SPARTA, Ky. – Justin Haley picked up the phone on Thursday afternoon at Kentucky Speedway and sounded just as calm, cool and collected as he did in the hours leading up to his breakthrough Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win last weekend in the rain-shortened Coke Zero Sugar 400.
For him, the last five days have been “business as usual,” or as much as that statement can apply to a 20-year-old from small-town Indiana who broke through on stock-car racing’s grandest stage.
“I’ll be honest, my life the last few days has kind of been boring,” said Haley, who met with Kaulig Racing on Monday at the team’s shop before attending a Fraternal Order of Eagles sponsor appearance on Tuesday.
“Everyone’s been asking about the race, and I’ve just kept repeating myself … because there’s only so many words I know to describe how I felt, how the race went down and what I’ve gone through in this last week,” he added. “Maybe I’m taking it for granted a little bit, but it’s alright. I’ve been hanging out.
“I’m just doing normal me. I haven’t changed my schedule at all. I can’t break my habits.”
Even with nearly a week to soak in the fact that he won at Daytona Int’l Speedway, Haley admitted to SPEED SPORT prior to NASCAR Xfinity Series practice at Kentucky that he still can’t believe what he accomplished with Spire Motorsports over the Independence Day holiday weekend.
Haley survived a 17-car crash at lap 118, stayed out as other frontrunners pitted in front of him and the assumed the lead before a lightning delay stopped the race for more than two hours.
Rain finally moved in around the speedway and forced NASCAR officials to call the event, awarding Haley his first Cup Series victory in the most improbable of situations.
The Winamac, Ind., native was 27th prior to the accident that first catapulted him into contention.
“When you make it through the Big One at Daytona or Talladega, it’s a big accomplishment – I don’t care who you are,” Haley noted. “It wasn’t like we were in the middle of (the pack), so I could get the car slowed down a good bit.
“The biggest thing was realizing after we did get through it, just how many cars were involved,” he added. “I thought to myself, ‘Man, that was a lot of cars. We might have a shot at a top 10 … or even finish on the lead lap! And then five minutes later I was the leader of the dang race.”
If anything, Sunday’s race was a microcosm of the former NASCAR K&N Pro Series East champion’s entire NASCAR career.
He dug his heels in at the K&N level, winning the title in 2016, but then struggled during his rookie season in Trucks before making the Championship 4 last year on the strength of three victories.
“It was a whirlwind of emotions, just so up and down,” said Haley. “My whole career has been like that, in a way, but there hasn’t been a year where I haven’t found success somewhere. There’s never been a year where I haven’t won a race. I’ve always hung in there, even though I’ve questioned things at times.
“The biggest part of that is being fortunate and blessed enough to have good teams around me that would rally around me when I needed them to,” he added. “Honestly, the biggest up-and-down moment of my entire career was probably waiting out that dang rain delay. (laughs) We got out of the car, then waited for a bit, then got back in the car and was ready to fire it up again when they told me to get back out. It was just a crazy set of circumstances before they did finally call it.”