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Justin Haley, Rick Ware Racing Look to Carry Momentum Through Sonoma

Justin Haley and the Rick Ware Racing team have showed legitimate strength over the last three weeks, and with Haley's underrated road course prowess, they could continue the momentum at Sonoma.


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You know, if you squint hard enough, Rick Ware Racing looks like a Tier 1 Ford team. They're not currently Tier 1, but if they can keep their newfound momentum going, who knows.

Justin Haley, who drives the organization's No. 51 Ford Mustang Dark Horse, has really started to find his groove behind the wheel over the last three weeks, as he has scored two ninth-place finishes.

They have momentum, and even Haley is starting to feel it.

“A little bit," Haley said in a team release when asked whether momentum in the sport is real. "The better you run, it just kind of snowballs and this sport has always been like that. People have always said once you get your first one, the rest are easier, and not that we’ve won but it’s kind of the same theory. But it is the work that’s put in. You try so hard to have those good runs and, once you get it, you know what led to it and it’s going to keep producing those good runs."

After a little bit of a shaky start to the 2024 season, Haley and the RWR team have found more stability in their Fords, and crew chief Chris Lawson has really started to build a notebook around Haley's driving style.

"You have that setup, you have your notes, and then you just go from there," Haley explained. "So yeah, we’ve got a lot of momentum right now and have had it over the past few weeks. We’ve been really good. I feel like even our Charlotte race could have been a lot better if we would have been able to finish the whole distance. The cars are driving really well right now. They’re super fast and competitive.”

Not only have they scored two top-10 finishes in recent weeks, which brings Rick Ware Racing to an all-time total of 10 in the team's history, but both of them came at non-drafting tracks. This is a big deal because heading into the 2024 season, Rick Ware Racing had never scored a top-10 finish on a non-drafting track.

They now have two of them in the last three weeks. And the hot streak very well could continue this weekend at Sonoma Raceway.

While Haley, 25, has never recorded a top-10 finish in his NASCAR Cup Series career, he was close in 2022 when he nabbed a 12th-place result for Kaulig Racing.

The driver is confident in his abilities at the 12-turn 1.99-mile road course in wine country, but there is some uncertainty in the air after the road course received a fresh coat of asphalt since last year's event.

“Going into Sonoma this year, the repave is the talk of the town," Haley said. "I know there’s been some tire testing out there and stuff like that. I’ve heard the cars that tested were around three seconds faster than they we’ve been in the past, so that will make it interesting – the tire fall-off and the tire wear and the tire heat and things like that. You really had to manage your stuff for a run in the past. I’m curious to go out and see if the same old bumps around the track are still there or if repave has taken those out. I feel like I’ve always been decent at Sonoma."

Not only has Haley had speed at Sonoma, but when you take a moment to look at the driver's full body of work, you quickly realize that the young racer is very underrated on road courses.

Of his 14 career NASCAR Cup Series top-10 finishes, Haley has recorded three of them on three different road course layouts. He was eighth at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course driving the No. 77 Spire Motorsports Chevrolet in 2021, fifth at the Charlotte ROVAL in 2022 driving the No. 31 Chevrolet for Kaulig Racing, and he was runner-up to Shane van Gisbergen in last year's Chicago Street Race.

Before SVG made the race-winning move, Haley had led 23 laps of the 78-lap event, and he definitely forced SVG to pull out all of the stops to take the lead.

Haley also had solid speed at Circuit of the Americas earlier this season as he qualified 13th and finished 17th in the race. Unfortunately, the No. 51 team suffered a disqualification in post-race inspection, which wiped out the would-be good run.

Still, there's reason to feel optimistic for this weekend's race.

"We were really quick at COTA and qualified in the top-15, so if we have anything similar to the package we had a COTA, I feel like we will be quite competitive,” Haley stated.

Keep an eye on Haley and the No. 51 Rick Ware Racing Ford in Sunday's Toyota / Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway.

Photo Credit: Nigel Kinrade, NKP for Ford Performance

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