Race Weekend Central

The Underdog House: Luck Lands on Justin Haley in Las Vegas

Top Dog: Justin Haley

The old adage in the garage is that you need a little luck in racing. That is especially true at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, a track that has a history of overtime finishes and wild endings.

Justin Haley got a taste of that in the Pennzoil 400 (March 5) at LVMS, taking advantage of an overtime restart to score a top 10 in eighth.

Most of the race featured long green-flag runs, limiting the amount of adjustments teams could make on the cars and the opportunities for track position.

Starting in 27th, Haley struggled with tight front grip early in the race but was able to crack the top 20 by the end of stage one to finish 18th.

The 23-year-old was happy with his rear grip and balance over the bumpy mile-and-a-half, keeping his No. 31 inside the top 20 for most of the race. He mirrored stage one with a stage two finish of 18th.

In the final stage, Haley got as high as 16th before the final caution flew with five laps to go. Crew chief Trent Owens made the call to go with four tires, setting Haley up for the short stint to the checkered flag.

Restarting in 15th alongside Kaulig Racing teammate AJ Allmendinger, Haley gained seven spots over the final two laps to score an impressive top 10.

Intermediates have quietly become a solid track type for Haley, especially Las Vegas. Two of his top 10s in 2022 came on intermediates and he has not finished worse than 17th in his last three races at the Nevada track.

Haley’s result was certainly welcomed for the Winamac, Ind. native, who had finishes of 32nd and 21st in the first two races of the season.

The No. 31 team now heads to Phoenix Raceway, where Haley recorded finishes of 17th and 27th in 2022.

See also
William Byron Holds On With Vegas Win

Who Impressed

You have to skim further down the running order to find the underdogs compared to the first two weeks, thanks in part to the long green-flag runs. Kaulig’s other driver in Allmendinger racked up an 18th-place finish, though he was not a beneficiary of the overtime restart compared to his teammate.

Allmendinger’s race was fairly similar to Haley’s, as he hovered just around the top 20 for most of the race. A restart with 71 laps remaining, however, set up an encouraging run for the No. 16, as Allmendinger got as high as 12th. He did get in the wall late in the race, but the contact was not enough to hurt his car.

On the final lap, Allmendinger got loose entering the backstretch, causing his No. 16 to spin. He took a hard driver’s door hit from Ryan Preece but was checked and released from the care center.

A quiet but pleasant note through the first three races of the season has been the performance of Corey LaJoie. The team has had their share of bumps to begin the season, but LaJoie has put together three top 20s to open the season, finishing 20th at Las Vegas.

It is the first time in LaJoie’s career he has opened the season up with three consecutive top 20s. What has been the most impressive is the consistent race speed the No. 7 team has found.

A week after earning a solid 14th-place finish at Auto Club Speedway, LaJoie kept his car around the top 20 all day long, an improvement compared to the team’s performance in recent years.

LaJoie has kept his equipment clean, has closed races on a high note, and now has finishes of 16th, 14th and 20th to begin 2023. He has clearly established himself as the foundation of Spire Motorsports and that should reap more rewards this season.

Who’s in the Dog House

Checking in on Daytona 500 winner Ricky Stenhouse Jr., he had his first rough race through the first three events. After starting 16th, the No. 47 struggled with front turn, as he struggled to crack the top 20 throughout the event. He had a near-miss when Joey Logano spun on lap 183, as Logano’s car spun just in front of him on the frontstretch. When the checkered flag flew, Stenhouse came home 24th.

Harrison Burton endured a tough weekend. In Saturday’s practice session, a lug nut from another series went through Burton’s radiator, spilling water on his tires and causing him to take a head-on hit into the outside wall.

Burton had to race in a backup car and he struggled all race long. Struggling with handling, the No. 21 finished in 26th, two laps down.

Part of the learning curve for a Cup rookie is learning pit-road speed. That was Noah Gragson‘s kryptonite in his second Las Vegas start, as he was caught speeding on pit road three times, including twice during the first cycle of stops.

Gragson finished 30th, giving him three finishes outside the top 20 to start the year. On the bright side, Gragson has been running as many laps as possible and his fellow rookie peer, Ty Gibbs, has also been struggling to get up to speed.

The good news for Ty Dillon this week? He finished the race. The bad news? He finished in 34th, six laps down, giving him three results outside the top 30 to begin his stint with Spire Motorsports.

Underdogs Who Built

Continuing our celebration of NASCAR’s 75th anniversary by looking at important underdog figures, we turn to DeWayne Louis “Tiny” Lund.

Tiny Lund’s introduction to NASCAR was one of the most unique and popular stories in NASCAR history. He was anything but “Tiny,” as the Iowa native stood at a whopping 6 feet, 5 inches and 270 pounds.

See also
That's History Profile: Tiny Lund

A military veteran and owner of a fishing camp to make extra money, Lund’s first NASCAR race at Memphis-Arkansas Speedway ended on lap 65 when he crashed and was ejected from the car due to a broken seatbelt. He suffered a broken arm and many cuts from the crash. Ironically, his sponsor was a seatbelt company.

He showed up to the 1963 Daytona 500 without a ride and only 17 cents. During a session for the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona, Wood Brothers Racing driver Marvin Panch was test driving a car. Panch collided with another car, flipped end over end and the car burst into flames. Lund ran over and pulled Panch from the car, who had suffered serious burns.

As a reward for saving his life, Panch asked Lund to drive his No. 21 in the Daytona 500. He made the right choice. Leading 17 laps on the day, Lund and the Wood Brothers team used one less pit stop than the field and one set of tires to earn an emotional victory.

Lund never ran a full season, making 303 starts over 20 seasons. He earned four more wins and tallied 119 top 10s. He also earned three championships in the NASCAR Grand American Division.

Tragically, his career came to an end on lap 6 of the 1975 Talladega 500. He collided with JD McDuffie and was hit in the driver’s side door by Terry Link. He died from chest injuries at the age of 45.

Having to constantly find rides, the gentle giant had a heartfelt career. He was named one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers in 1998 and was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 2020.

What They’re Saying

Haley (eighth): “We had a really good long-run car today and this is our Fontana car. We’re one of like three teams, three individual cars that repaired our stuff and brought it this week. I’m proud of the effort and the grind. They hung a body in this thing in the snow in Fontana a few days ago. That’s pretty awesome for our little team. I appreciate Matt [Kaulig], Chris [Rice] and everyone at Leaf Filter. This was a good run for us, especially with the start of season we’ve had.”

Gragson (30th): “An up-and-down day. I felt like we had good speed, just lost a couple of laps on the first pit stop speeding on pit road, making mistakes and speeding again on my pass-through penalty during the first green-flag pit stop, and that put us behind all day. … I felt like we had good speed, just a couple of laps down at the end. We’ll keep working on it.”

Small Team Scheme of the Week

Live Fast Motorsports welcomed back Circle B Diecast to their No. 78 Chevrolet at Las Vegas. The car certainly stood out in the Neon Garage, sporting an electric green and black look. Driver BJ McLeod scored a 32nd-place finish in the ride.

About the author

Luken Glover joined the Frontstretch team in 2020 as a contributor, furthering a love for racing that traces back to his earliest memories. Glover inherited his passion for racing from his grandfather, who used to help former NASCAR team owner Junie Donlavey in his Richmond, Va. garage. A 2023 graduate from the University of the Cumberlands, Glover is the author of "The Underdog House," contributes to commentary pieces, and does occasional at-track reporting. Additionally, Glover enjoys working in ministry, coaching basketball, playing sports, and karting.

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