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NASCAR Cup Chicago

Justin Haley hopes Cup field has "caught up a little bit" to SVG

Had Shane van Gisbergen not pulled off his shock NASCAR Cup victory at the Chicago Street Course last year there was another surprise winner waiting in the wings to take his place.

Justin Haley, who started last in the series’ inaugural street race last July, moved into the lead with 30 laps remaining and with the race length cut short due to impending darkness, he was good on fuel to the finish.

As it turned out, van Gisbergen, the three-time Supercars champion making his first Cup start, passed Haley for the lead on a late-race restart and held him off again in overtime to claim the win on the 2.2-mile, 12-turn course through the Grant Park area of downtown Chicago.

For Haley, that run was his only top five finish of the 2023 season, but had he finished one place better the victory could well have dramatically altered his year.

Now one year later, van Gisbergen is competing full-time in the Xfinity Series – where he’s won a pair of road course this season – and running a partial Cup schedule in preparation for a full-time move to that series in 2025.

Haley moved in the offseason to Rick Ware Racing and has helped lead a change in that organization into a weekly solid performer.

Shane van Gisbergen, Trackhouse Racing, Enhance Health Chevrolet Camaro celebrates in victory lane

Shane van Gisbergen, Trackhouse Racing, Enhance Health Chevrolet Camaro celebrates in victory lane

Photo by: Lesley Ann Miller / Motorsport Images

With most of the Cup field in this Sunday’s Chicago race now with street race experience, Haley believes the dynamics of this year’s event could be very different.

“I mean, obviously, SVG’s going to be quick, but you know, I don’t think he was lights out all weekend (last year),” Haley said. “Denny (Hamlin) got the poll last year and the teams will have definitely developed.

“And now that we’ve all done it once, I mean it’s just a road course with a little bit bigger risk factor if you do have an issue.

“He’s going to be quick again. I mean he’s done his whole life. But I do believe or like to think that we would have caught up a little bit.”

Justin Haley, Rick Ware Racing, Parts Plus Ford Mustang

Justin Haley, Rick Ware Racing, Parts Plus Ford Mustang

Photo by: David Rosenblum / NKP / Motorsport Images

Haley said two things worked in van Gisbergen’s favor last year – the new venue for Cup drivers and the wild weather conditions that saw the use of wet weather tires and ultimately shortened the event.

“I’m more confident in just the situation as a whole, right? I think first practice, we were all a little nervous,” he said. “And uh, yeah, the rain throughout the weekend was definitely difficult. But yeah, your confidence level just goes up.

“You know, we get new tracks like North Wilkesboro and Iowa and it’s (still) just what you’ve done your whole life. Then you go to this, put the term ‘street circuit’ on it and have the concrete barriers super close and everything’s different.

“I just think logistically like kind of knowing where everything’s at and knowing how the process is, I think it’ll be more fluid this year for everyone.”

While the 25-year-old native of Winamac, Ind., is currently 31st in the series standings, he has a pair of top-10 finishes and four finishes of 13th or better in the last six races.

Haley believes he can again be a contender on the series’ return visit to street racing.

“Hopefully, (the weather) is better this year, but I’m excited for it. I’m excited every week we go race right now,” he said.

“There are a few places where you go to a race track and you're like, ‘Wow, this is like, this is sick,’ right? And I think, you know, when we all got there last year, we were pretty excited as an industry.

“It’s cool to kind of be downtown and be in the thick of it all.”

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