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Fire on Fridays: Was Justin Haley’s Daytona Win the Biggest Upset in NASCAR History?

I’m willing to bet zero people on the face of planet earth woke up Sunday morning thinking Justin Haley would wind up a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series winner by the end of the day.

But as a wise man once said, to finish first, you first must finish.

But WAIT that doesn’t even apply to this because the race was obviously cut short … you get my point, OK?

By sheer numbers, Haley was 1,000/1 in some sports books pre-race. And who would blame those oddsmakers? Haley was making only his third start in his Cup career, Spire Motorsports’ best finish this season was 28th and the No. 77 hadn’t even finished on the lead lap.

Simply put, this was the biggest upset in NASCAR history. And it’s not even close.

Call it dumb luck, call it a fluke. But nothing will take away the trophy from Haley and the No. 77 team.

Trevor Bayne’s Daytona 500 triumph in 2011 is among the short list for biggest upsets in the sport. However, Bayne’s Wood Brothers Racing No. 21 had speed throughout Speedweeks and the 500 itself. His victory was a surprise, no doubt, but not a total shock.

How about Brad Keselowski‘s first career win in 2009 at Talladega Superspeedway? We remember the move he pulled on Carl Edwards to visit victory lane. At the time, 99% of the reaction to Keselowski’s move was negative.

A decade later, I think Keselowski turned out just a-OK.

How about a pair of drivers who earned their first win in their first three starts in Kevin Harvick and Jamie McMurray? Harvick, filling in for Dale Earnhardt, beat Jeff Gordon to the line in an all-time classic finish in 2001. McMurray won in only his second start at Charlotte Motor Speedway, filling in for the injured Sterling Marlin.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but at the time, reaction for both drivers was a bit skeptical (from what I remember and what I’ve been told, sorry I was born in 1996 *Kanye shrug*)… but I think both of them turned out just a-OK.

The circumstances surrounding those wins were a bit different than Haley’s Sunday. To the casual NASCAR fan, Spire was (and honestly still might be) an unknown, a team that purchased the charter from Furniture Row Racing for around $6 million and is trying to make it in a top team world.

Both sides of the coin were argued on this. Is the move by Spire, a sports agency turned race team, nothing more than a money grab? Or is it a long-term play to become a prominent team in the sport, possibly in 2021 when the Gen-7 car is slated to be debuted?

Autoweek‘s Matt Weaver argued that the win from Spire may be a conflict of interest, while Motorsport.com‘s Jim Utter said the “feel good story” of the season is under attack.

If this entire ordeal is appealing to you in any way, I highly encourage you to read both Weaver’s and Utter’s perspectives on this.

Let’s look at the facts here. Haley isn’t old enough to buy alcohol in the United States. He can count his Cup starts on less than one hand. His team can count their lead-lap finishes on less than one hand. A top-25 or -30 (!) finish is considered a good day for this backmarker team.

And it won? At Daytona? Beating the likes of Team Penske, Joe Gibbs Racing, Hendrick Motorsports, Stewart-Haas Racing?

In the end, just because you disagree with the way it played out doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Haley will forever and always be your 2019 Coke Zero Sugar 400 winner.

That, my friends, is an upset. The biggest one in the history of the sport.

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5 thoughts on “Fire on Fridays: Was Justin Haley’s Daytona Win the Biggest Upset in NASCAR History?”

  1. Kevin Harvick wasn’t “filling in” for Dale Earnhardt. Dale died. Kevin Harvick replaced Dale and his number was changed to 29 out of respect to the man who had given his life in pursuit of a win. Please choose your words more carefully.

  2. I agree with MoparJeff’s assessment of the Harvick situation.

    That said, in both Harvick and McMurray’s “upset” wins, the TEAMS were solid contenders – so I don’t think anyone could say they were truly “upsets”. While I recall watching both wins and being surprised they won so fast, I would say it was only mildly surprising. It wasn’t completely out of left field because the cars/teams were so good.

    The Spire win was definitely an “upset”, appropriately dubbed as such based on the constant wailing and gnashing of teeth that’s been going on about it.

  3. While I am not one of those who think Haley winning is that big of a deal one way or the other, I would not classify it as an “upset”. It was more of an Act Of God. Like if the entire field was completing a round of green flag pit stops and he was the last one who hadn’t pitted when a bomb landed in turn 3 decimating the track. Since the track could not be fixed in a reasonable amount of time, he was named the winner because something that shouldn’t have happened, happened.
    (I get that a reasonable amount of time is open to debate with respect to drying the track but the race was running 24 hours later than it was supposed to (Saturday night) so I can’t fault NASCAR for calling the race when they did).

    • I agree with the “act of God” assessment. A true upset is a small team unexpectedly outperforming the big teams and winning a race. In this case performance had nothing to do with it. This particular win seems utterly arbitrary and meaningless. I think that is why so many folks are grumbling about the situation.

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