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Daytona Coke Zero Sugar 400 post-race Q&A

Justin Haley and team
Monday, July 8, 2019

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Haley celebrates with his team
Haley celebrates with his team

A driver never forgets his first big win, and today 20 year-old Justin Haley became the latest first-time winner with a lifetime of stories to tell. Haley and his No. 77 Fraternal Order of Eagles Camaro ZL1 team made their way through on-track wrecks, pit-road chaos and Mother Nature to be in position to be crowned the winner of the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway. 

“Congratulations to Justin Haley, Peter Sospenzo, T.J. Puchyr and the entire No. 77 Fraternal Order of Eagles Camaro ZL1 Spire Motorsports team on winning the NASCAR Cup race at Daytona International Speedway,” said Jim Campbell, Chevrolet U.S. Vice President, Performance and Motorsports.

“The team got to the lead at the right time and they won! I am also so proud of all the Chevrolet drivers, crew chiefs, spotters and competition directors for working together to maximize stage points, the race win, and driver points.”

After multiple stops and starts as a result of lightning and rain, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS) race was declared official with just 33 laps remaining and with Haley sitting in the No. 1 position. Today was only the third MENCS career start for Haley. The full-time competitor in the NASCAR Xfinity Series is fresh from his runner-up finish in Friday night’s Circle K Firecracker 250 at Daytona Powered by Coke-Cola Xfinity Series Race at Daytona.

Chevrolet claimed the top-four finishers in today's MENCS race, which marks the official mid-point of the 2019 season. William Byron, No. 24 Axalta Patriotic Camaro ZL1 was second followed by Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Ally Camaro ZL1 and Ty Dillon, No. 13 Geico Camaro ZL1. Kurt Busch finished 10th in his No. 1 Global Poker Camaro ZL1 to give Team Chevy five of the top 10 overall. Additionally, Austin Dillon clinched Stage 2 of the race in his No. 3 American Ethanol Camaro ZL1.  

Ryan Newman (Ford) was fifth to round out the top five finishers

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season continues next weekend at Kentucky Speedway with the Quaker State 400 on Saturday, July 13th at 7:30 p.m. ET. Live coverage can be found on NBC Sports, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

POST RACE PRESS CONF. TRANSCRIPT:

Race Winners: Justin Haley, Peter Sospenzo, and T.J. Puchyr 

THE MODERATOR: We are joined by team members of today's Coke Zero Sugar 400 race winning team, which is the No. 77 Fraternal Order of Eagles Chevrolet from Spire Motorsports driven by Justin Haley. We are joined by team owner T.J. Puchyr and our crew chief Peter Sospenzo.

Q: T.J., this is an unusual move for you guys as an agency to step into team ownership. Now you're a race winner, you've got more wins than Stewart Haas Racing your partner noted to me. How do you feel? How did you get to this point? And I know that winning races probably wasn't the immediate goal.

 T.J. PUCHYR: How do I feel? I probably couldn't explain ‑‑ I think you guys probably all want to go home after the weather this weekend.

But it's surreal. It's obviously a huge, huge moment to win in the pinnacle of our sport at Daytona, no less. This is it, right? This is the World Center of Racing. It says it on the wall. Thank you for the cue card.

It's just ‑‑ it's a huge deal for us. We just wanted to be in control of our own destiny, and we've put a lot of money in a lot of people's pockets in this garage, and there's a lot of people out there that this we're doing this as a cash grab the way the charter system works, and quite frankly that's not true.

Jeff Dickerson and I said we believe in the sport, we believe in the platform that NASCAR provides, right; this is the American dream. I've been coming here sitting on that lawn since I was 10 years old, saying one day we're going to do this.

Is this PC in here? How is that going to work? Like f‑‑‑ it, we did it, right? It wasn't pretty. I've lost my fair share of races. We've dominated races. I grew up working for Todd Braun. That was my first big job. But I've been in racing all my life. My dad was a chassis guy for the Rapid Roman Hall‑of‑Famer Richie Evans.

So this isn't new to us. We've been doing this a long time, and we're trying to build something, but the way that this shook out in November of last year, 5‑Hour was a client of ours, Furniture Row was a client of ours, so this is bittersweet. Love Barney Visser, love the Visser family. Joe Garone is sitting somewhere. I hope he's on his boat enjoying this, but it's hard. Those were ‑‑ that's our family, you know?

So yeah, this means a lot. It's a big f‑‑‑ing deal. But this is ‑‑ we did it early, and look, it's not lost on me that luck was on our side today.

But I'm not going to feel bad about it at all. I'm going to love it. We're just going to continue to be the Little Engine That Could and build this thing as best we can and go from here.

