DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Teeth chattering, hands shaking, stomach churning, Justin Haley anxiously waited for NASCAR to pull the plug on a rain-wrecked weekend at Daytona International Speedway.
A 500-1 longshot making just his third career Cup start, Haley won the rain-postponed, rain-shortened race at Daytona on Sunday. He inherited the lead after a 17-car accident decimated the field and a lightning strike forced NASCAR to stop the race.
Haley waited out the delay in a conference room inside the historic speedway, admittedly too nervous to do more than pray for the skies to open and the race to be called once and for all.
The wait of 2 hours, 12 minutes was well worth it for the 20-year-old Indiana native driving for first-year team Spire Motorsports. They celebrated in a makeshift indoor victory lane and were warmly greeted by manufacturer Chevrolet, which has now won two straight races after a miserable start to the season.
“I had no expectation to win this race,” said Haley, admitting he’d have quickly been passed for the lead if the race resumed.
“We were just trying to keep the fenders on it. That was the whole goal of the race, to finish with no scratches. Yes, I really did pray for rain.”
The race was scheduled for Saturday night but forced to Sunday afternoon because of persistent rain and lightning that washed out most of this final Independence Day party at NASCAR’s birthplace. The race is being moved next year to August as the regular-season finale.
As the clouds darkened over the track at the start of the third and final stage, drivers picked up the intensity and started racing as if the event would end at the first drop of rain.
Clint Bowyer pulled out of line and tried to pass Austin Dillon for the lead, but Dillon would not relinquish the spot. His Chevrolet wiggled, Bowyer hit him from behind in his Ford, and because they were at the front of the field, it caused a huge wreck.
“I guess he didn’t want me to pass him,” Bowyer said. “I got under him and he blocked and he just finally wrecked us all.”
Dillon defended his racing.
“I really thought it was kind of urgent because of the lightning and rain coming,” he said. “It’s part of this kind of racing.”