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NASCAR Xfinity Series Unhinged 300 at Talladega Superspeedway: Chastain pushes teammate Haley to his first Xfinity win

NASCAR Xfinity Series Unhinged 300 at Talladega Superspeedway:
Chastain pushes teammate Haley to his first Xfinity win

Talladega, AL, June 20/20 (GRW): Justin Haley has yet to gain a place among the top-rank drivers – even in the Xfinity Series – despite having had a fluke Cup win at Daytona a year ago. But, as proof that these superspeedway races at Daytona and Talladega are lotteries that almost any competent driver has a shot at winning, he won the Xfinity race here on Saturday. His first ever win in this series.

Haley is a driver who came to notice when, by an exceptional roll of the dice, he ended up the winner of the July 2019 Cup race at Daytona. It was only his third start in Cup racing and he had started 34th on the grid but he won after he stayed out when everyone else pitted under yellow and then NASCAR threw the red flag for rain – and eventually declared the standings at the red flag to be the final results, elevating Haley to the position of race winner. Who would have expected that?

This year, he has been driving full-time for the Kaulig team in Xfinity but in three seasons he had never won in this series. His best finish this year prior to Talladega had been a third at Atlanta. Here at Talladega he had started on the pole but that was the result of a random draw; he could just as well have drawn the 12th starting position. But, once the race got underway, he continued to run near the front and he emerged as the winner of the first Stage which ended on lap 25 of the 113-lap race. After that he never led again until the short run after the race’s final caution and red flag.

Fortuitously, all three Kaulig drivers – Haley, Chastain and A.J. Allmendinger – had been on pit road on Lap 76, when Riley Herbst’s spin off the bumper of fifth-place finisher Brett Moffitt’s Chevrolet caused the fourth caution of the afternoon. The three teammates restarted up front on Lap 81 of 113 and were contenders thereafter.

On lap 106, the ‘big one’ happened when Ross Chastain tried to block Noah Gragson but instead sent Gragson spinning, involving a total of 11 others. Chastain and Gragson were able to continue relatively unscathed. But this wreck which produced the race’s second red flag, elevated Haley and Jeb Burton to the front row when the others reorganized after the melee. Haley, as the new race leader, had the preferred top row position for the restart, which came with three laps remaining. At first, he and Burton ran side-by-side for most of the first two laps but, just as they took the white flag, Haley surged out ahead into a lead while Chastain who had been fifth for the restart was fighting with Austin Cindric for third. Chastain was able to get past Burton for second and he helped push his teammate across the line to win the race. As for Chastain, given that his teammate had won, making it a one-two finish for the Kaulig team, he was happy with second – and on top of that he won the $100,00 bonus money from Xfinity.

I know why Chastain had reason to be happy with the bonus money but I fail to understand what the promotional purpose is of paying out this big prize to someone who failed to win the race. How does this race for a big purse even if you don’t win the race generate fan interest. Surely this is such an artificial gimmick. Even though I have pointed out why Haley was an not the expected race winner, he still deserved full accolades for winning the quirky Talladega drafting competition. Young, relatively inexperienced drivers have often won the lottery here at Talladega but that does not negate the fact that, on this day, at this place, they were the victor. This is no time to minimize that glory by giving such a big reward to the second-place finisher.

Haley, who does not have a firm deal with a team for next year, said, “Just an incredible day. Emotionally, I’m fighting for a ride, fighting for the next time I get in a race car next year, so anytime you can win, it definitely helps.”

Jeb Burton finished third behind Chastain, while Cindric was fourth and Moffitt was fifth.

Chase Briscoe, who already has three wins this year, ran competitively in the first two Stages, wining the second Stage. But, unfortunately, he was caught up in the first real caution of the race on lap 78 and ripped off his right front fender. After the time lost to repairs and the loss of aerodynamics of his car, he had to settle for an 18th-place finish.

(With notes from NASCAR Wire Service)

• Click HERE for the results of the Xfinity Unhinged 300.

• The next Xfinity race will be held at Pocono, next Sunday, June 28

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