Whenever NASCAR hits the high banks of Daytona International Speedway, susprise winners are a definite possibility. Playoff spots for multiple drivers are up for grabs that realistically aren't at other venues and first-time winners aren't out of the ordinary.
But NOBODY expected what happened on Sunday afternoon.
Here's what went down this weekend in the racing world.
Did That Really Happen?
The year is 2019 and Justin Haley is now a Monster Energy Cup Series winner.
No, that's not a typo. And the featured image isn't photoshopped. Spire Motorsports and the 20-year-old Haley pulled off the biggest upset in NASCAR history, winning the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway. How?
Following "The Big One" with 41 laps to go, cleanup ensued with over half the field out of contention for the win. With 34 laps to go, NASCAR gave the "one to go" signal. In the lead, Kurt Busch was called to pit road by crew chief Matt McCall for service, handing the lead over to Haley.
Shortly thereafter, lightning strikes began in the eight-mile vicinity of DIS, forcing 30-minute delays for each strike. After over two hours of delays (and much back and forth on twitter), NASCAR called the race, handing the win to Haley.
Never lose faith. A absolute blessing to take this small team to VL on the biggest stage in motorsports. Thanks you @FOEGrandAerie & @Spire77. And hey Daytona, we’re even. 👊🏼 pic.twitter.com/cYSwEgUv8M— Justin Haley (@Justin_Haley_) July 7, 2019
Per the AP, Haley's odds pre-race of winning were 500/1. The World Center of Racing seems to write its own storylines more times than not. But this one was as unprecedented as it gets.
A 20-year-old from Winamac, Indiana in his third Cup Series start, for a backmarker, start-and-park team in its first full-time chartered season that, frankly, hasn't and doesn't have any plans to realistically compete for race wins (which is also a bad look for the sport, but back to the point) just won at the most famous track in NASCAR. How about that?
Mother Nature Wrecks Havoc
Justin Haley may have been the only one leaving Daytona Beach thanking Mother Nature for her actions all weekend long.
Rain forced the cancelation of multiple practice and qualifying sessions over the weekend. After all, it is Daytona in July, right?
Precipitation remained in the area all day Saturday, eventually forcing NASCAR to postpone the Coke Zero Sugar 400 to Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m. EST. The race began without issue, but with more thundertorms approaching, it quickly became a race to halfway.
Being a 2.5-mile track and it taking multiple hours to dry the surface properly, one large rain shower would most likely mean the premature end of the race. But before the rains came, lighting struck, forcing delays upon delays. After waiting over two hours, NASCAR called the race at 5:30 p.m. EST, giving Haley and Spire the improbable victory.
It's not the first time a surprise winner has resulted from a rain-shortened event, and it won't be the last. Most recently, Chris Buescher and Front Row Motorsports waited out the fog at Pocono Raceway to earn a playoff spot in 2016. But no victory has ever had these circumstances. The drivers third start, a new team not even trying to win. Almost like an accident.
But a win is a win is a win, seven days to Sunday. Nobody can take that away from Haley and the No. 77 team. But they have Mother Nature to thank for giving them the chance.
Brad Keselowski was the story of the weekend early on, as a practice incident led him to declare he "(wasn't) lifting" while drafting in packs.
Well, that came back to bite him and a handful of other drivers during the race. A product of superspeedway racing is close quarters, high speed racing resulting in blocking. And in some cases, drivers not lifting.
Early on, Keselowski showed he meant business.
"HE AIN'T LIFTING! I CANNOT BELIEVE THAT SAVE!" @DaleJr is in disbelief that @KevinHarvick hung on to that car after @Keselowski got into him. Watch on @NBC: https://t.co/ciKLfM2Z8b pic.twitter.com/FXzQ9ruZp8— NASCAR on NBC (@NASCARonNBC) July 7, 2019
But later on, his race ended early due to one of his competitors not lifting.
Brad Keselowski is done for the day after this wreck at Daytona.— NASCAR on NBC (@NASCARonNBC) July 7, 2019
Kevin Harvick gets into the back of him, and mayhem ensues. Watch on @NBC or stream here: https://t.co/ciKLfM2Z8b #CokeZeroSugar400 pic.twitter.com/4cmsAwUoD3
And then, the REALLY big one...
Those wrecks (specifically the final one) withered down the field enough to leave Haley as the leader once everything cycled out and the lightning came (as mentioned above). He was one of the few that squeaked his way through unscathed.
Next weekend, NASCAR travels to Kentucky Speedway for the Quaker State 400, scheduled to go green on Saturday evening (July 13) at 7:30 p.m. EST on NBCSN.