Justin Haley on his move to Rick Ware Racing and his wife’s unusual name: 12 Questions

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Each week, The Athletic asks the same 12 questions to a different race car driver. Up next: Justin Haley, who is in his first season driving the No. 51 car for Rick Ware Racing. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity, but the full version is available on the 12 Questions podcast.

1. What is currently the No. 1 thing on your bucket list?

I’ve always wanted to race at the Nürburgring. Me and my buddy Kaz Grala (his teammate at RWR) went on a chore to memorize the whole track and try to go for some world records on sim racing. So I have the whole track in my memory bank. I just want to go over there and feel it out once. I’ve never really been overseas, especially for racing. So the Nürburgring is pretty high up on what I want to accomplish. Obviously, there’s a lot you want to accomplish in this garage, too.

Aren’t the lap times there like four or five minutes or something crazy?

I mean, four or five minutes is like the world record (actually 5 minutes, 19 seconds). We were doing like six, seven, eight minutes. It’s just crazy long and it’s got cool history behind it, too.

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2. How much media coverage of NASCAR do you consume on a weekly basis?

As little as possible.

Oh, interesting. Why is that?

You love it, and you want to be part of it, but (I don’t consume) as much as I probably should. I would say I’m pretty low on what the drivers consume. If anything comes up that’s relevant or I need to know, my buddy Kaz will text me. A lot of times, I don’t even know what time the race starts or what time we practice. I’ll literally just text Kaz and he’ll give me all of it. He’s like my media guy, my PR guy.

I love the sport, but you start going down holes. Throughout the week, I’ll scroll X every once in awhile, but I’m not watching races back, I’m not watching “Race Hub” (the daily show on FS1) or anything like that. I’m super low profile, a pretty reserved guy. I just like to keep my circle small and focus on the (car No.) 51 guys and do our deal.

3. Beyond winning, what is the best way to measure success and racing?

You want to leave some kind of impact. At the end of the day, I just want to be a pleasurable guy to work with and go into battle every week with your guys and your crew. From my position now, it’s not so much about winning a race or championship — it’s more about trying to build a legacy at Rick Ware and take them from where they were to where we want to be.

4. What is an opinion you have about NASCAR that you don’t think is shared by the fans?

I don’t think you necessarily need a lot of horsepower to have a good race. The horsepower conversation is almost irrelevant. There’s way more factors to a good race. Atlanta was one of the best races we’ve had in a decade, and we’re restricted there on our horsepower. A lot of fans will just jump on “They need 1,000 horsepower.” I don’t necessarily think that is the key to every solution, is just to scream “horsepower” on (X). (Laughs)

5. What is the biggest thing fans don’t realize about what you do for a living?

Politics. I feel like 95 percent of my life is politics. Being political with sponsors, being political with your guys, manufacturers. And a lot of that is the 9-to-5 Monday through Friday, right? When you’re in the race car, it’s all quiet, you’re just doing your deal. You’re racing for your team.

But contract negotiations, sponsor negotiations — I’m pretty much a politician most of the time. You always battle that in life anyway, but I feel like our sport is more politics of pleasing people and making sure everyone’s happy and things like that.

6. This next one is about a current topic related to whatever driver I’m talking to. In our anonymous preseason survey, someone said you moving to Rick Ware would be helpful in the sense “getting into a situation where they really believe in him is going to do nothing but pay off for him on the racetrack, because he is really, really good.” Why do you think that’s been such an important thing for you to go somewhere you really feel wanted?

I’m blessed to feel wanted in this scenario. This move is super personal to me and my wife and our family. Just getting out of the situation I was in (at Kaulig Racing) and in something fresh, the runway for me now is so much longer than it ever could have been previously.

It’s kind of the same thing I did at Kaulig. It was a brand-new situation. But here at Rick’s, it’s a lot on me — the direction we go in, the people we hired. (Crew chief) Chris Lawson was my guy; I picked him, we went after him. And having Rick and Lisa Ware and everyone there believe in me, that means a lot. I’ve made it my situation and I can make whatever I want out of it. That’s refreshing to have a say, have a seat at the table and be able to dictate the direction we go.

7. So this next one is a wild-card question where I’m mixing it up for each person. Your new wife is named Haley Haley after changing her last name. Whenever I’m on a call with customer service or checking into a hotel, I have to give my first and last name. She has to give the same name twice. So I was wondering: How that’s been going for her so far? Does she enjoy the back-and-forth with people?

Luckily, she’s almost the complete opposite of me where she’s a people person and I’m more of a reserved guy, so we balance each other out. But she loves it. I don’t know if I personally could ever do it. But since the day we started dating, she thought the idea was hilarious and funny. She’s definitely been on some crazy phone calls and when we’re checking the hotel, it’s pretty wild. But hat’s off to her.

