Justin Haley might be a NASCAR Cup Series winner, but after Sunday considers a third-place finish at Darlington Raceway a career day.
Haley isn’t discounting his 2019 win at Daytona International Speedway – the right call put him in the race lead with rain imminent, and Haley was declared the winner. It was much different in the Goodyear 400 at Darlington, where Haley said he “drove to third.”
It is just his second career top-five finish and the best result thus far for the No.31 Kaulig Racing team.
“The team worked hard, and we made good setup calls,” Haley said. “It’s just a different feeling. That win is the win, but this was a day where you had to keep your head in the game and avoid adversity.”
It was a hard-fought weekend for Haley and crew chief Trent Owens, who didn’t unload a fast car. Haley was 29th in practice, qualified in the same position and it took all of the 293 laps for Haley to climb toward the top of the leaderboard.
“I think we probably had a 20th place car – I wasn’t happy with it yesterday when we unloaded and obviously, we qualified 29th, which is not good for anyone,” Haley said. “So, it was a trying day. We kept working at it, kept our heads in the game, and never lost sight of it.”
Darlington was a race that Haley felt the team took a “large leap” forward. After starting the season with four top-20 finishes in the first six races, he’s has been back on track with four straight top-15 finishes.
“It’s obviously a really strong day; this is a good run for us,” he said. “We obviously did not have a third-place car, but Trent Owens and everyone on the 31 team worked hard all day. We got the free pass there to start (the final stage), and we were building momentum; we had a good restart there at the end.
“Definitely a good run for our organization. It’s something we need. We’ve been clicking off top 15s and right around that area, but to show we can do it here and showcase my talents, I’m super thankful.”
Haley’s win came on a superspeedway where the chances are higher for an upset or underdog to succeed. But Darlington is a rough and tough racetrack that doesn’t produce many flukes.
“That’s probably the most satisfying part is it is the hardest racetrack,” Haley said. “To get my career-high – I’m going to call it my career-high – best finish here, it’s pretty cool.”