CONCORD, N.C. — Justin Haley was the surprise winner of the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona Int’l Speedway in July.
It was a great story — an underdog making his third series start for a low-budget team in Spire Motorsports steals the victory from the top stars of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series thanks to the timely intervention of Mother Nature.
However, instead of joy and excitement, many on social media lambasted NASCAR’s decision to call the event when persistent rain storms prevented officials from restarting the race.
A joke some called it. Ridiculous others said. Many others used words that wouldn’t make it past our editor.
Why the hate?
Justin Haley and Spire Motorsports played the game perfectly.
Everyone on the track had the opportunity to do what Haley and Spire Motorsports. Any lead-lap driver ahead of Haley could have stayed out during the final caution period.
Instead, they all played it safe, came down pit road for fuel and tires and came back out on track behind Haley, who was declared the winner when rain engulfed the massive 2.5-mile track.
Haley was not the first driver to steal a race at NASCAR’s top level in this particular fashion.
In the aftermath of Haley’s upset win at Daytona, we dug through the archives to find some of NASCAR’s other big upsets for a historical feature on SPEEDSPORT.com. Here are just a few that caught our attention.
Remember when Chris Buescher won at Pennsylvania’s Pocono Raceway?
During his rookie season in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in 2016, Buescher was the leader of the Pennsylvania 400 during a round a pit stops when fog moved in over the track.
The horrendous fog forced first a caution flag, then a red flag. With no lights at the track and the race past halfway, NASCAR officials declared the race over and awarded Buescher his only Cup Series victory.
How about David Reutimann’s upset victory in the 2009 Coca- Cola 600?
Rain was a factor in the Florida driver earning his first series victory. Driving a race car with damage on the right side from a previous meeting with the wall, Reutimann was the leader when rain brought out a caution flag on lap 227 of the 400-lap event. He spent the next hour waiting patiently until NASCAR pulled the plug, awarding him his first of two Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victories.
Then there is fuel strategy. How many drivers have stolen NASCAR Cup Series victories because of fuel mileage? Two particular instances come to mind.
The first came during the 2007 Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway when Casey Mears used a fuel mileage strategy to score what would turn out to be his only victory at NASCAR’s top level in a Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.
Then there was Paul Menard, who stole a victory in the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway from Jeff Gordon thanks to a brilliant fuel strategy call from his crew chief, Richard “Slugger” Labbe.
Because these drivers used the timely intervention of Mother Nature or fuel strategy gambles, does that mean they aren’t as deserving of being called a NASCAR Cup Series race winner as the likes of Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson or Brad Keselowski?
The answer is no.
The Spire Motorsports team and Haley gambled on Mother Nature helping them out and they got lucky. That doesn’t mean they didn’t deserve the victory, it just means they played the game better than 39 other drivers and teams that Sunday afternoon at Daytona Int’l Speedway.
If you don’t like it? Too bad. Sometimes life isn’t fair and things don’t work out for your favorite driver or team. But sometimes, just sometimes, things go exactly right for that one driver and that one team you never thought would be in position to win a race.
On July 7, 2019, at Daytona Int’l Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla., everything went perfectly for Haley’s No. 77 Spire Motorsports team. They took home the trophy and the prize money and Haley is a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race winner.
No one will be able to take that away from him. It’s a title, whether you like it or not, that the 20-year-old from Winamac, Ind., has earned and will carry with him the rest of his life.
Well done Justin Haley, well done.