Haley bests Allmendinger by .023-seconds in Kaulig Racing photo finish in Daytona, 3 takeaways from the Wawa 250

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla — A race that started under the lights but ended under the intense Florida sunshine, the rain delayed Wawa 250 from the Daytona International Speedway was nothing short of thrilling. Justin Haley stormed his way from fifth on the final lap to prevail in Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series race en route to his fourth career win in NXS competition.

The maneuver he made to get to the top and stay there with drafting help was why some say he may be the best superspeedway racer in the game right now. Haley, stayed in the throttle and went from fifth to a battle for the lead entering Turn 3. By time we were coming out of the fourth corner, it was a drag race of Haley vs. his Kaulig Racing teammates with AJ Allmendinger in the middle and Jeb Burton below.

Haley and Allmendinger barely shed Burton and crossed the finish line .023-seconds apart with Haley triumphing for his first win of the season and Allmendinger getting his fourth top two finish in the last four races including three of which being runner-ups.

Burton, bumped and banged with Justin Allgaier for third but Allgaier’s No. 7 Chevrolet crossed the stripe .008-seconds ahead of Burton in breaking up what was going to be a 1-2-3 Kaulig Racing sweep of Daytona.

DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA – AUGUST 28: Justin Haley, driver of the #11 LeafFilter Gutter Protection Chevrolet, takes the checkered flag to win the NASCAR Xfinity Series Wawa 250 at Daytona International Speedway on August 28, 2021 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images)

They went 1-2-3 in both stages with it being Haley, Allmendinger, Burton in Stage 1 and Burton, Allendinger, Haley in Stage 2. They’d all pit for gas only at the end of the second stage and would restart sixth on back.

That didn’t end up mattering.

Christopher Bell inherited the lead by staying on at the stage break and would lead the next four laps before Noah Gragson powered his way by on Lap 65. He’d lead the next 12 laps before Bell got him back in what was shaping up to be the train lining up at the top of the banking.

We’d see two cautions though (Lap 71, Lap 82) to break that congo up before a wild finish to end the race with the top five separated by .098-seconds. It’s the sixth time in the last seven Daytona races that the margin of victory was .253-seconds or less. The 2020 Speedweeks race ended under caution.

Kaulig teamed up and made their move with four to go and went 1-2-3. It was going to be a tough group to break up with Allmendinger leading Burton who was leading Haley. Burton, said before the race that he owed his teammates for pushing him to a win in Talladega back in the spring, so you knew he was likely going to stay in line. Haley, is good at this craft and would wait until the very end to even make a move.

But, Bell got drafting help via teammate Harrison Burton and with two-to-go, here they came. Bell, tried to break the Kaulig party up and side drafted his way to doing so, but the Kaulig cars are too powerful and Bell just didn’t have enough help with Allgaier and Noah Gragson also trying to push themselves into the fray.

That allowed Haley to use the high line and the momentum to prevail in what was his fifth win of his career in a superspeedway. Three are at Daytona with two of which being in NXS and one in the 2019 Coke Zero Sugar 400.

He’s now won three straight years during this weekend with the 2019 ‘400 in Cup as well as the 2020 and 2021 NXS summer races.

He’s also won two races at Talladega too.

For Haley, it was emotional. He has endured a tough season with 15 top 10’s but only four of them have been in the top five. Still, three of those four have occurred in the last six races as he’s heating up in what should be a championship push for his No. 11 Chevrolet.

Allmendinger, scored 18 stage points and now has nine top six result in his last 11 starts on the season and 11 in the last 14. He’s had 15 top five finishes and seven in the top two.

DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA – AUGUST 28: Jeb Burton, driver of the #10 Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen Chevrolet, Christopher Bell, driver of the #54 Reser’s Fine Foods Toyota, Noah Gragson, driver of the #9 Bass Pro Shops/TrueTimber/BRCC Chevrolet, and Justin Allgaier, driver of the #7 BRANDT Chevrolet, race during the NASCAR Xfinity Series Wawa 250 at Daytona International Speedway on August 28, 2021 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Burton got his second top five in the last 20 starts and third fourth place run in his last four NXS starts at Daytona. See, he’s struggled since his Talladega win in which other than today, Atlanta was his last top five since May. He had five straight top 10’s to start 2021 off with including four of which being in the top six. To have three in the last 20 isn’t ideal but Burton’s No. 10 Chevrolet has also been a top 10 threat though with scoring six top 11’s in his last nine tries on the season.

Allgaier earned his second top five in his last 10 Daytona starts and eighth top seven in the last 10 races on the season too, five of which being in the top three.

Daniel Hemric rebounded from an early race crash to round out the top five in his No. 18 Toyota for his first top five since a third place run in Loudon. The JGR driver had a span of three top six finishes in four starts but entered Daytona on the heels of finishes of 22nd, 12th and 39th in his last three starts.

