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Justin Haley’s almost-storybook ending concludes with heartbreak at Daytona

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — The ingredients were all present for a storybook finish for Justin Haley. The 19-year-old rookie was competing in only his second NASCAR Xfinity Series race, starting last and taking the checkered flag first with a slashing, three-wide move Friday night at Daytona International Speedway.

But for a few inches of asphalt, Haley’s first Xfinity win seemed secure, but the left-side tires of his GMS Racing No. 24 Chevrolet dipped slightly left of the double-yellow line marking the out-of-bounds area at the apron. Haley’s apparent victory was handed to Kyle Larson, and the teenager was penalized to an 18th-place finish, last on the lead lap in the Coca-Cola Firecracker 250.

“In the moment, you really don’t think about it,” Haley said after his move was disallowed. “I wasn’t on the apron, so that’s how I always took it. Oh, well.”

MORE: Larson wins thrilling Xfinity race | Race results

Xfinity Series managing director Wayne Auton said that he met with GMS Racing officials after the race to explain the decision, saying they were unhappy but accepted the ruling.

“The 24 made a bold move to win the race, which is what you’re supposed to do,” Auton said. “And looking at all the video that we can, we saw as the rule states: we define it as the left-side tires left of the inside line that separates the apron and the race track. The 24 car’s left sides were clearly inside the line so we had to make the call. That’s clearly defined on the video at the drivers’ meeting, plus all the drivers have been informed of that for a long time here at Daytona and Talladega. Unfortunately, the 24 got caught up in it tonight.”

Haley is a regular competitor in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, having scored his first victory in that tour just two weeks earlier. Friday night, he came within inches of another breakthrough.

As Larson battled hard-luck runner-up Elliott Sadler for the top spot, Haley dove below them both on the short chute heading to the start-finish line. “There was an opening for me to come and split the guys,” he said. “It just happened.”

But then came word of the ruling, shortly after he had started a celebratory burnout. The realization, Haley said, came when Larson began a burnout of his own.

“Definitely high to low,” Haley said of his emotions. “But like I said, this is just an opportunity to even come out here. Just extremely blessed.”