Saturday, August 15, 2020

XFINITY: Justin Haley catches air in first last-place finish, but results say suspension was to blame

PHOTO: @ForRaceFansOnly

Justin Haley
picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s UNOH 188 at the Daytona International Speedway Road Course when his #11 Leaf Filter Gutter Protection Chevrolet fell out with suspension issues after 11 of 55 laps.

The finish came in Haley’s 55th series start. In the XFINITY Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 11th for the #11, the 20th for suspension issues, and the 552nd for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 44th for suspension issues, the 58th for the #11, and the 1,731st for Chevrolet.

Haley and the Daytona International Speedway have been synonymous since 2018. That year, the newcomer was making just his second series start for GMS Racing. He took the checkered flag in first place after a daring last-lap pass, but the win was taken from him after another controversial judgment call under the “Yellow Line Rule.” Haley got his revenge just one year later at the same track, when he was this time making his third Cup start for Spire Motorsports. With rain approaching, but the race apparently about to restart, leaders Kurt Busch and Landon Cassill pitted with one to go. Lightning in the area forced a hold, and under the red flag, the rain fell with Haley’s #77 in first place. The race was called, and Haley had his first Cup Series victory. 

Haley’s first XFINITY win also came on a superspeedway just this year, when he led teammate Ross Chastain across the stripe at Talladega. After a 23rd-place finish at Pocono, he then nearly stole the victory at the Indianapolis Grand Prix circuit, charging from some distance back of the lead battle to ultimately take runner-up to Chase Briscoe. Four more top-ten finishes followed before an 11th in Road America, at which point he ranked 5th in the series standings, preparing for his return to the Playoffs.

Once again, it was time to race at Daytona. With NASCAR’s new algorithm to determine starting lineups without actual timed laps, Haley drew the 5th starting spot.

Taking the 38th and final starting spot was Harold Crooms, making his NASCAR debut in Motorsports Business Management’s #66 Unknown BBQ / Maxpay Pawn Toyota. Crooms would incur a redundant tail-end penalty for unapproved adjustments that would keep him in last place. Also docked for the same reason was 28th-place Jeffrey Earnhardt in the #15 KSDT CPA Chevrolet. A second MBM car, the #13 Toyota Camry, also dropped to the rear due to a late driver change with Chad Finchum replaced by Bobby Reuse, whose Truck Series effort with Clay Greenfield Racing was withdrawn due to apparent chassis certification issues. The #13 was slated to start 35th.

Heavy rains and lightning in the area added still another wrinkle to an already challenging weekend. At least three different teams – Andy Lally (#02), Brandon Gdovic (#26), and Noah Gragson (#9), needed extra time to get ready before the field rolled off. The entire field was running slick tires, and in the first couple corners, Gragson nearly collided with polesitter Austin Cindric, whose #22 MoneyLion Ford clipped the grass with his left-front corner. Further back, 31st-place Kody Vanderwal spun his #52 Advanced Dairy Services Chevrolet at the entrance to the infield. His car was seen stopped facing the wrong direction as the leaders entered Turn 2 (just after the entrance of the infield). Vanderwal got rolling again and slotted in behind Crooms in last place as the field headed down pit road for rain tires. By then, Bayley Currey, the Road America last-place finisher, had also incurred a tail-end penalty for unapproved adjustments on the #74 We Stand For The National Anthem Chevrolet.

When the field approached the green flag, Vanderwal resumed his original 31st-place starting spot, putting him ahead of 32nd-place Jade Buford in the #07 Big Machine Distillery Chevrolet. The last spot again fell to Crooms, who was 7.763 seconds back of the lead. Reuse had dropped back to 37th, just under a second in front. By the end of the first lap, Crooms had fallen to 31.617 seconds back of the lead, a full 5.720 seconds back of the new 37th-place driver, Matt Mills in the #5 Thompson Electric / J.F. Electric Chevrolet.

The final chicane before the entrance of the tri-oval proved particularly challenging in the first laps, in part because it was added to the track just days before the event. Several drivers missed the chicane in the early laps, including Ryan Sieg in the #39 CMR Roofing Chevrolet. Sieg’s resulting stop-and-go penalty dropped him to 37th on Lap 3, and he took over last on Lap 4. By then, Sieg was 22.497 seconds back of Crooms. Sieg managed to close in on the tail end of the field and on Lap 6 dropped Bayley Currey to last. Currey took the spot after he elected to switch back to dry-weather slick tires.

By Lap 7, Currey, Reuse, Crooms, and Sieg had all fallen one lap down to the leaders. Crooms took last back from Currey that time by. The lap after, Bobby Reuse took last for the first time after he served a pass-through penalty. Reuse was then on the verge of losing a second lap to the leaders before he re-passed Crooms on Lap 12. But, further up the field, the leaders were suddenly finding trouble.

On Lap 12, as the leaders entered Turn 7 (NASCAR Turn 1), Ross Chastain’s #10 Moose Fraternity Chevrolet fell off the pace. Chastain elected to not drive up the banking, but his car continued to slow down the backstretch. At nearly the same instant, teammate Justin Haley was entering the backstretch chicane at Turn 9. Racing ahead of Scott Heckert’s #78 Koolbox Ice Toyota, Haley’s #11 cut off the first left-hand corner, and his right-front dug into the grass, destroying the entire lower half of his front valence. As Haley spun into the grass, Heckert made it past, but Jeremy Clements, following Heckert into the turn, spun his #51 All South Electric Chevrolet into the tire barriers.

To cap off the frustrating lap for Kaulig Racing, A.J. Allmendinger was then tagged for being serviced outside his pit box after his team’s fuel canister didn’t disengage on the #16 Ellsworth Advisors Chevrolet.

Under caution, Haley limped back to the entrance of pit road, then waited in his car for a push. At the time, he was told he was not on the “Crash Clock,” and would thus be able to go to the garage area for repairs – even though he suffered serious damage in an on-track incident. Chastain was also brought to the garage for transmission repairs. At the time, Haley was ranked behind Chastain. On Lap 14, Haley’s crew said “Yeah, we’re done,” and the #11 took last from Crooms on Lap 15. The #11 crew then gave their remaining tires to one of the Richard Childress Racing teams. On Lap 24, NASCAR reported Haley was out with suspension issues and not due to crash damage.

Chastain ultimately returned to the track, 19 laps down, and climbed to the 36th spot. The first car he passed was the #8 Poppy Bank Chevrolet of Daniel Hemric, who slid head-on into the Armco barrier off Turn 2 on the ensuing restart. Crooms finished 35th when the brakes failed, four laps behind Brandon Brown with a fractured axle on the unsponsored #68 Brandonbilt Motorsports Chevrolet.

Andy Lally backed-up his 5th-place run at Road America with another 5th on Saturday, despite clipping the chicane grass in the same place that ended Haley’s race. His run in the #02 Knockaround Chevrolet was just one of many impressive performances.

Mike Harmon Racing wrote the next chapter of their impressive season with Bayley Currey climbing from a brief stay in last place to 14th in the #74 We Stand For The National Anthem Chevrolet and Kyle Weatherman taking 17th in the matching #47. Both were even on the front row for one of the final restarts on Lap 45, and each survived the ensuing tangle in Turn 2. For Currey, the 14th-place finish was a new career-best, improving on his 18th earlier this year at Charlotte and Atlanta. For Weatherman, it was his fourth top-twenty finish of the year and first since his career-best 8th at Kentucky.

Driving the #99 Insurance King / Rock’n Vodka Toyota, Josh Bilicki overcame a mid-race spin to back-up his strong performance at Road America, and this time held on through the final lap, tying his career-best 12th from Road America three years ago. 

Tommy Joe Martins also overcame a spin, and also a near-disaster when the field wrecked in front of his #44 AAN Adjusters Chevrolet in Turn 2 late in the race, to finish a well-earned 13th. This was Martins’ season-best finish in the series, and continued a streak of four consecutive finishes of 18th or better.

Jade Buford also finished 16th in his return to the #07 Big Machine Distillery Chevrolet, scoring three straight top-twenty finishes in his first three XFINITY Series starts, all of them on road courses. He ran 14th in his series debut at Indianapolis, then 19th last week in Road America. Stephen Leicht also continued his strong road course performances, following his 21st at Indianapolis and 22nd at Road America with another 21st on Saturday.

Finally, flanked by JD Motorsports teammates Jesse Little and B.J. McLeod, who finished 18th and 20th respectively, Scott Heckert enjoyed a strong run for much of Saturday’s race. The #78 Koolbox Ice Toyota was in and around the Top 15 for much of the race, and climbed to 6th before a spin in the final chicane. He also made at least one daring move in Turn 2, holding off eventual race winner Austin Cindric with a firm block. At the end, Heckert finished 19th, one spot ahead of his team owner.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #11 since March 4, 2017, when Blake Koch’s run in the #11 Leaf Filter Chevrolet ended with an early crash after 2 laps of the Rinnai 250 at Atlanta
*While this is Haley’s first XFINITY Series last-place finish, it is not his first across NASCAR’s top three series. While listed under “J.J. Haley” on October 31, 2015, the then-rookie finished last in the Kroger 200 at Martinsville after his #32 Great Clips Toyota crashed 119 laps into the event

38) #11-Justin Haley / 11 laps / suspension
37) #8-Daniel Hemric / 14 laps / crash
36) #10-Ross Chastain / 34 laps / running
35) #66-Harold Crooms / 36 laps / brakes
34) #68-Brandon Brown / 40 laps / axle

1st) Motorsports Business Management (4)
2nd) Joe Gibbs Racing (3)
3rd) JD Motorsports, Jimmy Means Racing, Mike Harmon Racing, Shepherd Racing Ventures (2)
4th) Jeremy Clements Racing, JR Motorsports, Kaulig Racing, SS-Green Light Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (12)
2nd) Toyota (7)


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