By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
DARLINGTON, S.C. – A long day at Darlington Raceway ended with Justin Haley driving through the field to score his first top-five finish of the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season.
Haley struggled at the start of the Goodyear 400. The Kaulig Racing driver qualified 29th. Haley was then 20th and 27th in Stages 1 and 2 respectively. It wasn’t until the end of Stage 2 that the 23-year-old received the free pass to get back on the lead lap.
It wasn’t until two cautions later that crew chief Trent Owens’ strategy aided Haley’s run through the field. A call to stop for tires likely kept the No. 31 Leaf Filter Gutter Protection Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE out of ‘the big one.’ Haley restarted inside the top-five. He battled with Tyler Reddick for third before eventually settling in for a fourth-place finish.
Late-race race contact between eventual winner Joey Logano and William Byron sent the latter into the wall. Haley snuck by the wounded No. 24 Axalta Chevrolet to snag third when the checkered flag waved at Darlington Raceway.
“It’s obviously a really strong day,” explained Haley. “This is a good run for us. We obviously did not have a third-place car, but Trent Owens and everyone on the 31 team just worked hard all day. We got the free pass there to start Stage 3 and kind of just built momentum. Had a good restart there at the end, so definitely a good run for organization. It’s something we needed.
“We’ve been clicking off like Top-15s and driving around that area, but it showed we can do it here and showcase my talent some super thing. I think we probably had a 20th-place car. I wasn’t very happy with it. Yesterday when we unloaded and qualified 29th, which is not good for anyone. Just a trying day. We kept working at it, kept our heads in the game and never lost sight.”
The third-place finish for Haley marked his first top-five of the 2022 Cup Series season. It was also his first top-five since his win at Daytona International Speedway in a lightning-shortened race in 2019. Though Haley has competed full-time in the Xfinity Series between then and this top-five, he jokes that the win was a fluke.
“Not really, because I mean that (win) was a fluke deal, right?” joked Haley. “I ran Xfinity a bunch, so this is my first full time season in Cup besides last year. Every week we’re just trying to get better come. This was definitely one of those days where we can take a large leap. I’m not discounting the win, but I drove to third today. Like, the team worked hard, and we made good setup calls. It’s just a different feeling. That win is the win, but this was a day where you had to keep your head in the game and avoid adversity.”
In addition to the top-five finish being Haley’s first of the 2022 season, it was also the first for Kaulig Racing as a full-time team in the Cup Series. The Matt Kaulig-owned team has two top-five finishes last season, including a win, with AJ Allmendinger.
The third-place finish moves Haley from 22nd to 20th in the championship points standings. He is 210 points behind leader Chase Elliott. Haley’s 44-points behind the playoff cutline currently held by Austin Dillon.
Featured Photo Credit: Photo by NKP / NKP Photo.