DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — As the dark clouds and lightning descended upon Daytona International Speedway Sunday afternoon, Justin Haley climbed out of his No. 77 Spire Motorsports Chevrolet feeling like it was perhaps divine intervention.
He was first on the scoreboard at the time Sunday’s Coke Zero Sugar 400 was red-flagged for lightning 33 laps short of the intended 160-lap distance.
Two hours and 12 minutes later, the 20-year old Indiana native was celebrating his first career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup win in only his third career start.
It was an unlikely turn of events in a very eventful race.
As Haley stood speaking with reporters during the long weather delay, a team member walked up and hugged him, delivering the career-defining news to the Xfinity Series standout: “You just won your first Monster Energy NASCAR race.”
“It’s absolutely a blessing, pretty incredible that I have so many people around me who have given me this opportunity,” Haley said, just before receiving a hug from his mother, Melissa Dennis.
As Haley – the second-youngest Cup winner in Daytona International Speedway history – stood inside the driver meeting room during the weather delay, he smiled nervously and showed reporters how his hands were shaking in tense anticipation.
Drivers were actually called to their cars to restart after the initial red flag, but lightning moved into the immediate area again, necessitating another 30-minute safety delay. Before that time passed, the rain returned. And the race was declared official.
In the end, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet teammates William Byron and Jimmie Johnson finished second and third, respectively.
Ty Dillon and Ryan Newman rounded out the top-five.