Justin Haley, Driver of the No. 51 Fraternal Order of Eagles Ford Mustang

● Justin Haley, driver of the No. 51 Ford Mustang Dark Horse for Rick Ware Racing (RWR), returns to Phoenix for his seventh NASCAR Cup Series start at the track with long-time partner Fraternal Order of Eagles (F.O.E.). Haley and F.O.E. have a long history of success in NASCAR. His first Cup Series victory, at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway in July 2019, was in the black-and-yellow F.O.E-branded No. 77. In all three of his NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series wins, Haley was behind the wheel of an F.O.E. entry for GMS Racing.

● In six Cup Series starts at the Phoenix mile oval, Haley has a best finish of 17th earned in March 2022. He also owns two top-five and four top-10 finishes in six NASCAR Xfinity Series starts at Phoenix.

● Nearly half of Haley’s 13 Cup Series top-10 finishes have come on intermediate tracks. In 44 starts on tracks more than a mile in length and less than 2 miles, Haley has two top-fives and six top-10s.

● The Fraternal Order of Eagles is an international non-profit organization uniting fraternally in the spirit of liberty, truth, justice and equality, to make human life more desirable by lessening its ills and promoting peace, prosperity, gladness and hope. The F.O.E. donates more than $10 million a year to local communities, fundraisers, charities and more. As part of its philosophy, the F.O.E. gives back 100 percent of monies raised in the form of grants. Fundraisers are conducted for eight major charities, including kidney, heart, diabetes, cancer and spinal cord injury funds, a children’s fund, memorial foundation and the Golden Eagle Fund.

Kaz Grala, Driver of the No. 15 N29 Capital Partners Ford Mustang

● Kaz Grala, driver of the No. 15 N29 Capital Partners Ford Mustang Dark Horse, will make his 11th NASCAR Cup Series start and first at Phoenix when he takes the green flag Sunday in the Shriners Children’s 500k.

● Grala’s most recent start at Phoenix was the November 2023 NASCAR Xfinity Series race, when he started 24th and powered to a 10th-place finish for Sam Hunt Racing. He has five Xfinity Series starts at the track with two top-15 finishes, as well as two NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series starts with a best finish of fifth in 2017.

● Last weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Grala drove his N29 Capital Partners Ford Mustang Dark Horse to a 31st-place finish after running inside the top-20 in Stage 2. The RWR Ford Mustang Dark Horse showed plenty of speed, running top-10 lap times late in the final 102-lap stage, but a brush with the wall in the last 10 laps ultimately dropped Grala outside the top-25.

Rick Ware Racing Notes

● This week sees RWR competing across four different motorsports disciplines – NASCAR, NHRA, AFT and IMSA – in two different time zones.

● Of course, RWR has its two NASCAR Cup Series entries – the No. 15 with Kaz Grala and the No. 51 with Justin Haley – in the Shriners Children’s 500k on Sunday at Phoenix Raceway.

● NHRA Top Fuel driver Clay Millican begins the 2024 Mission Foods NHRA Drag Racing Series season in Gainesville, Florida, at the Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals Thursday through Sunday. A three-time event winner for RWR in 2023, Millican competed in the PRO Superstar Shootout Feb. 8-10 exhibition event in Bradenton, Florida, where he set fast time in the first round of qualifying with an elapsed time of 3.688 seconds and a speed of 336.49 mph. He then remained atop the leaderboard and secured the No. 1 qualifying position before advancing all the way to the final round of eliminations.

● The Progressive American Flat Track (AFT) season kicks off Thursday and Friday with a doubleheader at Daytona. RWR looks to add to its AFT win total with Briar Bauman in Mission SuperTwins, and Kody Kopp and Shayna Texter-Bauman in AFT Singles. Bauman and RWR took home two wins in 2023.

● After a podium finish in the season-opening race of the IMSA VP Racing SportsCar Challenge LMP3 class Jan. 20 at Daytona, RWR’s Cody Ware is back in his Ligier JS P320 for two races this weekend in the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Ware will have a shot at two more podiums as he will race twice on Saturday with two 45-minute races around the 1.8-mile, 14-turn layout on the streets of downtown St. Petersburg, Florida.

