Surprise tops Justin Haley's list of expectations for Rick Ware Racing

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Justin Haley's first season with Rick Ware Racing begins with Sunday's Daytona 500 (2:30 p.m. ET on Fox). Haley has expectations for how the team will perform but those aren't exactly measurable with traditional statistics.

"I think the expectation is to just show up and be competitive and go from there," Haley said during Daytona 500 Media Day. "I think the Clash is a super small sample size, but I think we surprised ourselves.

"I think as long as we keep surprising ourselves and showing what we can do, then we will be ahead.”

NASCAR: Cup Qualifying
NASCAR: Cup Qualifying

Starting lineup for Daytona 500 qualifying races

Here is how the field will be aligned Thursday night at Daytona International Speedway.

Haley qualified 10th for the Busch Light Clash at the LA Memorial Coliseum on Feb. 3. He finished 21st due to an engine issue but passed multiple cars early in the 150-lap race while remaining competitive.

"When we went to LA and qualified 10th against teams that have gift shops bigger than our race shop, truthfully, I feel like that lit a fire underneath all of us that we could go be competitive," Haley said.

Being competitive on a consistent basis would mark a change. Rick Ware Racing, which first competed in Cup in 2012, has not been a team that runs inside the top 20 on a weekly basis while utilizing a rotating lineup of drivers.

Cody Ware's average finish was 27.8 in 2022 as he started 35 of the 36 Cup races. All of Rick Ware Racing's drivers have combined for eight top-10 finishes over 590 starts. These top-10 finishes were all in superspeedway races in the last four seasons.

The organization has put in effort to improve in recent seasons. Rick Ware Racing forged a technical alliance with RFK Racing, brought in Robby Benton as team president and added Tommy Baldwin Jr. as competition director. RWR moved its shop to the RFK Racing campus.

Signing Haley to a multi-year deal was the latest move made by RWR as it aimed for better performances. Haley provides a driver the organization can build around, one that can provide feedback based on 108 previous Cup starts with Spire Motorsports and Kaulig Racing.

"Having the position now to have Justin, obviously, in the car for multiple years as a full-time driver, as our anchor driver, is exactly what the team needed," Benton told media members ahead of the season.

"That's what you need to get people to circle around and you need to be able to grow and make plans."

Benton sees the benefits of having a consistent driver throughout the season. He says that having the same driver in the No. 51 week after week will keep the team from always having to go out first in qualifying. When a team changes drivers ahead of an event, that driver is among the first to make a qualifying run, due to the metrics used for setting the order.

While Haley's expectations for the team have surprise as one of the measurements, Benton has a different way to view success and failure this season.

Benton sees the alliance with RFK, the opportunities to work in the Ford simulator, the employees in the shop and a driver lineup featuring Haley for all 36 races and Kaz Grala for 25. Benton knows that RWR has the tools to succeed. The next step is delivering.

"I know what we're operating with and I have zero excuses of why we can't go and run in the top 20 every week," Benton said. "We are not lacking anything. We have all of the pieces to the puzzle that we need to go and compete week in and week out."