Q: Peter, the situation where NASCAR had called the one to go and you guys had stayed out, Kurt went down, what was kind of the thought process there? Did you have an inkling that the weather could play out in your favor, or did you just want the track position and see how it played out if there was another crash? What was the thought process there?

 PETER SOSPENZO: Well, my thought process was even if we had four flat tires, we weren't going to pit. We were going to ride it out and hope that we get something with the weather in our favor. It was more lightning than it was actually rain at that point in time, but I know you get 30 minutes every time you get a lightning strike within seven, eight miles, whatever it is. It was our only option to try and steal a win, if you want to call it, but there was no way we were coming in. I was actually surprised that a couple of guys in front of us pitted in front of us.

But my mind was made up ‑‑ really my mind was made up when we got back on the lead lap and noticed that the rain was coming, and I said to myself then, if we get in a position, I'm not going to pit, I don't care what happens. And it just worked out that way.

And it was a long time waiting, obviously. I don't know how long the rain delay was. Had to be like, what, two hours? Yeah, felt like 20 days.

And it's been hot down here. It's been a tough week on everybody. Everybody working, the pit crews, the guys working on the cars, it's been hot and rainy and you're fighting weather, fighting this, fighting that, and we just wanted to come here today and have a decent finish, not have any issues, and just finish where we were not getting caught up in any wrecks. You know, and it just worked out. It doesn't happen that often.

Q: For T.J., your vision for the sport and the things that you feel like maybe fans or the industry do not understand for the process so far and what you see this team becoming half a decade from now?

 T.J. PUCHYR: We want to compete with the big dogs. That's why we're here, right? The messaging from the France family in my opinion for, I don't know, the last 18 months is a good one. They're trying to rebuild this thing. They've taken a ton of hits, right, but I'm also smart enough to know that this is their sandbox and we want to play in it.

But we made that choice, right. Jeff Dickerson and I are not wealthy people, right. Went and got a $6 million loan from the bank, so you could have done it, too, okay.

To sit here and say, I don't understand it, I don't know what these guys are doing, you're here, and it's like ‑‑ you know, this is NASCAR, right? A lot of us grew up in this. To finish first, your first finish, you've got to be in the field.

I mean, back in the day when we were kids, all of us, how many ‑‑ all these guys from short tracks growing up racing in the sport ‑‑ Ross Chastain ‑‑ it's like, we're all just trying to fight and claw every day and make it. But it's our passion, and we love it. You know, just trying to build something here that we can have, that we can go compete with the lions of the sport, the Hendricks and the Ganassis, the Penskes, the Stewart‑Haases.

We're not there today, but today for whatever reason, I can take you down a thousand things. Destiny, I don't know if Loeffler was toying with me all day, right; he drove for me for seven years with Todd Braun. I don't know if he couldn't wait until he thought I was going to have a heart attack and he let the skies open up. Clauson, a lot of guys that have been around us and what we've done, this isn't new for us. This stage and this win is new for us, but this sport and this garage, man, we get up and we breathe it every day, and we fight.

That's what we're going to do tomorrow, too. I'm going to enjoy this a little bit for sure, but tomorrow is Monday; we've got to get to work, you know.

Did I answer all that okay for you?

Q: Absolutely. And should a sports agency be involved with a team at the highest level of stock car racing?

 T.J. PUCHYR: Fenway is, aren't they? Fenway Roush? Do they have an agency, Fenway Sports Group? You tell me. I'm asking you. I mean ‑‑

Q: I don't know if they're involved with NASCAR drivers.

 T.J. PUCHYR: What drivers are we involved ‑‑ I mean, I think you need to spend some time and get to know us a little bit more, but that's okay. It's a new world. Social media, I get it. But yeah, we can talk all you want.

Q: Looking forward to it.

 T.J. PUCHYR: Likewise.

Q: T.J., you guys came in 100 points out of 30th. I think with the win you're eligible for the playoffs even though Justin is an Xfinity driver. Is there any way that you feel like you can hit 30th to get into the owner's championship? Is there any way that you can get ‑‑ with this money, buy equipment that can get you there?

 T.J. PUCHYR: I think there's a way. I think we have stuff in the pipeline. Obviously doing this, gaining control of the charter Monday after Homestead, you know, it's a lot of work to try and get to Daytona, and Peter and these guys thrashing every day, these guys do more with less. They don't get the credit that they deserve.

This is a big shot in the arm for them, but I mean, I think we've got some stuff in the works that people are going to be proud of. You know, I'd like to say more. I just can't yet. We don't have all the contracts done and we don't have everything in place. But we're going to try and get better here every day, bit by bit. But at the same time, as I alluded to the last question with Weaver, we don't have the deep pockets to go out and just dump it all in, dump it all in, dump it all in. We're going to build it slow, and when we've got money, we're going to put money in, and when we don't, we hate it. Right, we hate it, but we're going to do what we gotta do to show up and fight.

