When the news came out earlier this week that NASCAR driver Justin Haley had signed a contract with Rick Ware Racing to drive for that organization beginning in 2024 the question many might have been left asking was ‘Why would someone who has a ride with Kaulig Racing sign a multi-year deal with Rick Ware Racing?’
Perhaps the answer is as simple as maybe he knows more about the situation than we do.
On the surface, this seems like a step back for Haley. In his current No. 31 Chevrolet he sits 21st in the NASCAR Cup Series standings scoring one top-5 and five top-10 finishes with a best of second on the Chicago Street Course(where he led late in the race). He earned three top-5s and four top-10s in 2022 on his way to a 22nd place finish in the overall standings.
At only 24, the driver from Winamac, Indiana is considered one of the sport’s top prospects. He has amassed four NASCAR Xfinity Series victories, all at Daytona and Talladega, over the course of his career. Another three NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series trophies adorn his mantle along with three ARCA Menards prizes. And don’t forget, he also won the 2019 Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona when he and his Spire Motorsports team stayed on track when most others pitted only to have the race stopped for weather before returning to green flag action.
On the other hand, Rick Ware Racing has experienced very little success scoring only one top-5 in 558 total starts at the Cup level. The organization is in possession of two charters for their No. 15 and No. 51 cars which guarantees that they will make the field in each of the 36 races on the schedule.
NASCAR does have the authority to repossess a charter if a team finishes among the the three worst for three consecutive seasons. RWR could find itself in that situation. Currently, the No. 15 car sits 32nd in owner points while the No. 51 ranks 34th. There are 36 chartered cars.
So again, why would driver leave a solid team such as Kaulig, which is seemingly on the rise, for a team languishing near the bottom of the standings year after year?
And again, it could be that the driver knows more than we do. His contract with Kaulig is set to expire at the end of the 2023 season. Perhaps he had been told he would not be retained or was not feeling as welcomed to return as he would have liked.
Maybe Kaulig just wasn’t the right fit anymore and Haley wanted a fresh start. Or it could be that the No. 31 car might be meant for another driver such as Kaulig’s Xfinity driver Chandler Smith.
Haley’s statement in the press release announcing the new pairing put out by Rick Ware Racing might offer a clue as to why he has chosen to join the perpetually tail-running team. In particular, a phrase at the end of his remarks offers insight.
“This is a unique opportunity that I look forward to,” said Haley. “There are many key pieces of this program I believe can help me in taking the next steps in my NASCAR career. I look forward to working with our key partners, and many additional RWR partners to be announced soon. The alliance with RFK Racing is going to be pivotal for the future of our on-track success.”
The words “to be announced soon” could be the key piece of information here. Sponsors? An even more involved technical alliance with Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing? More support from Ford?
Ware believes he has signed a driver that he can build and improve his team around.
“This is a great day for our team on many levels,” said Rick Ware. “Having someone with Justin’s talent and background become part of our future is a testament to our commitment to growth over the past few years. I have known Justin for a long time, respect all he has achieved in many forms of motorsports and look forward to great success together. His versatility as a driver in multiple series, the continuity we can build around Justin and the respect amongst his peers will pay great dividends for our team. He will be a great teammate for the RWR/RFK Racing alliance.”
Whatever the reason for why Justin Haley signed with Rick Ware Racing, it is safe to say that he knows more than the rest of us.
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