● Rick Ware has been a motorsports mainstay for more than 40 years. It began at age six when the third-generation racer began his driving career and has since spanned four wheels and two wheels on both asphalt and dirt. Competing in the SCCA Trans Am Series and other road-racing divisions led Ware to NASCAR in the early 1980s, where he finished third in his NASCAR debut – the 1983 Warner W. Hodgdon 300 NASCAR Grand American race at Riverside (Calif.) International Raceway. More than a decade later, injuries would force Ware out of the driver seat and into fulltime team ownership. In 1995, Rick Ware Racing was formed, and with wife Lisa by his side, Ware has since built his eponymous organization into an entity that fields two fulltime entries in the NASCAR Cup Series while simultaneously campaigning successful teams in the Top Fuel class of the NHRA Mission Foods Drag Racing Series, the LMP3 class of the IMSA VP Racing SportsCar Challenge, Whelen Mazda MX-5 Cup, Progressive American Flat Track and FIM World Supercross Championship (WSX), where RWR won the 2022 SX2 championship with rider Shane McElrath.

Justin Haley, Driver Q&A

There’s a new short-track package that will debut at Phoenix. How are you feeling about it now that you’ve had a couple of races under your belt in the Ford Mustang Dark Horse?
“Luckily, I tested the new short-track package last year at Richmond and I’m excited for it. I feel like Phoenix is the track it’s meant for, so we’ll see how it goes. We’ll have a long practice there, so it’ll be good to have that time to work with the team a little bit more and try out more than we’d be able to in the shorter sessions. I think what I’m most looking forward to is kind of being on the same page as other teams when we unload. Typically, we’re going up against those bigger teams that have all the data they could need but, in this case, we’re all starting with the same thing, so it might give us a fighting chance to start.”

You ran well on the short track at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum in February. Does that have you looking forward to more of the short-track races that are coming up?
“I’m not quite sure. The track we raced on in L.A. is so unique. It’s tough to know what is going to happen at some of these places before we get there. In years past, I really favored the intermediate tracks because that’s where the last team I was with was strongest, and I feel like knowing what works best for a team is really the deciding factor as far as where I’m excited to go. Last year, RWR did really well at New Hampshire, so they’ve had good results on short tracks and I think we’ll be able to use some of that. Things are still coming together, so I don’t know that we can focus too much on the type of track we feel is best for us. We’ll get there eventually, but right now it’s all still about the little things that we can improve on each week.”

There are still a lot of things being worked through with a new team, new manufacturer and new car. How do you manage your expectations from week to week?
“The Cup Series is ultracompetitive, and obviously we’re all racing the exact same car nowadays. Week to week I feel like you do have to manage your expectations, which I think I’m pretty good at. Going to a smaller team, you have to realize the tasks that you’re taking on – you’re not signing with a mega team. But it’s been a lot of fun and I feel like I thrive in this environment. It’s the environment I’ve been in my entire career. I enjoy the process of going to the racetrack and running well, especially this year with RWR. Every time we’ve gone to the racetrack and been competitive, when I go back to the shop and all the crew guys are really amped up and excited and thankful that you’re driving that racecar to the front. It’s been cool to see and to show these guys that have been at RWR for a long time that their hard work and passion and effort can pay off. That we can run up front and be competitive has been pretty cool to see.”

Kaz Grala, Driver Q&A

A twist to the usual weekend schedule is a 55-minute practice session on Friday at Phoenix. How does that extra time on track benefit you and the No. 51 N29 Capital Partners team?

“Additional practice definitely helps close the gap for teams like ours, so I’m looking forward to having some time to work on our Ford Mustang Dark Horse at Phoenix. Limited practice puts an emphasis on simulation and your notebook from prior races, so for a smaller team like ours that’s new to a lot of these resources, it’s hard to unload and be exactly where we want to be. The longer session will give us some time to dial in our car for the race, but also to build our notebook with adjustments we can use at future events.”

While Phoenix is technically an intermediate track, it races similar to some of the short tracks you’ll visit later in the year, and you’ve had some decent runs on short tracks in the Xfinity and the Truck Series. Does that experience give you a little bit of confidence going to some of these tracks for the first time in the Cup Series?

“I grew up racing at short tracks and road courses, so I always feel a little more confident coming to tracks with more tools in the driver’s hands. The last time I raced a Truck at Phoenix was a top-five finish, and the last Xfinity race I did there was a top-10, so I feel good about my preparation for this weekend. Hopefully we can make the most of it and grab another great finish for RWR.”

It’s hard to judge progress early in the season, but now that you’ve been on a track other than a superspeedway, how do you feel things are progressing with RWR?

“I’ve been pleased with our speed so far at RWR. We have the pace to move forward through the field and contend for top-15 finishes, so it all comes down to details and execution. There is a lot of ‘new,’ still, at the team and certainly for myself, but when we hit our stride and reach our full potential, I believe we can run in the front half of the field.”