Deegan keeps shining with another P3 at the Calypso Lemonade 200 event
NASCAR brightest star keeps shining: it was another top-three for DGR Crosley driver Hailie Deegan, who builds momentum after a highly-spectacular ARCA round at the Lucas Oil Raceway.
It was a long wait away from the racetracks, but now the fun is even bigger. The ARCA Menards Series was back for the third week in a row following the racing restart, and did it in spectacular fashion with the Lucas Oil Raceway round - the first running on a short track in this 2020 season.
Despite being a rookie in a full ARCA Menards season, Hailie Deegan immediately established herself as one of the top conteders for the championship and is now continuing a positive streak that allowed the young Californian to come into the latest round sitting third in the overall standings, thanks to an uninterrupted line of top ten finishes and the second place at Daytona, her best result so far.
The DGR Crosley driver entered the Indiana event with a rebuilt Ford Fusion from last year, painted in a special red and black livery and with the addition of CRAFTSMAN as its main sponsor.
This was Deegan's second appearance at the Lucas Oil Raceway, as she finished fifth last year on this short oval.
"Lucas Oil Raceway is fun" - said the 18-year old from Temecula, California.
"I feel like we haven't raced at a short track in a really long time. It will be nice to mix it up from holding it wide open a lot, having these long straightaways at Pocono, Talladega and even Daytona at the first race."
"I think this will get everybody back into the groove for short-track racing. That's what I've been used to coming up through stock car racing, so I think we'll have a good run there."
After a strong qualifying session where she took fourth - the best of her ARCA career so far - Hailie Deegan immediately gave a sample of what the race had in store for her.
2019 winner Chandler Smith took pole position, followed by Ty Gibbs and championship leader Michael Self.
Ty Gibbs, coming from a great Talladega victory, kept momentum and immediately brought himself up into the lead after a great reaction at the green flag, which placed him ahead of the entire pack.
Hailie Deegan held fourth position, as the rest of the field ran in the respective starting places. The inherent nature of the short track meant that front runners quickly met lapped competitors after a few laps.
The first interesting battle emerged on lap 16, when Sam Mayer tried to overtake Taylor Gray for P5, but after a competitive side-by-side action the 15-year old rookie defended his position.
Meanwhile, Hailie Deegan was running with a 3 seconds gap from Michael Self and with a comfortable 4-seconds advantage to the pursuers.
On lap 39, the spotlight was back on the leading conterders, with Chandler Smith able to reduce the gap to Gibbs and finally overtake him after an exciting fight that spared no contacts. Deegan further reduced her gap distance from Self.
Ty Gibbs made his counter-attack on lap 42 and the two front-runners again engaged in a laps-long and highly-spectacular side-by-side action, at the end of which Smith was able to maintain his leadership thanks to some great defensive skills.
Taylor Gray increased his pressure on Deegan on lap 57; the driver of the #4 Ford fought back, but dropped to fifth on lap 60 after Gray's decisive moves.
From this moment, Taylor Gray gained momentum and started an unstoppable charge: he moved past both Self and Ty Gibbs, placing himself in second.
Hailie Deegan closed in on Michael Self as well, but the first caution of the race halted the action for the pit stop break.
Self had a good restart and moved up to P2; Sam Mayer passed Deegan, who dropped to sixth, just as Taylor Gray lost out to Ty Gibbs.
A wild battle between Mayer and Gray followed, with the driver of the #17 spinning after a contact. With a masterful save, Gray held on and defended his position from Deegan as well, who was eager to get back in the mix of that hectic battle. Several laps - and scratches - later, positions remained unchanged.
One of the race turning points came on lap 89, when Ty Gibbs was forced to pit with an engine problem and was denied the chance to rejoin the field for the second half of the race, thus allowing Taylor Gray to move up to third, followed by Sam Mayer in forth and Hailie Deegan in fifth.
The situation settled and the race saw a stage of limited action. It was the calm before the storm. Taylor Gray started to put pressure on Michael Self, but the 15-year old's fury ended on lap 128, when he attempted an aggressive move on the Venturini driver and the two made significant contact. The yellow flag came out and, taking advantage from the action unfolding ahead, it was Hailie Deegan who moved up to third.
The DGR Crosley lady had a great restart and defended her P3 from some robust attacks, just before the second scheduled pit-stop break.
Self was author of a positive comeback and passed both Deegan and Mayer to advance to P2, just behind race leader Smith. But, a few laps later and with 37 to go, Mayer re-claimed the runner-up spot with an inside-line move on Self - now in Deegan's sight.
In the final stages in fact, it was the Hailie Deegan show, proving once again of what she's capable of: after several heart-stopping laps of close yet clean battle between the two top championship contenders, Deegan made a remarkable move stick with 22 laps to go.
Self returned to the pits when a tire cut compromised his race and resulted in a precious loss of championship points.
Sam Mayer tried to break Chandler Smith's domination in the last 10 laps, as he caught up and got close to a potential move for the win, but Smith defended and finished the race on top after leading 159 out of the 200 laps of the Calypso Lemonade 200 event.
Hailie Deegan took home her second best ARCA Menards Series result and is now second in the championship standings, 11 points behind Michael Self.
"We struggled with the balance a little throughout the night." - she explained. "I was tight center and snapping loose on exit. My DGR-Crosley guys made adjustments during each pit stop and by the end of the race it felt pretty good. It was nice to get back into the top five and I have to thank CRAFTSMAN for coming on board with me tonight. It was fun to be back at a short track after all the big tracks we've race at so far this year."
"Finished P3 and had a good points day at Lucas Oil Speedway!" - added Deegan on her social media profiles. "Can't thanks the guys at CRAFTSMAN enough for this badass looking car. Time to work on getting ready for the next one at Kentucky Speedway."
The ARCA Menards series will be back on track on July 11 for the General Tire 150 event at Kentucky Speedway.
In Hailie's words:
"It was fun to be back at a short track after all the big tracks we've race at so far this year."