Justin Haley, driver of the No. 51 Rick Ware Racing Ford Mustang Dark Horse, is coming off a ninth-place finish in last weekend’s Goodyear 400 at Darlington Raceway. He took part in a media call earlier today to discuss the progress his team has shown since the season started and what his expectations are for this weekend’s All-Star Open.

JUSTIN HALEY, No. 51 Rick Ware Racing Ford Mustang Dark Horse – HOW GOOD WAS DARLINGTON? “It’s something I feel like we’ve been working towards throughout the season. At the start of the season we had some struggles just with a new crew chief, new spotter, new pit crew, just kind of the issues you probably don’t realize moving to a new team that are quite so significant as they are, just having everyone mesh together, and I feel like over the past two weeks we’ve started to execute how we feel like we should be able to and Darlington was another step at that. I feel like our cars have been fairly competitive and quite quick recently, and I feel like the balance is what I like. I just feel like it’s taken longer than what we wanted to reach this point of having relative speed to be able to compete for top 10s and in the top 15 area, but I feel like that’s where we should run every once in a while, so the speed is starting to get there.”

DOES THE PERFORMANCE AT DARLINGTON GIVE YOU ANY EXTRA MOMENTUM THAT YOU CAN RACE YOUR WAY INTO THE ALL-STAR RACE? “Yeah, of course. Kansas, we were right on the cusp of a top 10 as well before the caution came out and we took four instead of two. That was a difficult call there, but the past few weeks I feel like we’ve had top 10 speed or at least top 15 to the field throughout the race, and I feel like our car has been quick in the race – not maybe in qualifying – but we’ve brought really good race cars and I’m kind of following through with RFK and what they’re doing and kind of leaning on them has been beneficial. I’m super proud of every one at Rick Ware Racing. I feel like we’ve got a good shot this weekend, so we’ll just go and try to do our best and go from there.”

HAVE THE SOCIAL VIDEOS BEEN FUN OR UNCOMFORTABLE TO PROMOTE YOURSELF? “I said this yesterday with the professional and the personality side of things. You’re expected and held to a level of professionalism when you’re in our sport and it’s hard to cross that over to the personality side of things. This has been a great spot for me to break out and show some personality in a professional setting. It’s definitely been cool for me, especially like this week at Darlington. Just leaving the racetrack there were a lot of fans screaming “HaleYes” and things like that, so the reaction from the fans at the track is more than I ever expected and it kind of realizes what we’re doing. You can do it and you can post it and it’s all cool, but until you have the fans interact with you it really validates what you’re doing. I feel pretty good about it going into Sunday.”

HOW MANY TAKES ON ALL THAT STUFF? “I’m a one shot kind of guy. If I don’t do it in the first take, I will mess up the rest of the takes forever, so we filmed twice. We did it at Bristol and a little bit at Kansas. It was fun. I love working with Rick Ware and True Speed on it, so it’s super fun with great ideas.  Hopefully we can start to show a little bit more of it.”

CAN YOU GIVE MORE INSIGHT INTO THE RELATIONSHIP WITH RICK WARE? “Rick has a lot of race teams so he’s always flying around. Usually, if there’s an NHRA event or a flat track event, he will be there for parts of the weekend. He normally shows up for Sunday unless the dragster is doing really well or something. I’d say we have a close relationship. We try to have lunch every once in a while and talk. He’s always in our competition meetings and trying to bring value to what we’re doing, so it’s definitely a close relationship. I like how hands-on he is. It’s a little bit different for me to have a team owner that’s here every day and who really encapsulates himself on the competition side of the team as well. It’s been cool. Rick gave me this opportunity to continue my Cup Series career, so I definitely appreciate him and his family.”

HAVE YOU LEARNED ANYTHING THAT WILL HELP MOVING FORWARD FROM A TEAM BUILDING ASPECT? “He definitely spreads himself and then also Robby Benton not only is over the NASCAR stuff as well, he kind of spreads himself to all the teams, so it’s kind of a group effort. I haven’t been to another one of his racing series races because we obviously race every weekend, but he’s definitely successful in all of his forms. We’re just trying to take the Cup Series side of things and prove that we can get it to a spot where it’s pretty competitive.

WHAT IS YOUR PERSPECTIVE ON THE MOVE TO FORD AND THE CHALLENGES SO FAR THIS SEASON? “It’s tough for me to comment on it just because it’s all new to me and I really don’t know what was in the past and what’s new now. For me, it’s definitely different with engines coming from Roush Yates. We struggled a little bit with that in the start of the season with different procedures and things that they require compared to what I was used to. I probably got that figured out and got past that. The Ford body, I guess you could say they’re all relatively close within NASCAR’s parameters. To be truthfully honest, I feel like every car I’ve driven this year has been balanced well. We might lack speed here and there, but I couldn’t pinpoint what that is, but I feel like all the cars I’ve driven are well. I don’t know if that’s Ford aero balance or just my car doing a really good job with the setup, but it’s hard for me to comment because I don’t have a place of maybe where they were in the past. It’s all so new to me that I’m just trying to get a firm grip on it.”

