DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Mother Nature let loose with the rain on Saturday night to delay by a day the Coke Sugar Free 400 at Daytona International Speedway for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race. Then, on Sunday afternoon, she provided sunshine, then lightening and then a “reign” for Justin Haley to win the race.
How many Cup starts does the 20-year old Haley have? Three, counting this race. How may laps did he lead to win this race? One, and that was under yellow after NASCAR gave the “one-to-go” as then leader Kurt Busch pulled down pit road. Then, after the field went about 300 yards past the Start/Finish Line, they displayed the yellow when lightning began in the area.
After the 30-minute lightning clock ended, drivers were summoned to their cars. Then, another lightning bolt came down putting them back on the clock. Then, rain started in Turn 4, that stopped and track was dried. Then, while under the second red flag, rain started all over the track and after two hours and 12 minutes, they called the race official handing the race win to Haley.
“It’s absolutely a blessing, pretty incredible that I have so many people around me who have given me this opportunity,” Haley said, after being informed he won when the race was officially called. “It’s pretty incredible I have so many great people around me who have given me so many opportunities.
“I never even saw myself running a Cup race until I got a call a few months ago to run Talladega. It’s an incredible feeling, I just don’t how to feel.”
Okay, got all that? Good, because there’s more.
Before all THAT stuff happened, Joey Lagano led 40 laps to win Stage 1. Austin Dillon led the most laps at 49 to win Stage 2. They both had decent runs going in the Final Stage until…yep, that’s right…The Big One.
On lap 118, Dillon was leading in his No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet when he got bumped from behind by the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford driven by Clint Bowyer. Dillon went up, Bowyer dove under, the No. 3 started back down and the No. 14 caught the left-rear quarter panel.
That started a 17-car chain reaction wreck that took out some pretty big names and heavily damaged others. That’s when the aforementioned caution took place nine laps later and Haley ended up in the winner’s circle after the two red flags.
“My thought process was even if we had four flat tires we weren’t going to pit,” said Peter Sospenzo, Haley’s crew chief. “We were going to ride out the weather. It was our only option to steal a win, if you want to call it that.”
The No. 77 Spire Motorsports car was formed this year by a marketing agency and has had several drivers behind the wheel. They purchased the Team Charter from another team to ensure they were able to start all races.
As for Kurt Busch, he had this to say about his 10th-place finish after pulling in, “I was just on the wrong side of a lightning bolt.”
Nobody, and that means NOBODY, foresaw the No. 77 team being in Victory Lane for the final Daytona July race. Next year, Daytona becomes the final Regular Season race and this event goes to Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Rounding out the top-five were William Byron, Jimmie Johnson, Ty Dillon and Ryan Newman.
The series heads to the 1.5-mile Kentucky Speedway this coming weekend.
(Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)