For much of the 2021 NASCAR season, Justin Haley has pulled “Double Duty” by competing full-time in the Xfinity Series for Kaulig Racing in addition to Cup Series events that his main division supports for Spire Motorsports. Those plans have been put aside for the upcoming weekend at Dover International Speedway as Haley has been sidelined by COVID-19 protocol. In his place, Zane Smith will drive the #11 for Kaulig in Saturday’s Xfinity race while Josh Berry makes his Cup début in Sunday’s event in Spire’s #77.
Haley, who made the Xfinity Championship Round in 2020, was sixth in points after nine races with six top-ten finishes and a best run of sixth at Homestead. He has also run ten of the first thirteen Cup races with his highest finish being twenty-fourth at the Daytona Road Course and Phoenix.
While he did not declare for Cup points, his runs in the series gives him seat time ahead of a potential full-time Cup move in the future and helps accumulate owner points for the Spire #77, which is currently thirtieth in that standings. His lone Cup victory to date came at Daytona in 2019.
“In accordance with NASCAR’s COVID-19 protocols, Justin Haley will not compete in this weekend’s NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Dover International Speedway,” read a Kaulig statement. “Kaulig Racing continues to fully adhere to NASCAR’s safety protocols, as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines, to ensure the safety of its employees and fellow competitors Zane Smith will drive the No. 11 LeafFilter Gutter Protection Chevrolet on Saturday.”
Smith last raced in the Xfinity Series in 2019 on a ten-race schedule for JR Motorsports, where he racked up seven top tens and a pair of top fives; two of the races came at Dover and he finished ninth in both. He joined GMS Racing in the Camping World Truck Series for 2020, during which he won twice, finished runner-up in the championship, and claimed Rookie of the Year and Most Popular Driver honours. After eight races in the 2021 Truck season, he sits ninth with four top tens.
Although Dover was removed from the Truck schedule this year, Smith won there in 2020 after leading the final thirty-three laps.
“Bummed for Justin & hoping for a quick return but Excited for this opportunity, can’t wait to be back in a Xfinity car at one of my favorite places,” tweeted Smith. “Last time we were there it went pretty good! Hope to represent @KauligRacing the best I can and give my miles the monster a friend!”
Berry has become a COVID-19 “super sub” of sort for Chevrolet teams. In March, he ran his first Truck race since 2016 when he drove for Young’s Motorsports at Atlanta in Kris Wright‘s stead after he tested positive.
The part-time Xfinity racer for JRM scored his first NASCAR national series victory when he won at Martinsville in April. He is also running Saturday’s Xfinity event, meaning he will be performing Double Duty of his own; it will be his first time racing at the one-mile oval at the national level.
“First off, I hope Justin is doing well and I can’t wait to compete with him in a few weeks at Charlotte in the Xfinity Series,” Berry commented. “I can’t thank Spire Motorsports enough for giving me the opportunity to compete in the NASCAR Cup Series for the first time. This is a great opportunity for me, and I am going to do my best to give the team a solid finish Sunday afternoon.”
“We’re excited to provide Josh Berry with the opportunity to make his NASCAR Cup Series début this weekend at Dover International Speedway,” Spire co-owner Jeff Dickerson stated. “It’s a little bittersweet because Justin Haley has to sit out this weekend, but at the same time, Josh has earned the opportunity to get a shot in the Cup Series. He’s a proven winner and raises the bar every time he gets in a race car. We know he’ll do a good job.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr., owner of JRM, added he could not be “more thrilled for Josh to get the call from Spire Motorsports to make his Cup racing début. It’ll be thrilling for Josh to experience Cup action and I’m confident he will do a great job for them. Big thanks to Spire for presenting Josh with such an awesome opportunity.”