Haley wins a thrilling three-wide photo finish at Daytona

Saving their absolute best for the last, Kaulig Racing utilized teamwork to storm to another victory at Daytona International Speedway. On this occasion, Justin Haley edged teammate AJ Allmendinger by a nose and in a three-wide photo finish including their other teammate, Jeb Burton, to win the rain-postponed Wawa 250 at Daytona International Speedway on Saturday, August 28.

The victory was Haley’s first of the 2021 NASCAR Xfinity Series season.

The starting lineup was based on a performance metric formula, weighing the driver’s and owner’s results from a previous Xfinity event, the owner points position and the fastest lap recorded from a previous Xfinity race. With that, AJ Allmendinger, winner of last weekend’s Xfinity event at Michigan International Speedway, started on pole position and was joined on the front row with Noah Gragson.

The race started on Friday evening, August 27, and Allmendinger received a push from Justin Allgaier on the outside lane to jump to an early lead and lead the first lap ahead of Noah Gragson and a steaming pack of cars. He went on to lead the following two laps before Gragson peaked ahead during the fourth lap. Allmendinger, however, quickly snatched the lead back the following lap.

By the ninth lap, Brandon Jones, who was the lead car on the inside lane, encountered early issues when he made an unscheduled pit stop under green due to overheating issues as a result of a piece of debris.

When the competition caution flew on Lap 15, Gragson, who reassumed the lead on Lap 14, was scored the leader ahead of Allmendinger and the field. Under the competition caution, some led by Gragson pitted while the rest led by Allmendinger remained on the track. By then, Jones retired due to his mechanical issue.

Just as the field was set to restart, rain fell on the track and the field was brought to pit road as the race was red-flagged for a weather delay on Lap 19. Over an hour later, NASCAR declared that the race would be postponed to Saturday afternoon and run prior to the Cup event due to inclement weather continuing throughout Friday evening. At the time of, Allmendinger was leading ahead of Christopher Bell, Myatt Snider, Austin Cindric, Brett Moffitt, Justin Haley, Jeb Burton, Daniel Hemric, Jeremy Clements and Caesar Bacarella.

When the race resumed under green on Lap 21 and on Saturday afternoon, Allmendinger jumped ahead with another strong start on the outside lane followed by Cindric, Haley and Bell while Snider mounted a charge on the inside lane.

By Lap 25, Allmendinger continued to lead followed by teammate Haley while Cindric challenged as the lead car on the outside lane. Snider and Jeb Burton were in the top five followed by Bell, Michael Annett, Hemric, Allgaier and Moffitt.

A lap later, the caution flew when a bump from Snider sent Cindric making hard contact into the outside wall in the frontstretch. The incident ignited a chain reaction wreck that involved Snider, rookie Sam Mayer, Hemric and Annett. The wreck was enough to knock Cindric, who won the Xfinity opener at Daytona in February, out of contention.

With the caution period and cleanup surpassing the first stage’s conclusion on Lap 30, the first stage concluded under caution as Haley, who overtook teammate Allmendinger at the moment of caution, claimed his fifth stage victory of the season. Teammates Allmendinger and Jeb Burton settled in second and third followed by Bell and Allgaier. Scored in the top 10 were Moffitt, Gragson, Bacarella, Brandon Brown and Harrison Burton.

Under the stage break, everyone pitted except for Brandon Brown, Herbst, Chase Briscoe, Ryan Sieg and Jason White.

The second stage started on Lap 33 and Herbst jumped ahead with the lead on the outside lane followed by Briscoe as the field fanned out to three lanes through the backstraightaway.

When the field returned to the start/finish line, Brown mounted a challenge on the inside lane against Herbst for the lead. As the field continued to battle through Turns 2 and 3, the caution returned due to debris from Michael Annett’s car coming out in Turn 2.

When the race restarted on Lap 39, Herbst jumped ahead with the lead on the inside lane before he moved up to the outside lane in front of Briscoe and a bevy of cars.

Two laps later, the inside lane led by Brown mounted a charge for the lead through the tri-oval and entering the first turn. Herbst, however, was able to fight back through the backstraightaway and when the field returned to the start/finish line.

By Lap 45, Brown took the lead followed by Allmendinger, Allgaier, Gragson, Jeb Burton and Sam Mayer while Herbst fell back to eighth alongside Harrison Burton. A lap later, though, Allmendinger muscled his way back into the lead followed by Allgaier, Gragson and Mayer while Brown got shuffled back to fifth.

