NASCAR Cup Daytona Coke Zero Sugar 400 winner Justin Haley joins select company

Justin Haley won at Daytona International Speedway on Sunday.

Justin Haley’s storybook victory in Sunday afternoon’s Coke Zero Sugar 400 marked the 20th time a driver has gotten his first NASCAR Cup Series career victory at Daytona International Speedway.

And it can be argued that perhaps none have been more fortunate in finding his way to victory lane.

Haley, a full-time Xfinity Series driver, was in only his third Cup Series start, all of them this year. He somehow found himself thrust toward the front of the field when a multi-car accident at lap 117 took out many of the front-runners. Even so, he likely wouldn’t have survived and won the weather-shortened race if leader Kurt Busch hadn’t pitted when NASCAR signaled “one to go” after the extensive cleanup in Turn 1-2.

But sudden lightning in the area caused NASCAR officials to almost immediately withdraw the “one to go” and stay under caution until finally showing the red. Alas, Busch and a handful of other frontrunners had already committed to pit, leading a jumbled running order that had Haley at the front. If the race had been restarted, he almost most certainly would have been shuffled back in the field.

But when lightening and rain forced the race to end after 127 of 160 laps, the 20-year-old Indiana native was declared the winner after leading only one lap – that one under caution. William Byron was second and Jimmie Johnson was third.

Nine other drivers have recorded their first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory in the speedway’s summertime race. The most recent before Sunday afternoon was last July, when Erik Jones won in double-overtime for Joe Gibbs Racing. Aric Almirola won the rain-shortened 2014 July race for Richard Petty Motorsports, getting his first career victory and giving RPM its latest.

David Ragan broke through at the 400 for owner Jack Roush in the summer of 2011, getting the first of his two career victories. Greg Biffle, also driving for Roush, got the first of his 19 career victories in the July 2003 race. And John Andretti got the first of his two Cup Series victories and the first (and only) for Cale Yarborough Motorsports in July of 1997.

Jimmy Spencer lived up to his “Mr. Excitement” nickname in July of 1994 by winning the 400 for owner Junior Johnson. Journeyman driver Greg Sacks stunned NASCAR in July of 1985 by winning the 400 in a tricked-up “R&D” Chevrolet from the fertile mind of DiGard Racing crew chief Gary Nelson.  

Sam McQuagg got the only victory of his 62-start Cup career for owner Ray Nichels in the July race of 1966 and IndyCar star A.J. Foyt won the 1964 summertime race at DIS for Nichels.

Ten drivers have gotten career victory No. 1 in the annual season-opening Daytona 500 or preliminary heats that counted as official events. The most recent of the 500 winners was Austin Dillon, who won in 2018 for team owner/grandfather Richard Childress. Seven years earlier, in February of 2011, Trevor Bayne stunned NASCAR by winning the 500 for Wood Brothers Racing. And who can ever forget Michael Waltrip’s emotional breakthrough victory in the 2001 Daytona 500 for Dale Earnhardt Inc.?

Sterling Marlin’s first Cup Series victory came with Morgan-McClure Racing in the 1994 Daytona 500. In 1970, driving for Petty Enterprises, young Pete Hamilton won the 500 as owner Richard Petty watched from the pits. In 1967, an “outsider” named Mario Andretti won the 500 for the legendary Holman-Moody team. In 1966, when 40-lap heat races counted as official events, Earl Balmer won with owner Ray Fox. In 1964, Bobby Isaac won a 40-lapper with Nichels. Similarly, Johnny Rutherford drove a Smokey Yunick-prepared car to victory in a 1963 qualifying heat that counts as an official victory.

And in 1963, virtual unknown Tiny Lund won the Daytona 500 for Wood Brothers Racing. The team gave Lund the ride after he helped pull their scheduled driver, Marvin Panch, from an overturned sports car earlier in the week. Lund ran all 200 laps on the same set of tires, led only 17 laps and won by an astonishing 24 seconds.

None of the historic first-timers, however, won their first race at DIS in any more unusual fashion than Haley, who led just one lap — and that one under caution.

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