HOW MUCH DO YOU LEAN ON YOUR PREVIOUS EXPERIENCE OF JUMPING TEAMS? “Every team has a different style and the way they go about it. You have different people and relationships and sponsors and things like that, so I don’t really feel like it was a tough transition. It was probably more than I thought it was going to be just because I was in a place for so long and with a race team for so long. I knew everyone’s names and relationships and everything, so it’s the unexpected things. It’s different shift points or RPMs in an engine, or remembering certain engine procedures and learning names and learning how to talk and debrief with your crew chief and just stuff like that. That was all brand new to me. I didn’t have a single similar thing that I have had for the past few years in Cup racing or racing in general. Everyone was new, except my motorhome driver. You’re just taking a leap of faith and betting on yourself and hoping it works out. I feel like, again, it probably took us longer to climb the mountain than we expected, but I feel like we’re at a height now where we can compete. I feel like we’re trying to start filling the potential that I feel like we’re capable of, so if we just keep working hard. It’s obviously a tough sport and one race isn’t gonna change anything, so we have to go out and continue to do it. I said yesterday when someone asked me where this ranked on races that I remember, I really can’t rank it because there’s always next week. Last week really didn’t matter at this point. We’re focused on North Wilkesboro.”

THIS PERFORMANCE CAME AT THE HALFWAY POINT OF THE REGULAR SEASON. HOW DO YOU BUILD ON THAT MOMENTUM? “We’ve showed speed at a lot of racetracks. Again, I feel like the month of April to May was kind of where we started to show speed at Bristol and COTA and Dover and Kansas. The 15 car has been quick as well with Kaz behind it. I feel like Kaz has been doing an awesome job for as little experience he has. I feel like he’s been crushing it as well. It’s not only just my car that’s running good, I feel like as a team we’re elevated and leaning on each other. We’ve got to keep working. The car we brought last week probably wouldn’t even be able to compete later in the year because of how fast the Cup Series grows. The cars are always getting faster and evolving and little stuff is happening, so it’s all in the details and we just have to keep working. You can’t just say, ‘OK, that car was fast, leave it together and we’ll run it in three months,’ because in three months the car probably won’t be competitive compared to the field. The field is always moving and getting faster and that’s where the smaller teams might struggle is just keeping up with the fast pace and the millions and millions of dollars that the big teams spend. It’s all in the details and we’re trying to refine those.”

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE IN-SEASON TOURNAMENT ANNOUNCED EARLIER THIS WEEK AND WHAT WOULD IT MEAN TO WIN THAT? “I feel like it’s definitely cool for maybe a smaller organization like us because I feel like we probably have a better chance than what we would in a regular season playoff. If we have a string of good races, it could be pretty big for us. I like it. I think it’s fun. Hopefully, it drives a little bit more attention and maybe makes it get a little more exciting for the middle of the season races that are just kind of trickling along. It’s definitely an improvement. I like to see the innovation the sport has taken recently and it should be fun.”

THERE ARE A LOT OF QUALITY DRIVERS AND TEAMS IN THE OPEN. WHAT WOULD IT MEAN TO GET THE FAN VOTE IF YOU DON’T RACE YOUR WAY IN? “Obviously, it would be cool. I looked at the Open yesterday and didn’t realize there are more cars in the Open this year than there are in the All-Star Race. It’s definitely a competitive field and a lot of big names. We just have to go out and bring our best performance. It’s definitely gonna be a little tricky this year with the repave and things like that and tire selection, but we’re just gonna have to keep working forward. I’m not trying to rely on the fan vote. I don’t think anyone is, but it would definitely be cool to win that.”

IF NASCAR GAVE THE IN-SEASON TOURNAMENT WINNER A PLAYOFF SPOT, HOW WOULD THAT IMPACT THINGS AND DO YOU THINK THAT WOULD GIVE A TEAM LIKE RWR A BETTER CHANCE TO MAKE THE PLAYOFFS OR WOULD IT JUST MAKE THE BIG TEAMS DO MORE DURING THOSE FIVE? “Both, probably. I think it’s a great idea. I don’t think NASCAR would probably pay much attention to the idea, but I don’t mind it. I feel like the more opportunities there are for a playoff spot, the better it is for the position I’m in right now. I don’t mind the idea. I feel like either way the five races are gonna be tough. There’s a lot of competition every week, but those five will kind of be capitalized similar to the Dash 4 Cash in Xfinity.”

Ford Performance PR