Justin Haley Opens Up About His Tragic Loss That Blemished His Rookie Season at Kaulig Racing

Published 09/24/2023, 2:55 PM EDT

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Justin Haley’s NASCAR journey took a significant turn in 2019 when he transitioned from the NASCAR Truck Series to the Xfinity Series, driving the No. 11 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet. His rookie season was filled with anticipation. But little did he know that it would be marked by an unforeseen tragedy. Before joining Kaulig Racing, Justin Haley had already showcased his talent in the Truck Series. However, the transition to the Xfinity Series brought new challenges and opportunities.

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Haley had been a contender for the 2018 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship, finishing third in the standings after an impressive season. He had three truck wins under his belt and had shown tremendous potential. It was this potential that caught the attention of Kaulig Racing.

Justin Haley lost his crew chief Nick Harrison in his rookie season in Xfinity with Kaulig Racing

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During his rookie season at Kaulig Racing, Haley faced a devastating loss. The passing of his crew chief, Nick Harrison. Nick had joined the team in his first year with Kaulig, and his guidance was crucial for the young driver.

In a heartfelt conversation with Dale Earnhardt Jr, Haley revealed the journey that led him to Kaulig. He mentioned, “So at the time they only had trucks, and I think the next year they started an Xfinity team with Nemechek, and yeah, Chris Rice and Matt they… I guess they studied me and watched my truck deal and started talking to me and showed interest in me and wanted me to drive their cars.

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Haley’s arrival at Kaulig Racing coincided with the team’s first foray into the Xfinity Series. It was a bold step for both the driver and the team. As Haley put it, “When I started at Kaulig, we had one Xfinity car.” This was a significant challenge, but Haley embraced it with determination. This prompted Dale Jr. to ask about his experience at Kaulig Racing so far.

“Oh, I think a lot of times when young drivers like I was, you know, you’re looking to take a step up,” Haley told Dale Jr. “You go get in these fast championship-winning race cars and there’s so much expectation. I didn’t have that. I wasn’t stepping into a winning race team, I wasn’t stepping into a fast race car, you know… Halfway through that season the crew chief Nick Harrison died so when he passed away it was tough for me and obviously we built a good relationship for a long time. There on the first season, first rookie season, so went with Alex Yontz who was calling the shots at the time, and kinda shake that up.”

Despite the adversity, Haley and his team managed to make the playoffs and showed flashes of speed on the track. It was a season filled with ups and downs, but it ultimately helped shape Haley’s career and character. As he reflected on that time, he noted, “I think it was good steps for me just because the expectations were a little bit lower.

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Haley also spoke about his current deal with Rick Ware Racing and exposed a side of NASCAR that makes it hard for smaller teams to be competitive.

Haley discloses the truth about NASCAR team alliances

Amidst his second full-time Cup season and just ahead of the Pocono weekend, Justin Haley had announced a major shift in his team. After having been involved with Kaulig Racing for three whole NASCAR Xfinity Series seasons and two NASCAR Cup Series seasons, Haley decided to sign a multi-year deal with Rick Ware Racing.

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Moreover, this is the first time Haley will drive a Ford full-time, a significant change from his previous experiences with Chevrolets. But was this switch necessary? If Haley had to switch at all, why did he not switch earlier? In his conversation with Dale Earnhardt Jr, Justin Haley revealed the real reason for the timing of his team switch. He highlighted the importance of joining a key partner team and receiving manufacturer support, exposing a bitter reality of NASCAR.

According to Haley, teams with key partners receive unmatched manufacturer support, which is crucial in the highly competitive NASCAR environment. In a field where all cars have the same components, it’s the team’s support system that makes the difference. “If you can’t get with a key partner team which, frankly, I don’t think I could have… It’s hard. They’re all kind of the same. Whoever you have working on them is the difference. All the parts and pieces are the same. It’s just who do you have to work on it.”

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“It’s Definitely Tough” – After His Shocking Move From Kaulig Racing, Justin Haley Dives Into the Crux of His Move

What are your thoughts on Justin Haley’s journey in NASCAR? Especially his rookie season at Kaulig Racing, and the challenges he faced while switching teams. How do you view the complexities of team alliances and manufacturer support in the sport? Share your insights and opinions in the comments below!

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Written by:

Veerendra Vikram Singh

710Articles

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Veerendra Vikram Singh is a NASCAR Writer at EssentiallySports. With a natural affinity for motorsports, he brings a unique perspective to his coverage of everything NASCAR. His love for sports extends way beyond NASCAR, encompassing Formula 1 and MotoGP and a few other motorsports as well.
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Edited by:

Anuj Jacob

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