Photo credit: Nigel Kinrade Photography

Rick Ware, Justin Haley continue building with Iowa results

Justin Haley finished 13th at Iowa Speedway Sunday night, capping off a race in which he overcame a penalty, ran in the top 10, and showcased Rick Ware Racing's continued growth.

While Haley missed out on a top-10 finish at Iowa, he scored one stage point and continued to show that he could contend with drivers from better-funded organizations.

Haley was the fourth-fastest during practice with a lap of 23.116 seconds and 136.269 mph. He was only behind Noah Gragson, Ty Gibbs, and Alex Bowman.

While Haley only qualified 19th, he was able to work his way into the top 10 before his first pit stop. However, an equipment interference penalty dropped him to the rear of the field. Haley ended the first stage 28th in the running order.

The second stage unfolded more smoothly for the No. 51 team. They avoided penalties and incidents on the track before taking advantage of a caution that shuffled the running order during green flag pit stops. Haley finished the second stage in 10th place and then he continued to race inside the top 10 during the final stage.

"We had a really good MotoRad Ford Mustang Dark Horse and a lot of speed early in the race before the pit road penalty," Haley said after Iowa. "I'm glad we were able to recover pretty quickly and show just how strong our car was.

"Once the sun started to go down the car was just a little too tight for me to hold onto the top-10, but still a really strong showing for us that we can keep building on."

Haley, who joined Rick Ware Racing ahead of the 2024 NASCAR Cup Series season, has been a key figure in the organization's move to become more competitive. He has been a mainstay at the shop while providing consistent feedback as the full-time driver of the No. 51 Ford.

The other Rick Ware Racing entry, the No. 15 Ford, has featured three drivers this season. Kaz Grala leads this group with three top-20 finishes in 14 starts.

Haley hasn't put himself in contention for a win, but he has delivered consistency with six top-20 finishes and an average finish of 23.5. This is crucial for a team that only had two chassis for a portion of the season whereas other organizations had several.

"I feel like I'm doing everything I can to improve this race team and set myself up for the future," Haley said during a May sitdown with media members. "So just a lot of hours right now.

"I mean, it's a lot of work and it's a lot of work for everyone involved. We're doing a lot with a little and I feel like when we do have the solid runs, it's kind of a big shot in the arm."

To truly see the growth this season, just look at every other Cup race in Rick Ware Racing history. A wide variety of drivers combined to make 590 starts between 2012-23. Six drivers combined for eight top-10 finishes.

Six of these top-10s were at Daytona International Speedway, one was at Talladega Superspeedway, and one was at Atlanta Motor Speedway after it became a mini-superspeedway.

Both of Haley's top-10 finishes with Rick Ware Racing have been on traditional oval tracks. He crossed the line ninth at Darlington Raceway and then finished ninth at World Wide Technology Raceway.

Building the No. 51 team into a weekly contender has been an ongoing process for Haley and Rick Ware Racing since they joined forces on a multi-year deal ahead of this season. In fact, it dates back to the winter of 2022 when the organization formed a technical alliance with RFK Racing.

The building process continued with RWR bringing in Robby Benton as team president and adding Tommy Baldwin Jr. as competition director. RWR also moved its shop to the RFK Racing campus as part of the alliance.

Signing Haley to a multi-year deal was another key move.

There were signs of progress early in 2024. Haley qualified 10th for the Busch Light Clash and passed several cars in the race before an engine failure. He then posted top-20 finishes at Atlanta and Bristol early in the season.

There were also struggles for the No. 51 team. This includes a stretch where Haley finished 30th or worse four times in five races. This began with a 39th-place finish at Circuit of the Americas and it ended with a 34th-place finish at Talladega.

Since the calendar turned to May, the No. 51 has more regularly been in contention for stronger finishes. Haley has four top-20 finishes in the past five races, a run that includes both of his top 10s this season.

Now the only question remaining is how much further can Rick Ware Racing go this season.

"It probably took longer to get to where we are than what I would have liked," Haley said about the organization's progress in mid-May.

"...The mountain was probably a little taller than I anticipated that we were climbing, but I feel like we're in a good spot now. I feel like we're bringing 20th-place cars each and every week, which is a big improvement, and we can continue to improve on that."