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NASCAR Cup Chicago Street Course

Haley almost goes from last to first in near-upset at Chicago

Many weren't surprised to see Shane van Gisbergen fighting for the win on Sunday, but no one expected Justin Haley to be the driver battling SVG in the closing laps.

Starting 37th (last) on Sunday was not going to make things easy for Haley on the tight street course.

But still, opportunity presented itself when NASCAR cut 25 laps off the race distance due to impending darkness after a late start.

Haley was able to stay out and inherit the race lead with just under 30 laps remaining. Although it would be close on fuel, he could potentially now go the distance and steal a Cup win ... along with a coveted spot inside the playoffs.

It wouldn't be his first upset victory. Haley won the July Cup race at Daytona in 2019 in a rain-shortened event where he led just one lap. But in Sunday's race, he was going to have to fight for it, and fight for it he did.

After fending off Austin Dillon and Chase Elliott for many laps, a new challenger approached in the twilight of the race. Supercars ace Shane van Gisbergen moved up into second position and quickly attacked Haley for the race lead.

He did all he could despite SVG's incredible pace, even taking the lead back for a moment as they battled with just five laps remaining. But after Van Gisbergen cleared him into Turn 4, the fight was over. Even on an overtime restart, he couldn't mount a real counterattack. 

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Justin Haley, Kaulig Racing, Celsius Chevrolet Camaro

Justin Haley, Kaulig Racing, Celsius Chevrolet Camaro

Photo by: Gavin Baker / NKP / Motorsport Images

Van Gisbergen claimed the win, and Haley was forced to settle for second. But there were obvious positives to take from the bitter defeat.

"A really good day, really good finish," he said post-race. "Not a great weekend. I put the team behind yesterday. We really were struggling at some of the braking zones and I got in the wall and had to stay late last night, didn't get a chance to qualify.

"We repaired it, and I wrapped like half the car myself. I feel like that was pretty cool. We started last today and I felt like we had good pace. We just -- yeah, Shane was just better. He had 16 or something lap better tires. Just a world-class racer. He was very calculated, very precise, and very smooth. He wasn't overdriving it. He was very calculated.

For someone to come in and race like that was just incredible. Very clean, as well. Our race for the lead was clean, and he gave a lot of room and very respectful."

"It wasn't much of a battle"

Haley admits that he did his best, but "it wasn't much of a battle" once Van Gisbergen reached him on track.

"You're just trying to do everything you can. I was really struggling into Turn 4. That's where I wrecked yesterday, and our car was just so rough in the braking zone and I was really struggling there, trying to adjust my brake bias to be better there, and I just couldn't.

"His car was just smoother through there and could out-brake me.

"I don't feel like he pulled away from me. I felt like I held my own there on the green-white-checkered especially, but was that just him only needing that five-car-length gap, knowing that it was his race to lose."

Haley's result was his best finish at the Cup level since that victory at Daytona almost four years ago, but with how deep in the standings he is, it won't do much to help his bid to make the playoffs.

"Yeah, great day for our finish, Chevrolet and everyone at Kaulig Racing, the 31 team. I felt like where we're at right now as an organization we're just trying to get better. This is my and the team's second full-time season, and unfortunately I haven't been in a position like that legitimately to try to hold off championship-caliber drivers. I've just never found myself in that position early in my career.

Justin Haley, Kaulig Racing, Benesch Law Chevrolet Camaro

Justin Haley, Kaulig Racing, Benesch Law Chevrolet Camaro

Photo by: John Harrelson / NKP / Motorsport Images

"Definitely was battling some demons in my head there just trying to stay focused and trying to get to the finish," he explained. "But I felt like my lack of experience and his better tires were just how he won today.

"I don't feel like it was a complete loss. We still finished second. But definitely wish I would have been better. But that just comes down to being in that position more often."

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