DOVER, Del. – Justin Haley knew if he had any hope of advancing in the NASCAR Xfinity Series playoffs, he had to win the Use Your Melon Drive Sober 200 Saturday at Dover Int’l Speedway.
Unfortunately that didn’t happen, but Haley still came closer to pulling it off than anyone expected.
Haley was one of three drivers who hadn’t yet pitted when a caution flag waved with 23 laps left. As a result Haley, along with leader Cole Custer and Michael Annett, were the only drivers left on the lead lap.
Suddenly Haley, who hadn’t been in contention all day and entered the race 39 points outside of a position in the second round of the playoffs, had a shot to win and advance. Try as he might though, Haley didn’t have what it took to win the race, finishing fourth.
His NASCAR Xfinity Series playoff run is now officially over, but Haley still found a lot of positives in his day at Dover.
“Excellent strategy by everyone at Kaulig Racing,” Haley said. “This first round has been really hard for us. We’ve had a lot of bad luck that’s been out of our control. I feel like we’ve been a top-five car the whole playoffs, we just haven’t been able to show it because of all the bad luck.
“Awesome job by Alex Yontz, Chris Rice and everyone at Kaulig Racing and LeafFilter Gutter Protection for making that awesome call. We were still a little too tight there at the end to make anything happen. Live and learn, but really happy that this team could get fourth.”
Haley was one of four Xfinity Series competitors eliminated from the playoffs Saturday afternoon. Also eliminated were Brandon Jones, John Hunter Nemechek and Ryan Sieg.
Jones’ day was over almost before it began. He was collected in an accident on the first lap after his teammate Harrison Burton spun out of turn two. Jones hit Burton’s spinning car, breaking the radiator in his Toyota beyond repair and ending his day.
“I always try to find the positives with this kind of stuff. Obviously, none today. But the good thing is, we can still go win one of these races,” Jones said. “I think we can still get to fifth in points. You can’t do anything when these guys spin out. This is a self-cleaning race track; you always get guys going down to the bottom if they have an incident, which is what happened. I was going to go to the top, and I guess he just didn’t have enough momentum yet to start coming across the track. I don’t know man. I’ve had one race like this where I’ve wrecked at the start of the race, so these are tough. I know it’s going to be tough for my guys to rally back from them, but as I’ve mentioned, we’ve got some good tracks coming up.”
Nemechek was close to advancing to the second round of the playoffs based on points, but a bad pit stop that saw his team leave a few lug nuts off a tire doomed his shot at advancing. He ended up finishing 10 points behind Michael Annett for the final spot in the second round of the playoffs.
“It sucks,” Nemechek said. “We were in good position all day and right here we came out of the pits fourth, but we didn’t have enough lug nuts on the left-rear, so we had to come back down. You can’t have a loose wheel here at Dover. It’s just something you don’t want to have and pit under green.
“We just haven’t been able to close this year. I feel like that’s been one of our struggles.”
Sieg entered Saturday’s race 37 points out of the playoffs, essentially meaning he had to win Saturday’s race to have a shot at advancing. Much like it didn’t happen for Haley, it also didn’t happen for Sieg. He finished 10th and was eliminated from the playoffs.