Underdog Justin Haley became the newest Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series winner after winning a rain-delayed and shorted Coke Zero Sugar 400 at the Daytona International Speedway.

Haley, who competes full-time for Kaulig Racing in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, finished second to teammate Ross Chastain in their 100-lap race and was the first driver to cross the line in last year’s undercard race but was penalized for going below the yellow line.

The driver of the No. 77 Spire Motorsports Chevrolet became the benefactor of many good things as a 17-car melee on Lap 118 wiped out many of the race’s prime contenders. The dust settled with Kurt Busch in the lead only to relinquish when he pitted with one to go before the scheduled green flag.

That promoted Haley to the lead just as lightning in the area brought out the red flag. A massive thunderstorm rolled in, and NASCAR ultimately called the race.

The 20-year-old from Winamac, Indiana made just his third start at NASCAR’s highest level in today’s race and was overwhelmed with emotions in the triumph.

“It’s absolutely a blessing!” said Haley. “I never even saw myself running a Cup race until I got a call a couple months ago to do Talladega. It’s just unreal. I don’t know how to feel.”

“The stars aligned and I never thought I would get redemption back from last year at Daytona when I got the Xfinity win taken away from me. To come back and get redemption in the Cup series is pretty cool.”

Joey Logano and Austin Dillon won the race’s opening 50 lap stages and proved the be the prime contenders for much of the day.

The first stage ran flag to flag without any incidents with Logano pulling off a last lap pass on Kevin Harvick to take the lead after leading 36 laps.

The second stage saw three slowdowns for multi-car incidents starting with Ricky Stenhouse, Jr getting spun out of the lead by Kurt Busch on Lap 58.

Busch brought out the next caution on Lap 72 when he lost control of his No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet in Turn 1 before being tagged by Brendan Gaughan.

The racing only stayed green for eight laps after that when on Lap 84 Brad Keselowski was tagged by Kevin Harvick which collected Daniel Suarez, David Regan and Daniel Hemric.

Meanwhile, Austin Dillon held the dominant car of the segment and took the win ahead of the Hendrick Motorsports trio of Alex Bowman, William Byron and Chase Elliott.

Logano came out as the leader after the final stage break and briefly lost the lead on the Lap 105 restart to second-place starter Ryan Newman. He reclaimed the lead before the completion of the lap with the assistance of Dillon.

Dillon and Logano ran side by side for nearly ten laps and swapped the lead three times as Erik Jones, Chase Elliott, Newman, Clint Bowyer, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr and Paul Menard followed.

Menard rose to the fore on Lap 112 when he pulled a three-wide pass on the high line with assistance from Denny Hamlin.

Hamlin then dispatched Menard for the top spot and held off Dillon for the next five laps. Dillon then lined up ahead of Clint Bowyer on the high side on Lap 118.

Bowyer then attempted an advance on Dillon which prompted a block and triggered a 17-car pileup in Turn 1.

The accident collected the cars of Chase Elliott, Hamlin, Blaney, Stenhouse, Jr, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex, Jr., Erik Jones, Logano, Chris Buescher, Kyle Larson, Bubba Wallace, Ryan Preece, Alex Bowman and Parker Kligerman.

The accident unfolded ahead of Kurt Busch who in turn came out as the leader ahead of William Byron, Jimmie Johnson, Ty Dillon, Matt DiBennedeto and Landon Cassill.

When the pits opened after safety officials cleared the track, Busch remained on track ahead of Haley while William Byron won the race off pit road ahead of teammate Johnson.

NASCAR declared the track good to restart on Lap 126 which then prompted Busch to pit for four tyres and fuel and dropped him to tenth.

That promoted Haley to the lead as lightning strikes were reported in the Daytona Beach vicinity and brought out the red flag.

The Air Titans hustled to keep the track dry, but mother nature ultimately won when a torrential downpour soaked the 2.5-mile superspeedway a few hours later and ended the race 33 laps shy of the finish.

Byron notched his best MENCS finish in second while Jimmie Johnson scored his second consecutive top-five finish.

Ty Dillon and Ryan Newman rounded out the top five with both drivers claiming their best results of the season to date.

Corey Lajoie survived the melee to score his best career finish in sixth while Aric Almirola limped to seventh after being collected in the big one.

Matt DiBenedetto ended up eighth ahead of Matt Tifft while Kurt Busch finished tenth.

 

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