a series of lightning flashes and then, hours later, the decision to call the race with 33 laps to go.
“Well you just don’t know,” Haley said of talking to reporters during the delay. “They keep asking you, ‘How are you feeling.’ I’m like I can’t do anything about it. If we go racing we go racing. If it rains out, we rain out. I can’t do anything about it.”
Hendrick Motorsports teammates William Byron and Jimmie Johnson were awarded second and third place, respectively. Rounding out the top five were Ty Dillon and Ryan Newman.
The race was originally scheduled to go green at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday. But heavy and persistent rains forced NASCAR officials to move the event to Sunday. The green flag finally dropped at 1:04 p.m. with Joey Logano of Team Penske on the pole.
Once underway, the race was dictated by alliances among the manufacturers’ respective drivers. As a result, Ford drivers and those from Chevrolet took turns dominating the front of the field. Logano’s Ford led 37 laps to win the first stage, while Austin Dillon led 40 more and won the second stage in a Richard Childress Racing Chevy.
Dillon appeared to be closing in on a second career victory at Daytona late in the race. He had moved to the lead with just over 40 laps to go when he came down the track in front of Clint Bowyer of Stewart-Haas Racing. The cars came together and caused the massive wreck. Among those taken out were Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin, Chase Elliott, Logano and Kyle Larson.
“I guess he didn’t want me to pass him,” Bowyer said of Dillon. “I don’t know. I got under him and he blocked, and we got together, I got off of him — moved down and got off of him — and here he comes back down even more and just finally wrecked us all. That’s just part of racing like this.”
–Field Level Media