In this day and age it’s not very often an underdog actually defies the odds and wins big in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. It’s far more likely in the lower divisions, but to see it in Cup is a borderline rarity.
Sure, at Chicagoland Alex Bowman scored the win. Last season, Chase Elliott and Erik Jones scored their first wins. In 2017 Austin Dillon, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and Ryan Blaney all scored their first wins. But each of those drivers compete for established organizations in Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, Richard Childress Racing, Roush-Fenway Racing, and Wood Brothers Racing. Each team has solid backing and solid footing in the sport. But when a freshly formed team like Spire Motorsports manages to put a driver in Victory Lane despite claims that they’re nothing more than a solid money grab, the underdog ranking goes up a few notches.
During the red flag period at the end of the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona which led to Justin Haley’s first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win in only his third attempt, social media on Twitter, Facebook, and even Reddit seemed to be torn between excitement over a true surprise winner in the Spire Motorsports organization and frustration how a sports agency managed to buy a charter just to grab some money, at least according to a few media pundits.
Regardless of Spire’s true intentions, be it to build their team up into an actual competitor or to make a few bucks, the fact still remains that they have every right to be on the track. They bought the equipment, they formed the crew, they established the business side of the race team, and they put different drivers behind the wheel. For that matter they’ve managed to not just enter the race but actually put themselves in positions to be consistent and post decent runs, most notably with Haley. They’re a new team, so to go on Twitter and angrily pound out a tweet because it’s just so wrong and dumb that a cash grab team can win a race; don’t hate the player, hate the game. The No. 77 is right where it’s supposed to be on track.
NASCAR isn’t even to fault for the win. Sure, Daytona has lights and a boatload of jet dryers leased out from other speedways for the event weekend. But after being pushed back a day, who in their right mind would want to stick around four, six, eight more hours just to finish 30+ more laps? The race was almost through, and Peter Sospenzo, who is not a slouch on the pit box, made the calls he needed to make to score the win for his team. Nothing was lost by calling the race. Nothing was hurt.
In the moments after the race was called, Haley’s name was trending third worldwide on Twitter, a testimony to just how big of an upset this was. Some compared it to the Derrike Cope win at Daytona in 1990, while others compared it to Trevor Bayne’s Daytona win in 2011. Some even compared it to Jamie McMurray’s Charlotte win in 2002. Ultimately, as this is an opinion piece, it has to be said that this win is more like Greg Sacks winning at Daytona in July 1985. The No. 10 of Sacks was nothing more than a research and development entry for DiGard Motorsports but since it was actually contending for the lead they changed their approach from parking the car to letting Sacks go for the win, which he did.
Similar concept for Spire and Haley. They were on track just to earn some experience and to give Haley some track time as it was only his third start in Cup. But just as it was at Talladega in his Cup debut, Haley kept himself within sight of the leaders. That proved to be the deciding factor when the red flag was dropped, and now Haley is a Cup Series winner.
The world loves an underdog. This, after steady weeks of the same teams winning race after race which is bound to resume once the series hits Kentucky, is an undying fact. There wouldn’t be this much of a buzz if it were anyone else. But it wasn’t anyone else; it was Spire Motorsports and Haley, a duo that wasn’t really supposed to be in the Winner’s Circle, let alone at Daytona, but accomplished that anyway. The little team that wasn’t supposed to win did just that by impeccable strategy and an insane amount of luck.
That’s not an unfamiliar story in NASCAR, and it’s a story that’s just as solid as many, many more over the years. So social media can keep on talking, saying that Spire is in the sport only for the money, that the team was undeserving, that they didn’t earn the win. It doesn’t matter; Haley and Spire are still the 2019 Coke Zero Sugar 400 winners.
More importantly, NASCAR once again has a true underdog victory in it’s ranks.