Abbate makes NASCAR Truck debut, as Deegan continues her progress in the series
In a very wet Circuit of the Americas, NASCAR Truck series rookie Hailie Deegan conquered another Top-15 finish – her second of the season – while Michele Abbate qualified for her first ever race in the series and impressed with a very positive weekend.
The world-renowned Circuit of the Americas hosted a historical NASCAR round – the first event for the most popular stock car championship at the home of the US Grand Prix.
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series also followed the other two main categories, and the race was marked by other two major talking points: qualifying and weather conditions.
For the first time since Daytona, the race was preceded by qualifying, as 43 trucks attempted to make it into the grid. Only 36 would indeed take the start on Saturday.
Among the drivers, series rookie Hailie Deegan – entering her ninth race event this season, Jennifer Jo-Cobb and newcomer Michele Abbate, who tried to qualify for her first race in the series.
"With NASCAR's announcement of adding COTA to their schedule, I immediately hit the ground running doing everything I could to make my debut" - said Michele, who scored a second place finish in the 2020 Trans-Am West Coast Championship.
That achievement gained Abbate a place in the history books as the first woman to ever clinch a Trans-Am TA2 class podium and was second in the Trans Am West Coast Championship standings.
Abbate – currently competing in the 2021 Trans Am West Coast Series championship – got behind the wheel of the #30 Scosche Toyota Tundra for On point Motorsports and attempted to qualify for what would be an important step in her career so far.
Deegan returned in the driving seat of the #01 Ford-150 by David Gilliland Racing. The Californian 19-year old was coming from a solid performance two weeks ago at Darlington, were she ran in the top-10 for most of the competition before finishing in P20 due several cautions in the final phases of action.
For the first time since the Bristol event in March, the COTA round finally also included a practice session. Deegan qualified 28th for Saturday's race and Abbate had a great run in qualifying and made the cut with an impressive 25th place. Unfortunately, Jennifer Jo Cobb was unable to qualify, thus missing a Truck race for the first time this year.
Our Motorsports' driver Kraz Grala quickly showed his potential on road courses. Grala led most of the first part of the race but, in the final minutes of the first stage, he was overtaken by Todd Gilliland – the latter clinching the top spot.
The Front Row Motorsports' Gilliland was successively forced to restart from the back of the pack due to a penalty for a pit stop infringement when crew members were too quickly over the wall. For the same offence, Hailie Deegan was also handed the same penalty, after the young lady had a good run in Stage 1 and was able to recover up to 21st position.
Taking advantage from Gilliland's troubles, it was Sheldon Creed to take the lead and extend the gap from the rest of the field before coming in for an early pit stop.
Among the drivers opting for a different pit strategy was also Deegan: she had been running P20 after another solid comeback through the grid, before finishing the stage in 25th position after the pit stop. But, thanks to that decision, she would not pit during the break and restarted the final stage from 15th.
Ben Rhodes – who had not pitted earlier – conquered the second stage win, but Creed soon reclaimed the top of the leaderboard at the restart.
Always fighting for the front-running positions, Tyler Ankrum took a shot in the final stage and moved into the lead after a great battle with his teammate. Nevertheless, he would then give up his position to Todd Gilliland, whose strong pace secured him the first place in the final five laps and became the first winner of the COTA event.
A solid run for Kaz Grala gained him second at the chequered flag, followed by Tyler Ankrum, while John Hunter Nemechek had a difficult weekend and was only 12th at the finish line.
Hailie Deegan slipped back some positions in the final stage due the difficult wet conditions but charged back in the final laps and was ultimately 14th at the finish line, clinching another positive result in her rookie season.
Michele Abbate continued to impress and, with a stunning race, she was at one point in P17. A contact with the #51 of Parker Chase dropped her back, but she still could complete her first NASCAR Truck race in 29th place in very difficult conditions.
"It went perfectly for me." – she told us after the race. "I had never driven a truck until Friday practice and it was such an awesome experience to race in the rain."
"I'm very grateful for the opportunity and I hope to do more in the future."- continued Abbate.
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series will head to Charlotte for this weekend's North Carolina Education Lottery 200, round 10 of the season. Both Deegan and Jennifer Jo Cobb are scheduled to run at Charlotte Motor Speedway.