With seconds to the finish line, front-runner Noah Gragson spun teammate Todd Gilliland out, allowing Haley to sneak through the debris clean to take the checkered flag in the first playoff race of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. (Photo courtesy Justin Whapham/GMS Racing)

Haley wins first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series playoff race

Sunday saw the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series take to the 2.46-mile road course at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park in Bowmanville, Ontario, for the first race of seven rounds of the 2018 championship playoffs. The previous winners’ average age was 18.8 years old, and four of the last five races were decided in the exciting final lap, on the final turn, Turn 10.
Winamac’s 19-year-old Justin Haley, having won the race in St. Louis, was locked into one of the eight playoff spots, sitting in the seventh position at the start of the post-season. With extensive road course experience, Haley in his Fraternal Order of Eagles No. 24 Chevrolet, was fastest in the final practice on Saturday, but spotty rain during the two qualifying sessions would see Haley start the 64-lap race from the eighth position.
At the drop of the green, Haley would start his march up through the crowd. After ten laps in the 20-lap first stage, Haley would move into fifth. With ten to go Haley would cut to the inside of Matt Crafton for fourth. On the next lap he dispatched John Hunter Nemechek for third and marched to the end of the first stage posting lap times equal to the leaders ahead.
A quick pit stop for fuel and tires after the stage break  would see Haley restart the 20-lap second stage from the seventh position. At the green, Haley would drive it in hard and take three positions to move into fourth on the first turn, then move around teammates Cody Coughlin and Timothy Peters for second, coming to the end of the first lap of the stage. Caution for a stopped truck at lap 31 would see a restart with seven to go. Todd Gilliland would battle clean to claim the second spot, while Haley fought off a hard charge by Brett Moffitt for several laps until getting shuffled back to fourth. Gilliland would pit with three laps remaining in the stage to put Haley back in the third spot for the second- stage finale.
The last stage break would see another leader pit stop on lap 44 of 64 for fresh tires, fuel and Haley would start the final stage in 15th. The entire field driving to the limit, Austin Self would get squeezed in the middle by Moffitt and Stewart Friesen on lap 49 and spin, Haley narrowly missing him as the field drove by for the fourth caution of the day. After the restart with 14 laps to go to the checkered, Haley would continue to click off positions wholesale every lap. One, two, three at a time, showing speed and confidence in his GMS Racing Chevrolet.
Ten laps from the finish Haley would capitalize on contact between teammates Ben Rhodes and Grant Enfinger to move to sixth, then power by Rhodes and Johnny Sauter after a three-wide battle past the finish line with seven to go for the third position. Haley continued to track down the leaders when a caution flew with six laps to go for another stalled truck, setting up overtime and a two-lap green-white-checkered finish.
At the green Haley fought Moffitt for third, while fourth on back they stacked up and the three leaders snuck away. Taking the white flag, the race would finish under green or yellow at the conclusion of the next lap. Noah Gragson closed on the leader, his own teammate, Gilliland, coming into the last turn, the aforementioned treacherous Turn 10. Gragson would try to stuff it into the inside of Gilliland without enough room, spinning them both out. Haley with patience would just sneak through the debris clean to take the checkered flag.
Haley said after the race, “That was amazing. I knew going in there Gragson was gonna do something not the smartest and that was gonna line us up pretty good.  I saw it coming and knew we were in the catbird seat.” He said, “this is one I’ve been chasing a long time, ran a lot of road courses, and never gotten there. This one means more than Gateway, and more importantly the Dark Horse is going to the Round of Six.”
The win moves Haley into fourth from seventh in the playoff standings and locks him into the “Round of Six” in the playoffs that start at Martinsville and allows the team a little breathing room for the next two races (Las Vegas and Talladega) in this stage of the playoffs. The “Round of Six” includes Martinsville, Texas and Phoenix, with the final four settling the championship at Homestead-Miami.

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

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