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Xfinity Series Rookie Haley Stays Chilled while Race for Playoffs Heats Up at IMS

Justin Haley tries to stay “chill” when, with a modest shrug, he suggests that competing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway is just another race.

It’s not, of course, for a 20-year-old NASCAR Xfinity Series driver from Winamac, Indiana, who grew up coming to this famed venue.

Because Haley prides himself in being so even keel, that initial dispassionate response is to be expected. That’s how drivers are conditioned to talk when asked for perspective.

“Have you ever seen me worked up?” series rookie Haley said Friday. “I’m pretty flat-lined.”

Haley was the fastest driver overall in two practice sessions Friday for the Indiana 250, with a top lap of 168.227 mph in the No. 11 LeafFilter Chevrolet fielded by Kaulig Racing. He enters the race at 3 p.m. Saturday in ninth in the Xfinity Series points, with a spot in the Playoffs secured.

His ascendance in the series evidently hasn’t impacted his emotions. The kid keeps his cool.

And then there was a truly memorable moment July 7, when he delivered a stunning victory for Spire Motorsports in just his third career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series start by capturing the Coke Zero Sugar 400 under the lights at Daytona International Speedway.

“I won a Cup race, and I was pretty mellow,” he said.

OK, but come on, admit it. Racing at IMS is not just another race.

“It’s not, but you’ve got to treat it like one,” he said. “If not, you get in trouble.”

Finally, Haley opened up just a little to share his connection with IMS. Truth be told, he can’t remember what year he first visited the track for the Indianapolis 500. He was too young.

“It’s awesome to be here,” he said. “I don’t even know if I imagined this. You come here as a kid, playing under the grandstands, track officials giving you pieces of cars that came off. You don’t even imagine coming here and racing because it’s so far out of your realm when you’re 7 or 8 years old.

“Then you do come here and how everything kind of evolves over the years, you’re like, ‘Man, I’m going to be able to race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.’ The progression of time has been pretty unreal for me.”

He returns with a special Braun Motorsports throwback paint scheme on his car to honor his late grandfather, Ralph Braun, who sponsored Indy cars in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” most recently driver Townsend Bell when he finished ninth in 2012 for Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports. Braun died in 2013.

“We look at my grandpa as he started all of this,” Haley said. “He’s the reason we’re all here. He’s the reason I’m able to race. He bought me my first race car. Coming here with a throwback car, I think it means more. It’s something I thought I needed to do.”

Haley made six starts for Braun Motorsports in the Camping World Truck World Series in 2015 and 2016 before racing full time the next two years for GMS Racing. He won three races and finished third in the points in 2018, so it's safe to say his level-headed demeanor works for him well when behind the wheel.

“If you’re a hot head, that affects the team,” he said. “I figure I’ll be as cool as I can be, and it’s seemed to work out pretty well so far.”

Amused at the question, Haley let down his guard with a wide smile when asked, “What gets you excited?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “It would be a chore for me to jump up and down. That’s just how I am. I am excited – I just don’t show it. I like to keep everything pretty flat. That way people really don’t know what I’m thinking. I like to trick ‘em out.”

Visit IMS.com to buy tickets for the Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard Powered by Florida Georgia Line on Sunday, Sept. 8 and the Indiana 250 and FGL Fest on Saturday, Sept. 7.

 
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