Daytona, July 8: Justin Haley benefitted from an improbable series of events to score a huge upset victory in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup race at Daytona on Sunday.
The 20-year-old Haley, a full-time Xfinity Series driver, earned his first career Cup win at the Coke Zero Sugar 400 in only his third series start.
Haley's unlikely path to victory began early in the third stage, when the inevitable 'Big One' erupted.
Austin Dillon, who was leading the race, sparked the crash when he tried to block Clint Bowyer, and got turned in front of the pack. The crash also involved Kyle Busch, Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., among others.
"That was terrible," Bowyer told reporters afterwards.
"That wasn't even close. When we got together and I pulled off him to give him some room and then he just never quit coming down and wrecked us all."
NASCAR cleaned up the track and prepared to restart the race. Several drivers, including race leader Kurt Busch, darted onto pit road for fuel and tyres for the closing laps. Haley assumed the lead at that point, but clearly would have been a sitting duck with far more experienced drivers – many with fresher tyres – restarting behind him.
But just as NASCAR prepared to give the one-to-go signal for the race to resume, lightning nearby caused officials to wave off the restart. After a lengthy red-flag delay, drivers were sent back to their cars to restart the event. But more lightning caused a further delay.
And then, more than 90 minutes after the first lightning delay began, heavy rain inundated the track.
At that point, an improbable win by Haley and the number 77 Spire Motorsports team suddenly seemed quite likely.
"You never know what's going to happen … I prayed as much as I could for rain," Haley told NBC Sports during the delay.
Credit Haley's crew chief, Peter Sospenzo, for leaving him out on the track before that restart that never came. It was the veteran crew chief's fourth career Cup victory, but first since 2003 with Joe Nemechek.