TALLADEGA, Ala. (AP) — Justin Haley stormed into the second round of the Xfinity Series playoffs with a win Saturday at Talladega Superspeedway, his third superspeedway victory of the season.
Haley, who in 2019 won the Cup race in July at Daytona, has three career Xfinity Series victories, all this season, all on superspeedways. He won at Talladega in June, Daytona in August and then again Saturday at Talladega.
Haley joined Dale Earnhardt and Dale Earnhardt Jr. as the only drivers in NASCAR to win three consecutive superspeedway races. The Earnhardt’s did it in the Cup Series.
”You look up to those guys your whole career and you aspire to be like them,” the 21-year-old said. ”To be in that class is special.”
Haley, in a Chevrolet for Kaulig Racing, joined Chase Briscoe as the only two drivers locked into the second round of the playoffs. Four drivers will be eliminated after next week’s race on The Roval at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
The four drivers below the cutline with one race remaining in the opening round of the Xfinity Series are Michael Annett, Harrison Burton, Brandon Brown and Riley Herbst. The Xfinity Series will crown a new champion for the first time in three years because back-to-back title winner Tyler Reddick moved to the Cup Series this season.
Briscoe, winner of two consecutive races before Talladega and a series-best eight this season, led a race-high 73 laps and was cruising from the final restart with 18 laps remaining. Then he had to block to preserve his spot out front in the closing laps and contact with Noah Gragson nearly caused Briscoe to spin.
He recovered and took control of the bottom lane of traffic, then darted back up to the top in front of Gragson to lead that lane. As Haley surged alongside him on the bottom. Gragson and Briscoe had contact that sent Briscoe into the wall.
”You are doing everything you can to protect the run,” said Briscoe, who noted both he and Gragson had asked Earnhardt for Talladega advice.
”It was weird because I knew what he was going to do.”
A crash on the final lap allowed Haley to win under caution. The Talladega race had been decided with a last-lap pass in nine of the last 12 races.
Annett finished second and was followed by Ryan Sieg, Noah Gragson and Brandon Jones. Daniel Hemric, Ross Chastain, Josh Williams, Garrett Smithley and Brown rounded out the top-10.
Briscoe’s goal Saturday had been to help fellow Ford driver Austin Cindric win the race and the two rivals for the championship worked together up until Cindric crashed in the final stage. Cindric was in the middle of a pack of cars when he was caught in some dicey action.
”It looked like the whole pack was going to try to stop there and I felt like that was chaos, especially with how far back in the pack we were. I just got smoked from behind,” Cindric said. ”It is part of this type of racing. We were hoping to get ourselves locked into the next round but we will have to go fight for it next week.”
The Talladega race was realigned after the pandemic disrupted NASCAR’s schedule. With next week’s race at Charlotte, the series is at last back on schedule with its original 2020 calendar.