After the opening stretch of the 2021 NASCAR season had featured very few COVID-19 related absences, the protocols still in place for competitors will keep one of stock car racing's rising young stars and an Xfinity Series championship contender from competing this weekend.
On Friday, Kaulig Racing announced that Justin Haley, driver of the No. 11 Chevrolet in the Xfinity Series, will not compete at Dover International Speedway "in accordance with NASCAR's COVID-19 protocols." Zane Smith, a regular in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, will serve as substitute driver for Haley.
In addition to his absence from the Xfinity Series race, Haley was also entered as the driver of the No. 77 Chevrolet for Spire Motorsports in Sunday's NASCAR Cup Series race. Spire Motorsports announced that Haley will be replaced by Josh Berry, who will make his Cup Series debut.
This is only the second time this season that a driver in any of NASCAR's three national touring series has had to miss a race due to COVID-19 protocols. NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver Kris Wright had previously had to miss a race at Atlanta Motor Speedway due to a positive COVID-19 test, where Josh Berry drove his truck in his place.
After winning three races last season and finishing third in the final standings, Haley enters the weekend sixth in the Xfinity Series points standings with six Top 10 finishes through the first nine races. Haley's best finish this season has been a sixth at Homestead, and he is coming off a 14th place run at Darlington.
In the Cup Series, Haley has run 10 of 12 races so far with a best finish of 24th on two occasions.
Both Kaulig Racing and Spire Motorsports have chosen capable substitute drivers for Haley. Zane Smith finished second in the Truck Series standings last season, and he also had a ninth-place finish at the track driving an Xfinity car for JR Motorsports in 2019. Meanwhile, Berry has been running a partial Xfinity schedule for JR Motorsports after establishing himself as a top short track driver, and he scored his first career victory at Martinsville Speedway in April.