MIAMI – Even amid the hype of Championship 4 Media Day on Thursday at the Miami Beach Edition Hotel, Justin Haley remained calm and continued to declare himself the dark horse to win the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series title.
He’ll have the opportunity to finally shed that moniker and stand alone at the top of the heap by finishing highest among the four championship contenders on Friday night at Homestead-Miami (Fla.) Speedway.
Haley, 19, is the youngest of the four title-eligible drivers and was viewed as one of the longest shots to advance to Miami when the playoffs began. He came in as the No. 7 seed among the eight playoff drivers but won his way through each round, making last-lap passes at both Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and Texas Motor Speedway to propel himself into this weekend’s finale in Miami.
Despite that success, however, Haley refuses to call himself one of the favorites for the crown.
“We were the seventh seed going into the playoffs. No one even really had us going into the round of six,” Haley said. “A lot of people didn’t even have us going to the playoffs, and we made it to the round of four (and proved) all the haters wrong. It’s been really fun.
“GMS Racing gave me this chance, and they knew I could do it. It’s just been fun, like I said,” Haley continued. “I’ve got no pressure. I wouldn’t say (that) I don’t care how this weekend goes, but however the weekend goes, I’m going to be pretty OK with it because I know we’ve put ourselves in the opportunity to win a championship, and that’s all you can ask for is the opportunity to go and compete for a title.”
Though Haley has won three times this season to go along with nine top-five and 17 top-10 finishes, he doesn’t view any particular race of the Truck Series season as the moment he turned toward title contention.
Rather, Haley believes that his opportunity to step up with GMS Racing and run several NASCAR Xfinity Series events during the summer were a major key to turning his season in the right direction.
“I’ve told a few people, I think just the Xfinity races were my turning point,” noted Haley. “Obviously I got the opportunity from GMS Racing to go to Iowa for my series debut, and we ran OK there. I think we finished 12th. It was an OK day. I was disappointed in it. I would have liked to have been in the top 10, but that’s just the race car driver coming out in me. … Then the next week I won Gateway, and then like two weeks later was Daytona, so there was a lot happening (for me) in a short amount of time.
“If I look back at it, I didn’t even have any Xfinity races planned for the beginning of this year. Going to Daytona, I was just going to run for the truck championship and I was going to be content with that. After Daytona and kind of proving to myself, my sponsors, my family and my team that I could go out there and win an Xfinity race – not just a truck race – meant a lot to us.”