Deegan's victory chances crushed by late contact in Kentucky
Hailie Deegan was crashed out in the closing laps of the General Tire 150 in Kentucky after another brilliant performance in the top positions.
After the season restart, the ARCA Menards series has not seen a week off. The third back-to-back went underway at Kentucky Speedway for the General Tire 150 - an event that was previously set to be run at the Charlotte Motor Speedway and was later rescheduled to a different venue due to the pandemic.
Series star Hailie Deegan entered this week's event coming from a strong streak of positive results: the 18-year old lady never finished outside the top-ten and was able to place herself second in the championship standings.
This was the first Deegan's career appearance at the Kentucky Speedway and only the second in a 1.5-mile track.
"Since I've never raced at Kentucky, I've been on the simulator practicing as much as I can without actually being on the track." - said the Californian.
"I've been racing dirt more, racing at Millbridge (N.C.) Speedway, I've been go-karting, pretty much just getting in the seat as much as I can. That's really been important to me since we have such limited practice at the tracks now. We have an hour on Saturday, but still it's not what we used to have. I'm still getting used to not having as many laps, which is what I need, I'm just trying to get practice anywhere I can."
The DGR-Crosley driver took the green flag from sixth and immediately had a great progression that allowed her to pass two competitors and move up to P4, while pole sitter Micheal Self maintained the lead followed by Ty Gibbs and Ryan Repko.
Another protagonist of the race start was Bret Holmes, who overtook Deegan on lap 4 and battled against Repko for P3.
The group of the first five drivers soon opened a small gap from the rest of the field.
Bret Holmes made the successful move on Repko on lap 6, while Deegan struggled to keep up the pace with the leading drivers before the race came to the first stop for a sudden problem suffered by the #69 car of Scott Melton.
The restart on lap 22 saw all the leading competitors holding on to their respective positions, but Micheal Self had soon to defend from Gibbs's charge, who overtook him two laps later and became the new race leader. From that moment, Self started to lose some rhythm and was passed also by Bret Holmes. The first caution certainly penalized Self, who had gained a good advantage on his rivals before.
On lap 27, Hailie Deegan made a decisive move on Repko and passed him for P4, just few laps prior to the first race break.
Cars returned to pit road with Gibbs as a leader, followed by Holmes in second, Micheal Self, Deegan, Repko and Sam Mayer rounding out the top six.
When the race went back to green, it was a an action-filled phase throughout the enitre field, with another prompt reaction from Deegan that initially took Self's third position, but subsequently switched back, with also Mayer taking advantge from the fight that dropped Deegan to P5.
From that moment, the race settled down until lap 56, when the top three bunched up again: Holmes, after losing P2 to Self, started to lose touch with the leading pair.
On lap 60, the battle for first heated up again, but the second pit stop caution interrupted the action.
But the action resumed in full force with Gibbs and Self going side by side, none of the drivers ready to give up position, which resulted in a contact that forced both off the line, creating chaos behind.
Both Gibbs and Self avoided further damages but their skirmishes allowed Sam Mayer, Bret Holmes and Hailie Deegan to conquer the top three places.
With 34 laps to go, it was total hunt for the victory.
Bret Holmes made the move on Mayer for the lead, while also Deegan moved past the #21 driver and engaged in a battle with him for second that went on for several laps, until the caution was again called when Thad Moffit hit the wall.
The final restart was ultimately a race-defining moment for the Deegan - and ultimately a very disappointing one.
Sam Mayer re-claimed the lead, a recovering Ty Gibbs passed Hailie Deegan who was suddenly put into the wall and out of the race by a contact caused by Drew Dollar.
A real shame for the 18-year old from Temecula, who was forced to retire when she was running third and with chances to battle for the victory.
An impressive Ty Gibbs went back into the lead and brought home another win, followed by Holmes in second and Self in third.
Sam Mayer, Drew Dollar, Ryan Repko, Derek Griffith, Ryan Huff and Jason Kitzmiller completed the top ten.
It was another strong round for Deegan until the unfortunate crash. The DGR-Crosley driver is now fourth in the championship standings, 24 points down championship leader Michael Self and only two points adrift Dollar and Holmes, both at -22 from the top.
"Not the ending we wanted at Kentucky Speedway. I especially hate it for my crew guys who already have so much work on their hands with us racing every weekend. Just gotta keep our heads up and work hard!"- said Hailie Deegan.
"There was a lot of close racing and some people just don't know how to race on bigger tracks I guess." - she added. "There were a lot of inexperienced drivers out there and we are all learning. I wasn't moving up, I was right there and just got hooked. It happens I guess, it's racing. Rookie mistakes happen and what goes around comes around."
"At the end of the day we had a fast Wastequip Ford. DGR-Crosley brought me a fast car and we were fast in practice. We had a good run going there and there were a lot of mistakes being made by other drivers which we were capitalizing on. We could have had a good points day and it sucks for it to end like that, but that's racing I guess."
The ARCA Menards will return on Saturday July 18 for the seventh round of season, at Iowa Speedway.