Just weeks after making his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series debut at Talladega Superspeedway, NASCAR Xfinity Series rookie Justin Haley will be using an "off weekend" to hit the dirt.
Haley will compete at Lake View Motor Speedway with the Dirt Cup Challenge's Open Wheel Madness event on Friday and Saturday, May 17-18. The Winamac, Indiana native sits 11th in Xfinity Series points after a breakout 2018 that saw the former NASCAR K&N East Champion win three races in the Truck Series en route to a third place result in the points standings.
“Dirt Cup’s running there and I’ve had a really good relationship with Bill [Long] and everyone with Dirt Cup.” Haley told Speed51. “They run a really good series at tracks close to where I’m based out of. I’m going up there to help Dirt Cup out, but also to help our program out, the JJH Motorsports team. It’s just awesome to go out on an off weekend and race on the dirt, kind of like how I grew up doing and had some success with it."
It will not be Haley’s first Dirt Cup Challenge race this season. He competed in the series’ most recent race at Virginia Motor Speedway last month, finishing eighth in the feature. With the off weekend for the Xfinity Series, he said it was a no-brainer to make the trip to Lake View for the first time and compete with Dirt Cup.
“I did the Dirt Cup race a few weeks back in Virginia and we ran pretty good there," said Haley. "Really, I just like everyone at Dirt Cup. It’s a really great series that has tall trophies, which is cool. They bring money and good competitors. We’ll go up there and hopefully run well.”
Haley’s win at Volusia Speedway Park to kick off 2019 was a big confidence boost for he and his team not only on the dirt, but also as he began his rookie season in the NASCAR Xfinity Series with a new team. It showed him the progress he has made with the Modified team since the start of last year.
“The win at Volusia to start the year off was good,” he said. “You always think when you win on a whim like I did in the Truck Series at Texas last year, you go to a new team and wonder how long it’s going to be until I win again. To win at Volusia and run well down there, it’s really special to me and my team. We’ve been running really good, me and Crew Chief Matt Smith, who takes care and oversees my Modified program and has built it up over the past year or so, since Volusia last year. It’s been really fun to build my Mod program from the ground up and make it into a race-winning team and cars.”
On the NASCAR side of things, the switch over to the Xfinity Series has proven to be a big jump for Haley. He has seven top-10s in 10 races on the season so far, with a best finish of seventh on three occasions. He says the season has been a busy, yet enjoyable ride thus far.
“Switching over to the NASCAR Xfinity Series has been a big leap for me, taking Kaulig Racing to a record season so far,” he said. “It’s been really cool to build that team up and have everyone over there behind me. Then making my Cup debut a few weeks back, it’s been hectic for sure but it’s been enjoyable season so far. We’re working hard and anytime I can go run my Modified on an off-weekend is a good off-weekend for sure.”
Haley would like to follow in the footsteps of other NASCAR drivers like Kyle Busch, Clint Bowyer and Kyle Larson in making his Modified deal into a full-fledged racing team, but is in no hurry to get to that point with his busy schedule. He did bring in another young up-and-coming driver out of the Rev Racing stable for a test in his UMP Modified two weeks ago.
“We had Gracie Trotter, she came and tested one of my cars two weeks back at Cherokee. It’s something we could look forward to in the future, but for right now we’re just pretty focused on me and building the team up, just having fun. We don’t want to get into owning a race team quite yet with several drivers just because I’m so busy with NASCAR stuff. Right now, it’s a small team that I like to keep around for fun on off-weekends, but maybe in the future we can develop it into something more.”
As for the short term goals, Haley wants to win at Lake View this weekend. He admits to not being the best driver in the Modified, but with a top-notch crew behind him, it makes climbing in the car and racing on the dirt on an off-weekend for the NASCAR Xfinity Series all the more fun.
“I truly believe we can win,” he said. “I tell my guys over there that we have an 'A' Team crew with a 'B' Team driver. What I mean by that is our cars are top-notch. Lethal Chassis and David Stremme, he’s a family friend. But we have an 'A' Team program over at JJH Motorsports and I just don’t do it enough to be an 'A' driver. It’s challenging for me not running a Modified but a few times a year. Looking at the track and anytime I do run the Modified, it’s a completely different racetrack than anything I’ve ever been to, so the first laps on the track are qualifying. I just jump in it and go, and it’s just fun.”
Race fans unable to make the trip to Lake View Motor Speedway can still watch Haley in action this weekend. Speed51 will broadcast both nights of the Dirt Cup Challenge event for Premium Members of the Speed51 Network. Click here to sign up today.
-Story by: Koty Geyer, Speed51.com State Editor (IN & MI) - Twitter: @kgeyer3
-Photo credit: Justin Haley Facebook