By Geoff Bodine
It has been a few days since Justin Haley scored his first Cup Series win with Spire Motorsports at Daytona International Speedway.
The team and driver deserve all the credit for capturing a victory at NASCAR’s highest level. It wasn’t luck, they made the right decisions at the right time.
When you’re leading a race, you never pit and give the race away if imminent rain is about to halt the event.
I was shocked about Kurt Busch and Landon Cassill’s decision to pit.
Throughout the years, Florida is known as the state that gets rain so much, especially in the summer with pop-up showers, so you never know where it’s going to come from.
To be leading the race, knowing the circumstances, hindsight is 20/20.
To defend the teams that pitted, lightning definitely added another variable.
We did not have that policy during the time I was racing in the Cup Series, no matter how close it was. Only inclement weather halted races.
The front guys made a huge miscalculation in strategy.
I personally don’t think there was a shock factor with Haley being scored the winner. We had a couple of hours to digest what had happened before he was declared the victor.
I don’t believe I ever won or lost a race the way circumstances worked out for Kurt Busch and Justin Haley. I’ve been in rain situations, but never as crazy as Sunday’s race.
I remember leading a Cup race at Pocono when it started to rain while we were in the lead. NASCAR had us drive around the track until we hit the halfway mark. Before stage racing, the races were considered official at the completion of 50 percent of the scheduled distance.
During that caution period, cars were spinning out as there was over six inches of rain along the frontstretch.
The field parked on pit road and driver’s exited their cars. I was receiving congratulations from drivers, but I was not convinced we were done racing for the day.
The track ended up drying and I went on to finish in the top five, but not as the winner.
Four times a year, there’s a definite chance that there can be a first time winner or an underdog victory at Daytona or Talladega. The crashes are going to happen and they can wipe out the top cars.
On Sunday, there were wrecks and it slowed the pace of the race down. Maybe had there not been The Big One, who knows what could have happened.
It’s great for the sport because it shows anyone can win.
You don’t have to be a part of a top team, but what some may not realize is even the teams who struggle every week are likely associated with larger teams.
There are plenty of technical alliances at play!
MY UNDERDOG STORY
I had great runs at Daytona in Rick Hendrick’s and Bud Moore’s racecars, but with one ride in particular, we were the underdogs.
I raced for James Finch’s single-car Phoenix Racing operation throughout 2002, including the season-opening Daytona 500.
The top teams were expected to win, so for us to have the chance of winning was quite unexpected by the other teams and drivers.
No one saw that coming, but I felt our team had a chance. James Finch had some great superspeedway equipment.
On the last pit stop of the race, I told the team to “do something” because up to that point, we weren’t having the best race. We were on the lead lap but not a threat to win.
After the stop, we had a rocket after that point, cracking the top-10 after restarting 18th.
I ended up in the lead pack when Sterling Marlin hit Jeff Gordon, causing a crash. Under caution, before the red flag was displayed, I hit some debris.
During the red flag period, I was sitting third, but the leader Sterling Marlin got out of his car to fix some damage in his car with just a handful of laps left.
NASCAR placed Sterling at the rear of the field for exiting his vehicle and working on his car under caution.
I was now second behind Ward Burton. I knew we were going to have a shot at the win, but I knew I hit something. I was not sure if we had damage on a tire but I knew I was not going to pit.
On the restart, the car did not get up to speed like I had hoped. Come to find out, I smashed the left-front fender and grille from the debris I hit and had destroyed the car aerodynamically, creating more drag.
Elliott Sadler passed us when the race resumed and we ultimately finished third. If we had more laps left, we would have continued to lose positions.
Had we won, that would have been a special win and a storybook ending, especially with my crash there two years prior.
The Spire Motorsports win is being overshadowed by “controversy,” as some are asking why are they even fielding a car in the first place.
The team acquired a charter and is showing up every week with legal racecars.
NASCAR has rules in place and they are playing within them. Plus, there were no post-race inspection issues with their race-winning car at Daytona.
The “controversy” is a fake story, it is fake news. I don’t see why anyone would consider anything wrong with Spire Motorsports.
Maybe people don’t want to accept they are a real team, just like people don’t want to accept Donald Trump is our president.
Rules are rules, and Spire Motorsports played by them. They ultimately had the winning strategy and they played it right.
The win should help the team and driver in the long run. I can’t say how much it will help Justin Haley, but this will have an impact on his racing career.
Racing is so much different compared to when I was behind the wheel.
When I won the Daytona 500 in 1986, I went to the K-Mart parking lot after the race to see my parents, who were selling my merchandise. Now, the winner is flown out for a big media tour.
I give Justin all the credit, and the team for all the results. It wasn’t luck, they made the right decision and their victory should be celebrated.