I’d be more like you where I’d think, “Man, I just want to check in with this hotel. I don’t want to get into a whole conversation.”

Even I have dealt with it a little bit. I went to the doctor the other day for a normal checkup and I put her as my emergency contact. And the receptionist was like, “Your wife’s name is Haley Haley?” A lot of people obviously are surprised and pretty goofy about it. Which is good, and that’s been fun.

8. What do you like about the place where you grew up? You grew up in Indiana, is that correct?

I haven’t been back to Indiana in a long time except for the race. I almost feel like when I go back up there to race, no one knows I’m from Indiana. It’s just Chase Briscoe, Tony Stewart, Stewart-Haas. I definitely wish my roots were more tied into the situation. My hometown (Winamac) is great; I have a lot of supporters there. I just feel like with general media coverage, I’m overlooked in a sense.

It’s weird you bring that up, because you’re totally right. If you were to go say, “Who are the Hoosiers in the garage?” people would be talking about Briscoe or would have said Ryan Newman before that. You get overlooked for whatever reason.

I remember in the drivers meeting last year (for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course), Doug Boles, who runs IMS, he thanked Chase Briscoe for being the Indiana driver. (Laughs) I was sitting there and I just was like, “Well, OK.” I would do whatever and help out in any way. But I get it: There’s obviously a connection there with Briscoe and Stewart and the whole situation. I guess I just feel a little heartbroken about the situation. It really hits home, in a way. (Laughs) Literally.

Justin Haley

“I’m blessed to feel wanted in this scenario,” Justin Haley says of the jump to Rick Ware Racing. “This move is super personal to me and my wife and our family.” (Alex Slitz / Getty Images)

9. What personality trait are you the most proud of?

I do everything like 1,000 percent. I’m proud of that. I’m at the shop until midnight with the guys. I helped them out with the diffuser for the Daytona 500 car. I get there at 8 and leave at midnight; if the guys are there, I’m there. Obviously, I have workouts and other things, but I try to be at the shop as much as possible.

10. Which driver would you least like to be stuck with on an elevator?

I’m cool with a lot of the drivers. I don’t know if they feel like they’re cool with me. But the only person I’ve really had a run-in with is Carson Hocevar. I really don’t know the guy, but just how he races on the track, I probably wouldn’t want to be in an elevator with him. And he’s pretty tall, so he’d take up a lot of room.

11. What is a run-in you’ve had with a driver that TV or the media missed?

Again, probably Carson. I hate to bring up his name. We were at Martinsville last fall and he put us into the wall under caution — and he was on a different lap than us. He was a few laps down from us. Just weird.

I’m pretty reserved and super laid back, and you really don’t see my name come up in on-track altercations. At the end of the day, I’m like “It happened, move on.” I’m pretty level-headed. But that one at Martinsville was strange.

What was the explanation?

I’ve never talked to him. I was in the pit stall in front of him on pit road, and it was pretty early in the race. I was like two laps down and he was three or four laps down. We were having a bad day, so I was having fun with it (after the incident) and I parked as far back (in) my pit box as possible. They dropped the jack on his car and he would have to back up, which I thought was funny.

So I don’t know what the reason was. Honestly, I think he thought I was someone different. That’s probably the scenario. It wasn’t anything crazy — he just doored me — but for me, that’s a crazy on-track incident because I don’t get into anything.

12. Each week, I ask a driver to give me a question for the next interview. The last one I did was with Toni Breidinger and … she wants to know what your favorite flavor was for Celsius (energy drinks)? (Haley was formerly sponsored by Celsius but no longer has an endorsement deal with the brand.)

I’ve been on the OG orange forever. … Obviously, they’re not a sponsor of mine, but I love the Celsius family and am still really close to them. During Daytona 500 week, I hung out with them a little bit.

That’s interesting, because with a lot of drivers, once the sponsor part of the relationship ends, I wouldn’t think they’d still go hang out with them.

I don’t really have any bad connections anywhere in the garage. I had a lot of great sponsors at Kaulig and I met a lot of great people. Just because they’re not funding my race car doesn’t mean the personal side of things goes away.

Do you have a question I can ask the next person? It’s with Connor Zilisch.

All of us jumped around to a bunch of different series when coming through the ranks and I loved (Trans Am) TA2 racing when I was younger. What’s been your favorite so far?



Top 5, Richmond: Short-track tease, challenge flags and Joey Gase’s viral bumper throw

(Top photo of Justin Haley at last month’s race in Bristol, Tenn.: Meg Oliphant / Getty Images)

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