WINIMAC, Ind. — Audio and story by Managing Editor Jacob Seelman for Speed77 Radio and Race Chaser Online — Venturini Motorsports photo —
JJ Haley has had to keep the faith in 2014, through the ups and downs of wins, rough rides and multiple opportunities behind the wheel — and the optimism held by the young Indiana driver has paid off in a big way for his future.
Haley announced on Thursday that he will be running the full 2015 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East season, driving a Chevrolet out of the HScott Motorsports with Justin Marks stable and contending for Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors, as well as the season-long championship.
“I’m super pumped about it,” Haley said of the chance to take a step up the ladder. “I’ve been waiting a long time for an opportunity like this. I ran the last race of the season at Phoenix International Raceway with them and we had some issues, but we worked together really well as a team and I’m super excited to work with all the HScott guys in 2015.”
Haley ran six races in the ARCA Racing Series for Venturini Motorsports in 2014, scoring the Menards Pole Award in just his second-career ARCA start at the Elko Speedway in June and finishing a career-best third during the race. In all, Haley scored four top-eight finishes in six starts driving for the veteran ARCA team, including two eighth-place efforts in his final two starts of the year at Berlin Raceway and Salem Speedway.
The 15-year-old cites his team’s help all season long as a big boost in his learning curve ahead of the 2015 season.
“Truthfully, the original plan going into the 2014 season was to run a full JEGS/CRA All-Star Tour season and run for the points title there, but when the opportunity with the Venturinis came up, I took that chance to run six races with them and my learning went to a whole different level,” Haley said. “I’ve learned a ton all year long driving the cars, being around all the veterans and working with such a great group of guys. They were awesome in helping me all year and I can’t thank everyone enough for making this year what it was.”
Haley also ran four races between both NASCAR’s K&N Pro Series East (three) and West (one), struggling with mechanical failures at Columbus (OH) Motor Speedway and Phoenix International Raceway but still proving he had speed underneath him after notching a gritty seventh place finish in the East season finale at Dover in September.
“The first three races we did, we borrowed a car and it was with my own crew; Phoenix was with Turner Scott Motorsports and things started clicking. I think we started to find something good and yeah, we had some issues that were out of our control, but hopefully that was just God’s way of telling us we’re getting all of the bad stuff out of the way now so we can go and have better runs this coming year.”
Haley recognizes that the learning curve will be steep for him as he attempts to follow in the footsteps of past Harry Scott-led drivers such as Dylan Kwasniewski and Ben Rhodes (who won the NKNPSE championship in 2013 and 2014, respectively), but says he is up to the challenge and ready to tackle a new on-track adventure for the upcoming season.
“You know, there’s always going to be expectations,” Haley admitted. “With this being my first full year in K&N, you can expect some results but we know it’s going to take me learning some as well. We know some things are going to be out of our control but I think going for the championship is a good goal for me, honestly, knowing the team I’ve got behind me and the resources.”
“I think learning the tracks that I haven’t been to is going to be my biggest battle but you know, that just comes with age and seat time. You know, I got a lot of seat time this year but not necessarily at the tracks I’m going to be racing at next year.”
At the end of the day, the short track racer is just happy to have made the leap and happy he can finally be running for a points title — and hopes he can convert that energy into performance when the season rolls around in February at New Smyrna Speedway.
“I’m excited about what’s coming, but you know — the whole six or seven years I’ve been running, I really haven’t been able to sit down and run for a championship. I think that’s what I’m most ready for; I won a few championships in quarter midgets but nothing like what we’ll be doing next year.”
“I’m just so pumped and excited. I can’t wait for February to get here so we can head down to Florida and get started.”
For more information on HScott Motorsports with Justin Marks, visit www.hscottmotorsports.com.
To listen in to our complete interview with J.J. Haley about his new deal with Harry Scott and Justin Marks for 2015, click play and listen below: