Justin Haley, making his third career start in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, took advantage of crazy, stormy weather in central Florida on Sunday and won the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway.
Haley, driving for tiny Spire Motorsports, earned his first victory after the race was red flagged due to lightning in the area with 127 of the scheduled 160 laps completed.
“Pretty incredible,” he said after his win was made official. “I never even saw myself running a Cup race until I got a call a few months ago to do Talladega. It’s just unreal.”
The 20-year-old native of Winamac, Ind., who is vying for rookie of the year honors in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, grabbed the lead when he opted not to pit after a big wreck on Lap 119 took out many of the sport’s biggest hitters. Shortly thereafter, the red flag waved.
“We were praying for rain,” Haley said when asked what he was thinking after getting to the front.
What he got was a series of lightning flashes and then, hours later, the decision to call the race with 33 laps to go.
Hendrick Motorsports teammates William Byron and Jimmie Johnson were awarded second and third place, respectively. Rounding out the top five were Ty Dillon and Ryan Newman.
The race was originally scheduled to go green at 7:30 p.m. Saturday. But heavy and persistent rains forced NASCAR officials to move the event to Sunday. The green flag finally dropped at 1:04 p.m. with Joey Logano of Team Penske on the pole.