You've been doing this a long time. Peter ‑‑ to see him and for us to be at Talladega and be in that pack and watch J.J. Haley up there fighting for that stage points, like we're sitting next to each other high‑fiving ‑‑ you'd think we won the race. It was just that type of deal. It's the underdog story.

But yes, we're going to try to get better. Obviously this changes things on some level, but I'd be lying if I said even if I know what that even means today.

Q: It's been a long time for you since you've been back in Victory Lane, and what was your thought process during this rain delay? And were you in any contact with Justin during that period?

 PETER SOSPENZO: Well, we were. He was by the car, by the pit box for a little while. We were talking a little bit. But last time I won a race was at Hendrick Motorsports with Joe Nemechek at Richmond in a rain‑out, and we still didn't even get to go to Victory Lane there. We had to go to Victory Lane in the garage. So I was hoping we would get to do that here in the Victory Lane for the Daytona race. But it didn't work out, but we won the race. That's all that matters.

I've been doing this since 1979. It's been a long time. Elmore Lang was my first job in this business. I've known you a long time.

And it's almost surreal right now that we even won the race, honestly. It really is, because where we're working now you've got to multitask. You've got to do 10, 15 jobs because we don't have the people. We don't have the resources. But there are a couple of opportunities during the year that we get a chance to maybe, maybe do this right here.

It feels good, and all my guys, it's not even going to sink into them until next week when we come to the racetrack and all the other guys from the other teams congratulate everybody. That's when you realize that you've done something pretty special.

T.J., Justin, I'm happy for this guy right here because he deserves it. He was due. And now he's a Monster Energy Cup winner. Whatever that list is now, 200 ‑‑ I don't know how many years, but he's on that list now. He's on the shorter list instead of the bigger list for sure, of non‑winners, so I'm really happy for him.

 THE MODERATOR: As we just learned Justin Haley, the race winner, has joined us. Just a couple fun facts about this win today. Justin is the 20th different driver to win his first Monster Energy Series race here at Daytona, the 10th to accomplish it in the July race. Justin is also the second youngest Monster Energy Series winner at Daytona and the youngest to win the July race.

We will continue with questions for our trio up here.

Q: About the decision to move the race to August, do you think now that the rain kind of helped you guys in July, would you want to keep it in July for tradition, or do you agree with the decision to move it?

 PETER SOSPENZO: I'll speak to that. Nobody ever can take this win. We're the only one to be able to do this. So we made history today. The last race on July 4th weekend.

 JUSTIN HALEY: You summed it up.

 PETER SOSPENZO: It's not that often you get to make history, and we made history today, the last July 4th race for Daytona. I didn't even think about that until you mentioned that. It's pretty big, really.

Q: Justin, given the way last July played out in the Xfinity race and then the way yesterday played out, do you even go into today's race thinking there's a chance, or are you just trying to do the job, take care of the car? How do you go from the mindset of trying to just take care of a car to now you've got a chance to win it?

 JUSTIN HALEY: Well, it's hard. Obviously Spire Motorsports is a new team and they don't have much over there, so this is one of their only cars, and I junked their Talladega car, which Peter was pretty mad at me for, but I hope I made it up to you with this one.

 PETER SOSPENZO: Oh, yeah, no doubt.

 JUSTIN HALEY: But it's hard because you have to stay close enough to the draft to stay with the draft. You can't lose it because then you'll go multiple laps down, but you have to stay far enough back so that if the big one does occur, you can avoid it, which we did perfectly there on that last caution. It's definitely kind of like a chess match of keeping a gap enough but not losing it.

So strategically today I was just riding around, and I would have been really happy with a lead‑lap finish. This is only my third Cup start ever, so there was no expectation to win. There wasn't even a thought in my mind.

I was really focused on the Xfinity race. When I finished second in that to Ross, it was a bummer, but happy for everyone at Kaulig Racing. But to come over here at Spire Motorsports and do something pretty special with a new team is definitely unbelievable.

Q: Justin, do you think if this race had been restarted you still could have won it? And two, I don't know if you're religious, but did you literally pray for rain?

 JUSTIN HALEY: Yes, I did pray for rain. But no, probably not. We probably would have gotten ate up pretty quick on the restart there. We don't have a ‑‑ we own our own motors, so we're not in the wind tunnel. There's nothing to it. The guys built the car and rolled a motor out that they've been running all year, and it was probably refreshed a few races ago. It's not like we have any technical alliance or big Cup team motor anything. I mean, it was just ‑‑ like I said, we were just trying to keep the fenders on it. That was the whole goal of the day was just to finish the race with no scratches.