Three laps later, the caution returned due to debris coming off of Caesar Bacarella’s car in the frontstretch following contact from Blaine Perkins. Under caution, some including Allmendinger, Allgaier, Gragson, Mayer, Harrison Burton, Jeb Burton, Haley, Sieg and Bell pitted while the rest led by Brown and Herbst remained on the track.

With eight laps remaining in the second stage, the race restarted. At the start, Brown rocketed with the lead followed by Herbst. Through the backstraightaway, though, the field fanned out to multiple lanes and caught Brown through Turns 3 and 4 as Sam Mayer made his way into the lead with drafting help from teammate Gragson.

By Lap 54, all three Kaulig Racing competitors lined up on the inside lane resulted with Jeb Burton taking the lead ahead of teammates Allmendinger and Haley. They were then quickly pursued by three JR Motorsports competitors featuring Mayer, Gragson and Allgaier, respectively.

In the closing laps of the second stage, the battle for the lead intensified as Jeb Burton continued to lead by a narrow margin over his Kaulig Racing teammates, a trio of JR Motorsports competitors and the field. By then, Brown pitted as the hood of his car went up.

When the second stage concluded on Lap 60, Jeb Burton, who was blocking all comers through both lanes, managed to claim his first stage victory of the season. Teammates Allmendinger and Haley settled in second and third followed by Herbst and Bell. Gragson, Hemric, Allgaier, Briscoe and Mayer settled in the top 10.

Under the stage break, some led by Jeb Burton pitted while the rest led by Bell and Gragson remained on the track.

With 36 laps remaining, the final stage commenced. At the start, Bell and Gragson battled dead even for the lead as the field fanned out to double lanes and in a pack behind the two leaders.

Down to the final 30 laps of the event, the field settled in a long single-file lane as Gragson was leading followed by Bell, Harrison Burton, Jeb Burton, Snider, Allgaier, Mayer, Herbst, Briscoe and Moffitt while Allmendinger and Haley were in 11th and 15th. By then, Hemric was back in 14th.

Shortly after, the caution flew when Colin Garrett spun and wrecked in Turn 4 as he ended up getting his car stuck in the tri-oval muddy grass. Colby Howard also spun to avoid Garrett.

With 23 laps remaining, the race restarted under green. At the start, Bell and Gragson battled dead even for the lead through the backstraightaway as the field fanned out to three lanes. 

Back to the start/finish line, Bell was leading followed by Jeb Burton while Gragson fell back to fourth while battling Snider. 

Down to the final 20 laps of the event, the majority of the field settled in a single-file line as Bell was leading followed by Jeb Burton, Gragson, Allgaier, Herbst, Allmendinger, Snider, Harrison Burton, Hemric, Haley and Mayer while Chase Briscoe was in 13th.

A few laps later, the caution flew when Caesar Bacarella made contact with Jordan Anderson and hit the outside wall in the backstretch. While trying to straighten his car, Jade Buford and Matt Mills also wrecked to avoid Bacarella.

Under caution, some including Briscoe pitted while the rest led by Bell remained on the track.

With 14 laps remaining, the race restarted. At the start, Jeb Burton had drafting help from Gragson to take a narrow lead before Bell fought back on the outside lane.

The following lap, Bell cleared the field with the lead followed by Allgaier and Allmendinger while the Burton cousins battled for fourth.

Down to the final 10 laps of the event, Bell continued to lead followed by Allgaier, Allmendinger, Harrison Burton, Jeb Burton, Haley, Hemric, Snider, JJ Yeley, Jason White and the field, all running in a single-file line. By then, Joe Graf Jr.’s car was smoking through the frontstretch, but the field continued to run under green as Graf took his car below the apron and out of the racing groove.

With five laps remaining, Bell continued to lead, but a bevy of cars behind started to fan out to multiple lanes while challenging Bell for the lead. A lap later, Allmendinger stormed to the lead followed by teammates Jeb Burton and Haley while Allgaier also moved up, dropping Bell to fifth.

A few laps later, all three Kaulig Racing competitors led by Jeb Burton were at the front followed by Bell, Harrison Burton, Allgaier and the field.

When the final lap started, Allmendinger was leading by a narrow margin over teammate Jeb Burton, Bell and the field. Through the backstretch, Jeb Burton peaked to the inside of teammate Allmendinger, who tried to block Burton, for the lead while Bell got shuffled out on the inside lane with no drafting help. In addition, Haley made his move to the outside of Allmendinger, thus placing all three Kaulig Racing competitors in a dead three-wide heat for the win in Turns 3 and 4.