Still, by others bad luck, Hemric clinches a spot into the playoffs as does his teammate Harrison Burton who finished finished ninth. This was his worst Xfinity finish at Daytona as his other three results were second, fifth and third respectively.


Is Kaulig The Best Superspeedway Team In NASCAR?

What we’re witnessing out of Kaulig Racing hasn’t been seen since DEI’s plate success in the early 2000s. Saturday’s win for Kaulig was their sixth in the last eight speedway races including 2-for-3 this year. In fact, this is their fourth win in the last five races at either Daytona or Talladega.

They went 1-2-3 in both stages and nearly went 1-2-3 in the end with being 1-2-4 instead. Also, they led 43 of the 100 laps run on Saturday too.



Is Haley The Best Superspeedway Racer Right Now?

When Justin Haley won the rain shortened Coke Zero Sugar 400 back in July of 2019, we all felt how flukish that was. He was 28th at the time of the big crash in Turn 1, when 25 cars in front of him crashed. While running in third, two cars in front of him pit under that caution thinking we were going to go back to green. The lap that Haley took over the lead when they did, lightning struck and a red flag came out as a result. We’d never go back to green with Haley being scored as the winner.

Little did we know then, maybe that wasn’t a fluke after all. Yes, how it occurred was a fluke and yes that was his first and only still Cup win, but look at what he’s done on superspeedway’s since.

He should have won the 2018 NASCAR Xfinity Series race but was penalized for passing barely below the out of bounds line entering the tri-oval on the final lap. He crossed the finish line first, but was a DQ.

A year later, came his Cup win in the July race.

A year after that, the race may have been moved to August, but he won anyways. Now, he made a brilliant move from fifth to first on the final lap for his third straight summer race win in Daytona and fourth time in-a-row he crossed the finish line first.

The moves he makes is dare I say Earnhardt esche. Saturday showed that.

He’s had eight career NASCAR national series victories and five of them have been at either Talladega or Daytona. That’s saying something.



Lap 26 Caution Altered Playoff Race

Austin Cindric was tagged from behind by Myatt Snider and saw his day ending early for a second straight week. He was caught up in a crash with Snider last Saturday in Michigan too and would finish 37th. This week, he was running in third on the high line when Snider got into the back of Cindric’s No. 22 Ford while exiting the tri-oval and off Cindric’s car went into the outside wall.

He’d finish 39th as a result.

Due to that, he scored zero stage points and now two straight finishes of 37th or worse. Meanwhile, AJ Allmendinger scored 18 stage points and his fourth straight top two result and by virtue of that, makes up 52 points on Cindric and takes over the overall points lead.

Cindric led Allmendinger by 35 points entering the race but now trails by 17 with three races remaining in the regular season.

How big is that?

The regular season champion nets 15 additional playoff points. These two weeks could cost Cindric essentially three race wins in the sense that each race win gives you five playoff points.

Cindric, had six top 10’s in his last seven starts entering this weekend. He still has eight top two’s this year and 14 top fives. Allmendinger has 15 top fives and seven top two’s.

DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA – AUGUST 28: Austin Cindric, driver of the #22 Car Shop Ford, exits his car in the pit area after an on-track incident during the NASCAR Xfinity Series Wawa 250 at Daytona International Speedway on August 28, 2021 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Cindric, won the regular season championship last year en route to a title in Phoenix. That comes a year after Tyler Reddick did the same in 2019.

Also catching part of that wreck was Michael Annett. He came into the weekend 41 points behind the final playoff spot. Leaving Atlanta, he was over 50 points up. That’s due to him missing two straight races due to a leg injury but after surgery, he returned to Watkins Glen for an 11th place result. The leg pain was still there so he sat out the next two races which allowed Riley Herbst to catch him and take over that 12th and final playoff spot.

Annett being caught up in that Lap 26 crash relegated him to a 30th place finish with no stage points. Herbst, was 12th in Stage 1 but fourth in Stage 2 for seven stage points. That put his lead up to 48 over Annett going into the final 40 laps.

Herbst, would finish 10th and extend his lead 20 more points as he now puts Annett likely in a must win situation over the final three weeks.


Top Stat

Justin Haley is the first repeat winner at Daytona in the Xfinity Series since 2015. We had 12 straight different winners here prior.

Also, the streak of a Daytona sweep continues. Dale Earnhardt Jr. was the last to do so back in 2003. In fact, only three other drivers have ever won at least two straight starts for them in Xfinity Series competition on the high banked 2.5-mile track with two of them being named Earnhardt. They were Darrell Waltrip (1983-1984), Dale Earnhardt (1990-1994, all in February) and Earnhardt Jr. (2003-2004, 3 straight).

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