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Justin Haley prefers a low profile as Xfinity title contender: ‘It’s just who I am’

Justin Haley finishes 12th at Martinsville Speedway in the NASCAR Xfinity Series playoff race and advances to the Championship 4 at Phoenix Raceway for the first time.

He’s in the spotlight Saturday as one of the NASCAR Xfinity Series Championship 4 contenders, but Justin Haley doesn’t want you to know much about him beyond that.

“It’s just who I am,” the Kaulig Racing driver told NBC Sports this week. “I’ve never overly put myself out there. I don’t feel like I need to. I’m a very private person. I’ve had a lot of people close to me tell me I need to open up. A lot of drivers put themselves out there on social media.

“That’s just not me and who I want to be. If you look at my social media, it’s strictly racing. I like to keep my private life private.”

CHAMPIONSHIP ANALYSIS: The four drivers running for an Xfinity title at Phoenix

Indeed, a perusal of Haley’s Twitter feed reveals no window into his world outside of NASCAR.

There are some lighthearted flashes of personality (several cracks about his “Dad,” aka 38-year-old teammate AJ Allmendinger, and a self-deprecating reference to his normally serious expressions) but hardly anything about his personal life.

The bio section of his profile contains only a hashtag: #Dark11orse.

That’s a reference to his No. 11 Chevrolet being the clear underdog against the No. 98 Ford of Chase Briscoe (series-leading nine victories), Austin Cindric’s No. 22 Ford (career-best five wins) and the No. 7 Chevrolet of Justin Allgaier (the defending winner at Phoenix).

It’s an interesting dichotomy: Though Haley wants to be incognito off the track, he wants the attention for his team on the track. And he has felt “100 percent disrespected” about reaching the championship field for the 200-lap finale.

“I’m not sure why everyone is overlooking me and saying I don’t deserve a final four spot,” said Haley, who has three victories this season. “I’ve done everything I was supposed to do. I’ve fought hard with my team. I’ve worked long hours. I’ve cried over finishes, I’ve been disappointed, been happy. I’ve put everything into it everyone else has.

“For some reason, there’s never been that respect I feel there should be. I never want to be cocky. I want to be humble about it. I feel like I always had to overachieve to underachieve on the stock scale.”

NASCAR Xfinity Series Kansas Lottery 300

KANSAS CITY, KANSAS - OCTOBER 17: Justin Haley, driver of the #11 LeafFilter Gutter Protection Chevrolet, waits on the grid prior to the NASCAR Xfinity Series Kansas Lottery 300 at Kansas Speedway on October 17, 2020 in Kansas City, Kansas. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Getty Images

A championship probably would help raise his profile, though Haley, 21, already isn’t interested in that.

“I feel like if I win the championship, I don’t feel like it would do much for me, honestly,” he said. “I don’t think it would turn too many more heads that I have before. I feel like there’s this dark cloud that follows me around wherever I go and however much success I have, I don’t feel it changes it, so I’m not sure why that is.

“I feel like obviously, it would be a big confidence booster for myself. Getting in the Final 4 was a big confidence booster. I feel I’m in a great position. I don’t feel it would change much, but it would be pretty cool.”

Haley scored the first victory of his Xfinity career June 20 at Talladega Superspeedway, but the Winamac, Indiana, native already was familiar to NASCAR fans because of two memorable finishes at Daytona International Speedway.

He lost the first in a July 6, 2018 race when NASCAR ruled he took the lead by violating the yellow-line rule on the last lap of his second career Xfinity start.

Two years later, he won at Daytona in the third Cup Series start of his career when the race was called for rain 33 laps short of the finish with Haley in the lead.

NASCAR Xfinity Series Virginia is for Racing Lovers 250

RICHMOND, VIRGINIA - SEPTEMBER 12: Justin Haley, driver of the #11 LeafFilter Gutter Protection Chevrolet, waits on the grid prior to the NASCAR Xfinity Series Virginia is for Racing Lovers 250 at Richmond Raceway on September 12, 2020 in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

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Also a three-time winner in the truck series, Haley had an opportunity to race full time in Cup next season but turned it down to remain in the Xfinity Series at Kaulig, where the smaller team has punched above its weight “and proving a lot of people wrong.”

Having a chance to win races with a team in its fifth season is preferable to Haley than just collecting points in NASCAR’s premier series because it’s been the way he has approached racing throughout his life.

At 9, Haley saw a quarter midget hanging in a relative’s barn and fell in love. Soon racing 40 weekends a year, he quickly progressed through other series without winning a title, moving to North Carolina as a teenager five years ago (his family soon joined him).

“I’ve never been a championship points winner,” he said. “Growing up, I wasn’t like, ‘Man, I want to be a Cup champion.’ That never really clicked for me. I was across the industry, running dirt cars, sports cars, quarter-midgets. I never won a track championship because I never stayed somewhere long. I just wanted to win races. That’s all I cared about was winning races.”

And Haley feels that’s all fans should care about him, too.

“I’ll probably get married some day, and you won’t even know about it,” Haley said. “People can’t relate to me. They just can’t because they don’t know me.

“Quite frankly, I didn’t become a race car driver to become famous. I became a race car driver because I love racing and I love the sport. Unfortunately, if you would have told 9-year-old me that it was all this, I wouldn’t rethink it, but I definitely would have a different outlook on it. There’s a point where you have to open up a little bit with (sponsor) Leaf Filter and sell yourself. But it’s such a fine and hard line for me because I do want to be so protective of myself.”