PHOTOS COURTESY JUSTIN WAPHAM GMS RACING

Haley locks in spot in championship race

Justin Haley took to the Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth last Friday night looking to add to his playoff points standings in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and came away with a locked-in position for the Championship 4 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Haley would come in to Friday’s playoff race two points below the cut line, but having finished third in the June race behind GMS teammates Johnny Sauter and Stewart Friesen, while having good speed and leading several laps. The afternoon qualifying session would see Haley start from the sixth spot on the 1.5-mile banked track for the JAG Metals 350. 
At the drop of the green Haley would move up to fourth coming off the back stretch on the first lap.  On lap three, with Haley on the inside of a three-wide move for second, a caution would fly, and the Fraternal Order of Eagles No. 24 Chevrolet would restart in third. By lap seven Haley would move to challenge for the lead from Noah Gragson, taking the top spot two laps later, and then starting to put distance on the pack. Several more cautions would fly during the first stage of the race and with twelve to go GMS teammate Sheldon Creed would battle nearly out of control for the lead. With a playoff berth in jeopardy Haley would set Creed up for a decisive pass five laps later. A caution with three to go would see Haley take the win in stage one leading 25 laps.
After a round of pit stops Haley would start the second stage on lap 43 in ninth and before the caution would fly on the same lap he would move to seventh. At the restart on lap 50 Haley would power into the fourth position. With 16 laps to go in the second stage Haley would make a move on Austin Hill for third, putting pressure on Harrison Burton for the second spot, taking it with twelve laps remaining in the second stage. Creed would spin into the wall with ten remaining in the stage from the 11th position to bring out another caution. 
Haley would restart on the outside of Myatt Snider with seven to go. Stuck to the outside of Austin Hill, the two would battle side by side for several laps until Haley tucked in behind him to set him up for a drafting pass. A caution for debris would fly again with four to go, ending the stage under yellow.
Most of the field came to pit road for tires and fuels, and Haley would come out of the stop shown in the 14th position for the final stage green flag drop. They’d go four-wide down the back, everyone clawing for position. By lap 77 of the 147 scheduled laps Haley would squeeze past Gragson again for the eighth spot, looking like the fastest truck without any damage. Two laps later the FOE Chevy would move to sixth, clearly the best handling truck on the track.
It was a bold move to third for the 19-year-old from Winamac threading the needle on lap 96 between Harrison Burton and lapped traffic. Haley would continue to run about a half-second faster than the field, cutting into the 5-second lead lap after lap. Haley would inherit the lead from Todd Gilliland and Friesen as they pitted on lap 116 for fuel. Haley himself would wheel onto pit road at lap 122, cautiously to avoid a speeding penalty and to avoid tearing up the tires. After the pit stop, with 22 laps to go, Gilliland would have about a 4.5-second lead on Haley. Haley would continue to lay down faster lap times, eating away at the leader’s advantage. The final stage would go green for the duration of the race, much to the chagrin of the FOE team.
By the white flag lap, the No. 24 truck had narrowed the deficit with the leader to just 2.5 seconds, then the engine sound on the No. 4 truck of Gilliland changed as he slowed, out of gas. Haley would come around the outside to take the win at Texas, locking himself into the championship playoffs at Homestead-Miami. Clearly the fastest truck of the night, Haley just had to capitalize on the misfortune of the leader. 
Haley said after the race “I thought we had it lost there. I didn’t quite maximize my pit road. God stuck with me, kept my faith behind me.” Haley led 33 laps for the night, notched his third win for the season, and his second win of the playoffs. Haley continued, “Canada and here were two luck wins, you just can’t give up faith. You bring great trucks to the race track and that’s all you can do.” 
Two races remain for the season, IMS Raceway in Phoenix on November 9, and the GMS trucks of Haley and Sauter are now locked into the final championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 16.

See the full story in the Pulaski County Journal, available in print and e-edition.

Pulaski County Journal

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