Entering the tri-oval and with the field fanning out to three lanes, Allmendinger peaked ahead with a push from Allgaier, but Haley started to gain a run on the outside lane as he had Hemric behind him. At the finish line, Haley managed to edge teammate Allmendinger by 0.023 seconds to grab the checkered flag and the win.

Photo by Andrew Boyd for SpeedwayMedia.com.

The victory guaranteed Haley a spot in the 2021 NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs as he also captured his fourth career victory in the series. All four of Haley’s Xfinity victory have occurred on superspeedway venues (Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway). In addition, Kaulig Racing captured its third win at Daytona.

“It’s just not been the best season,” Haley said on NBCSN. “It’s been really, really hard on this No. 11 LeafFilter Gutter Protection team all year. We’ve had a lot of bad luck. I was trying to formulate the plan there and obviously, team orders, saw it out of there, they were so good. Hats off to Kaulig Racing. I think we got the teammate thing down. It’s just so special to win here at Daytona. It’s absolutely incredible. That was a close one and getting it to just beat out AJ. It always means a lot, too.”

Allmendinger settled in second place while Allgaier, Jeb Burton and Hemric finished in the top five.

“I mean, that was like the perfect photo shoot right there coming across the [finish] line for all the Kaulig Racing Chevys,” Allmendinger said. “Proud of my son, Justin Haley. He might be one of the best we’ve ever seen on superspeedway. Jeb [Burton] did a fantastic job. I was hanging on in the middle [lane] there. I thought we might get it, but proud of everybody at Kaulig Racing, all the men and women. The Hyper Ice Chevy was good. I think we led the most laps as well. Finished second, all day, it seemed like, but just proud. It was fantastic.”

“We led some [laps] today and going down the back, I think I led for a second,” Jeb Burton said. “AJ kind of slid up in front of me. I checked up and gave him a shot and then, I had to take the run. I looked and we were one, two and three, and I was thinking we were gonna come across the line like that, but [Allgaier] got me at the line. Really proud of Kaulig Racing. Thanks to Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen for coming on board. We needed this and the Playoffs are coming, so we needed the momentum.”

Bell settled in sixth followed by Gragson, Snider, Harrison Burton and Herbst.

With their top-10 results, Joe Gibbs Racing’s Daniel Hemric and Harrison Burton have locked themselves into the 2021 Xfinity Series Playoffs based on points. Including six other competitors that are in based on winning throughout the regular-season stretch (Austin Cindric, AJ Allmendinger, Justin Allgaier, Justin Haley, Jeb Burton and Myatt Snider), there are four spots left vacant to the Playoffs with three regular-season races remaining to the schedule.

There were 17 lead changes for eight different leaders. The race featured seven cautions for 29 laps.

With his runner-up result, AJ Allmendinger leads the regular-season standings by 17 points over Austin Cindric.

Results.

1. Justin Haley, five laps led, Stage 1 winner

2. AJ Allmendinger, 30 laps led, Stage 2 winner

3. Justin Allgaier

4. Jeb Burton, eight laps led

5. Daniel Hemric

6. Christopher Bell, 23 laps led

7. Noah Gragson, 16 laps led

8. Myatt Snider

9. Harrison Burton

10. Riley Herbst, nine laps led

11. Brett Moffitt

12. Sam Mayer, one lap led

13. JJ Yeley 

14. David Starr

15. Jason White

16. Ryan Sieg

17. Josh Williams

18. Tommy Joe Martins

19. Chase Briscoe

20. Jeffrey Earnhardt

21. Landon Cassill

22. Jordan Anderson

23. Blaine Perkins

24. Jeremy Clements

25. Mason Massey

26. Colby Howard

27. Ryan Vargas

28. Jade Buford

29. Tim Viens

30. Michael Annett

31. Alex Labbe

32. Kyle Weatherman, two laps down

33. Matt Mills, two laps down

34. Brandon Brown, three laps down, nine laps led

35. Joe Graf Jr. – OUT, Accident

36. Caesar Bacarella – OUT, Accident

37. Colin Garrett – OUT, Accident

38. Spencer Boyd – OUT, Engine

39. Austin Cindric – OUT, Accident

40. Brandon Jones – OUT, Engine

With the 2021 NASCAR Xfinity Series regular-season stretch nearing its conclusion, the series will next travel to Darlington, South Carolina, and compete at Darlington Raceway on Saturday, September 4, during Labor Day weekend. The event will occur at 3:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN.



The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com.

Andrew Kim
An avid motorsports enthusiast from California with aspirations of working in any form of communications, PR or digital/social media in motorsports.

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