LONG POND, Pa. — Justin Haley will be driving for Rick Ware Racing in 2024, a move away from Kaulig Racing, where’s spent the majority of his NASCAR career.
The decisions behind Haley’s departure were made mutually by Haley and Kaulig leadership, Haley and team president Chris Rice said Saturday at Pocono Raceway. Ultimately, sponsorship was the overriding factor that led Haley away from the No. 31 Chevrolet at year’s end and into one of RWR’s two Ford as a full-time competitor beginning in 2024.
“Everyone was working on getting a deal done,” Haley said of Kaulig Racing. “None of us gave up on each other and we won’t the rest of the year. It’s just where the sport’s at. You know, I think that it’ll probably work out for the better for them to have a driver with a little bit more backing behind them and help them out in that way. And I think Rick took an opportunity on me and I took an opportunity on him.
“And honestly, it’ll probably work out for the best. But I’m excited to stay with Kaulig for the rest of the season and finish it off. I mean, there’s absolutely no bad blood. You know, it’s just not like I left on bad terms or they fired me or anything. I mean, it’s just business.”
Haley, 24, has won four races with Kaulig Racing, all in the Xfinity Series and all at superspeedways — two each at Daytona and Talladega. His lone Cup triumph came in a rain-shortened race at Daytona in 2019 while driving for Spire Motorsports.
Entering Sunday’s HighPoint.com 400 at Pocono (2:30 p.m. ET, USA Network, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, NBC Sports App), Haley sits 21st in points, 46 points beneath the elimination line to qualify for the 16-driver playoff grid with six races remaining in the regular season. Full-time in Cup for just the second year, Haley has totaled four top fives and nine top 10s in his past 56 starts dating back to the start of the 2022 season.
“We love Justin. Justin has done a really good job for us, won a lot of races for us, and we’re gonna miss him for sure,” Rice said. “But he’s still a part of the Kaulig family. We look at Ross Chastain in the same way. We feel like he’s still part of the family. So happy for Justin to continue his tenure in Cup racing. And you never know what, down the road, he might be back with us.
“We’ve had (sponsor) Leaf Filter Gutter Protection for so long, and they’ve done a lot of races and been a big supporter of Justin Haley’s and still are. So yeah, the door wasn’t closed. It wasn’t like, hey, anybody got fired or anything like that. It was just we both had to make a tough decision, Hey, we’ve gotta move a different direction and looking at things for partners in different avenues. So yeah, I think him making his move was because of us telling him that.”
Haley emphasized his relationships with Rice and team owner Matt Kaulig are still well intact. And while he’s moving on from a team he’s plenty familiar with, a new opportunity has the Indiana native ready for a fresh start at a Rick Ware Racing team in the midst of its own revamp.
“Obviously, he’s a businessman and he’s making business decisions,” Haley said of Kaulig. “And I think we were close to doing a deal. I feel like it was a probable option. I feel like I had a few deals. And Rick just kept coming and calling and just gave me a really good deal. And I believe in what they’ve been able to do, especially with the RFK (Racing) alliance.”
Indeed, RWR moved not just onto RFK Racing’s campus for the 2023 season but into its shop. RFK co-owner and driver Brad Keselowski and team president Steve Newmark were present during Haley’s conversations with RWR as well.
“Brad Keselowski and Steve over at RFK were very helpful in my decision process. They were convincing as well,” Haley said. “So I think with our alliance with RFK, Rick Ware … I think maybe on the surface, it might look like an odd move. But there’s a lot more depth to it than you might think.”
Rick Ware Racing has long paid its dues as an underfunded team with an array of drivers behind the wheel, looking to gain experience as a team with its two chartered entries. Team president Robby Benton brought in former car owner and Daytona 500 winning crew chief Tommy Baldwin Jr. earlier this year as the team’s competition director, and the results seem to be paying off. JJ Yeley scored a seventh-place finish two weeks ago at Atlanta Motor Speedway, and Cole Custer was battling inside the top 20 last week at New Hampshire Motor Speedway — marked improvements after years of struggling to break into the top 30.
“I don’t wanna speak (for) Rick, but I think he wants to kind of change the narrative of where he is at on the NASCAR side of things,” Haley said. “And signing a driver like me full-time I think is going to be great for the organization. Obviously, he mentioned that I take care of race cars to the best of my ability and don’t cause a lot of on-track collisions, and that’s big for smaller team. … I just think I think it’s a good fit over there.”