In a thrilling penultime round of the season - which finished at overtime - Hailie Deegan scored a second place that means her best result of her rookie ARCA Menards full campaign.
The ARCA Menards 2020 season is getting closer to its season finale: with one round still on the calendar after last night's Illinois Truck & Equipment Allen Crowe 100 at Springfield, the series will head to Kansas Speedway to round out its pandemic-affected schedule.
The Springfield Mile was the only dirt track on this year's ARCA schedule and this marked the first ever appearance at the Illinois State circuit for young DGR Crosley star Hailie Deegan, despite her background in dirt racing and on these kind of circuits.
So far, Deegan could reach three top five and 15 top ten finishes out of the 18 rounds - in what has been a very positive rookie full ARCA Menards season that currently sees her third in the championship standings.
"I'm not sure how much of my dirt experience will apply on Sunday because the track is so flat you won't be able to run the cushion, you won't be looking for grip, they don't prep the track by watering it, or tearing it up." - she explained before the event.
"It's going to turn into a really slick pavement track, most likely based on what I've seen. I think it will be a lot of fun, but it will definitely be different from my dirt background."
Local driver Ryan Unzicker conquered pole position with Ty Gibbs completing the first row, while Hailie Deegan started from fifth.
The action was wild straight from the green flag, with a close battle for second between Gibbs and Bret Holmes in Turn two that continued throughout the following corner, where Ty Gibbs had a contact that had him spun around - also involving several other cars behind him. The incident would influence the rest of the young driver's race and called out the first of many cautions of the night.
At the race restart, Unzicker retained the lead ahead of Holmes. But the action was again halted on lap 10 for an accident involving Tim Richmond.
In similar fashion, at the restart local boy Unzicker held the lead, while the fight was on for the mid-field positions until the caution was out again on lap 18, caused by Heim.
Kelly Kovski won the battle for second against Holmes at the restart, but when Will Kimmel spun few laps later, the race was freezed again.
A very competitive Kovski was the protagonist of the following restart, as he tried the move for the lead on Unzicker but had to back off, while Holmes tried to take advantage from their duel to close in.
Lap 36 marked the first Race break of the night, with Deegan running in fourth and able to stay away from the many caution-triggering incidents.
Ryan Unzicker continued to lead the pack when the action restarted, before a caution was out on lap 51 for a spin by Micheal Self.
Deegan continued to run in fourth thanks to a clean race, while championship leader Bret Holmes rejoined the front-runners and advanced to second place as he moved up on Kelly Kovski before the race was stopped for the second break and a caution was out for Taylor Gray's accident with 38 laps to go.
At that point, the race leader remained on top, while Deegan lost some positions and dropped to sixth - only to move back up to fifth a few laps later.
Second-placed Corey Heim closed the gap to Ryan Unzicker with six lap to go, but another caution was brought out by Kelly Kovski. However, the thrilling Springfield night was far from over.
Bret Holmes, Corey Heim and Micheal Self were involved in a three-way contact into Turn one, which saw the race being red flagged and, successively, meant overtime action at Springfield.
In the midst of the chaotic action, Hailie Deegan took advantage of the contacts and moved up to second - with a real chance to battle for victory at the extra time.
The Californian lady tried the move to secure her first ARCA Menards win, but race dominator Unzicker defended and crossed the finish line as the 2020 Illinois Truck e Equipment Allen Crowe 100 winner. Deegan finished second and scored her best ever ARCA Menards result so far, with only the season finale round left.
"That was a pretty wild race." - said the 19-year old racer. "We had a good Monster Energy Ford Fusion and I had a lot of fun out there today. I think we did a good job of staying out of trouble and being in the right place at the right time to capitalize on other people's bad luck. I thought maybe I had something for Ryan on that last restart, but he was really fast all day."
"All in all, it was a good day and we'll get ready for the season finale at Kansas in two weeks." - added Deegan.
With a third place finish, Bret Holmes extended to seven points his gap to Michael Self in the championship standings, as the season finale will see the green flag on Friday 16th at Kansas Speedway.