Probably not. If we would have gotten back green ‑‑ it was really up and down there because we did get back in the car and the skies were pretty clear, and I was like, man, like it's over, that was our chance. It was a great strategy by Peter to leave me out there when Kurt and Landon pitted because I did see lightning out of my windshield in 3 and 4, a good bit, and I kept calling, I was like, man, there's definitely lightning.

And then just kind of ‑‑ the car was far away and we got lucky that they red‑flagged it down the backstretch and took us to pit road, and like I said, it was up and down because we were back in the car and ready to fire them back up and then the rain came. And the rest is history.

Q: Do you think there was any advantage to running the Xfinity race and then the Cup race? There weren't too many drivers that did that and you're one the few. Did it make you more comfortable out there? Did it make you feel better about running today?

 JUSTIN HALEY: No, I'm pretty comfortable superspeedway racing. It's always been pretty high on my skill set list. If you say ‑‑ I've always had pretty good finishes at superspeedways is what I'm trying to say.

These Cup cars, man, they were a handful to drive. You would think at Daytona you would just be wide open, but we were lifting all the way out of the gas in the center of the corners to keep them underneath us. They were super, super wild to drive. Scary at some points, and especially when you're three wide, it's definitely tough.

The Xfinity cars are a lot easier to drive, and I think it probably took a hand to how hot it was today, and there was really no grip on the track, which you don't think at Daytona makes much of a difference, but they were sliding around like crazy, and it was definitely a handful.

Did it help? Probably not, but I always love racing. Any race I can enter is a plus for me.

 PETER SOSPENZO: We didn't even get in the draft in practice. We made three single‑car runs in practice. That was it. He is a very good speedway racer for not as much experience as he has. But he's run up front in every one of them, which was a big plus today.

And him ‑‑ we made that green flag stop, he got on pit road quick, got out of pit road quick, and we were able to get the Lucky Dog, so that was all on him, too, doing that, to put us in position to make the call.

Q: Do you know where you were at the time of the big accident? Where you were running, what position?

 JUSTIN HALEY: Far enough back that I could miss it but far enough in that I was still in the draft. I don't know, I was probably five car lengths ‑‑

 THE MODERATOR: 27th.

 JUSTIN HALEY: But that really don't mean anything, does it? I mean, they were three wide in front of me, so I know I barely got it slowed down, and the biggest thing when they wreck in front of you like that is there's multiple people behind you so they could run in the back of you, so not only do you have to take care of yourself, you have to look in your mirror, try and avoid the wreck in front of you, and make sure the guy behind you is not running into you, which was key.

Keith Barnrow, my spotter for this race, did an excellent job and managed me through it, and I don't know, it was pretty cool.

Q: Justin, I was talking to your mom, and she was telling me about I guess the first time you got ‑‑ a couple stories, the first time you got in a car, she said it was the day after your grandmother's funeral, your uncle had it and you saw a car on the wall of the barn and wanted to get in it. Do you recall that day? And again, I know you're a racing family so that's probably just second nature, but why you wanted to be in that car that day?

 JUSTIN HALEY: I'm not sure. I didn't know it was after my grandmother's funeral, but that's a fun fact. I knew that the first time I got in it, I believe it was my cousin's Quarter Midget at the time and it was on the wall, and he was driving around, he let me drive it.

But I really didn't have ‑‑ my family has always been in racing, but I really wasn't grown up like around a racetrack. I don't think I was really ever to the racetrack. I saw Jason Loeffler a few times at ORP run. We made some trips to Indy with my grandpa, but I personally feel like I had the desire to chase becoming a race car driver. I convinced my mom to let me get a Quarter Midget. At first she said, as long as you can convince your stepdad to do it, then y'all can have fun, and that wasn't too hard to convince, being that he's a gearhead himself. Without them two, my stepdad and my mom, obviously this wouldn't have been possible and everyone else in my family for believing in me and giving me faith.

But yeah, I don't know, it's pretty surreal.

Q: And one other story she told, I guess she said you were about 10 years old and kind of moving up to a faster Quarter Midget, and she recalled a time when you did that and were really kind of nervous and she said kind of having the conversation with you of, hey, is this going to be fun, are we just going to do this as a fun activity, or is this going to be a serious thing we're going to do, and she talked about your kind of nervousness with the fast car, but you brought it back in and this is what I want to do. Do you recall that experience?

 JUSTIN HALEY: I think there's a point in everyone's life where you have to make a decision. If you're playing high school football, if you're going to go play college ball, or if you're racing, are you going to take it seriously.

And there was a time in point where I had to get home schooled and take it seriously because I was on the road so much, and I wouldn't be able to take it seriously if my family didn't support me through it all. They gave up a lot. My family moved down to North Carolina a few years back to help me chase my dream when I started running K&N East with Harry Scott and Justin Marks, so they took the trip down with me, and like I said, without them, this wouldn't be possible.

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