First top-20 of the season for Hailie Deegan on the dirt of Bristol
Hailie Deegan clinched her first Top 20 finish of the season in a difficult NASCAR Truck round on the Bristol dirt, as the whole field battled the challenging track conditions.
The NASCAR Camping World Truck was initially scheduled to run its fifth round of the season in support of the historic first race on dirt in over 50 years for the Cup Series on Saturday, but the green flag could finally wave only a couple of days after the original date due to the adverse weather conditions that disrupted the action at Bristol Raceway.
In a huge field of 44 contenders - among them also some drivers coming by the higher NASCAR divisions - Hailie Deegan headed to Bristol for her fourth start of her career at the track - her third appearance on a dirt track at the wheel of a stock car.
And it was in one of those, that the young upcoming NASCAR star had clinched a victory, as she raced in the K&N Pro Series West at the Las Vegas venue in May 2019.
"The Las Vegas dirt track and the Bristol dirt track will be two totally different feelings." - commented Deegan before the event.
"Vegas dirt feels and looks completely different because it gets so dry there. There's a very noticeable difference in the colors of the dirt - Vegas dirt is a lot lighter. When you get to tracks where they bring the dirt in, it's more like clay and holds the moisture so much better.” - continued the lady from California.
The DGR driver was coming from a tricky start of the season, where she has been struggling with the #01 Ford - 150 Truck in most of the first four rounds due to the lack of practice and running time with the no-qualifying format.
In the previous race, Hailie Deegan recovered seven positions from her starting place and took the chequered flag at Atlanta in P21.
John Hunter Nemechek - the current championship leader - started from pole position but a remarkable reaction at the green flag from both Austin Hill and Matt Crafton immediately brought the attention to a fierce battle for the lead. Meanwhile, also Stewart Friesen and Sheldon Creed had reached the leading group, with Creed advancing into the top position at the end of lap 2.
After a spin on lap 14, Tanner Gray caused the first caution of the day; at the restart, the frontrunners remained on top, but were joined by an impressive Martin Truex Jr - on a charge as he recovered from fifteenth on the grid.
There was barely time to resume the racing action before another caution neutralized the race again, when Carson Hocevar came to a halt on track.
Creed retained the top of the classify at the restart, but an incident between Self and Smith at Turn 3 again interrupted the competition - also involving the innocent Ankrum.
The results of the first stage was assigned after a one-lap shootout: Truex Jr, having dropped to second during the previous restart, won a side-by-side battle against Creed and took home the Stage 1 victory.
Hailie Deegan was able to fight in the mid-pack during the restarts and completed Stage 1 in a positive sixteenth place having started from P22. She kept moving up the order despite some balance difficulties on her truck in the opening laps.
Nemechek and Friesen elected not to pit at the stop and restarted from the top two positions in Stage 2. They continued the race with the initial set of tires, but a few moments later, Truex Jr took advantage of that strategy and re-claimed the lead.
Crafton tried to attack Nemechek - but the two drivers collided. Despite neither of them suffering major damage to their trucks in the contact, the incoming Derek Kraus badly hit Nemechek 's #04 vehicle, causing a long caution period. A red flag followed when the safety crew vehicle hit the #04 due to the presence of oil on track that had made everything more dangerous.
The second stage continued with more hectic action: from the chaos, it was again Truex Jr to emerge, as the NASCAR Cup driver also won Stage 2 ahead of the recovering Rhodes, who was able to make a couple of passes on the leader but couldn't ultimately hold on for more than two laps.
Hill, Briscoe and Creed followed, while Hailie Deegan was again protagonist of a convincing drive in the top-16 and finished the second stage in P14.
Chase Purdy did not pit and restarted from top of the order - but he soon saw Rhodes overtaking him for P1. It was a short moment of glory for the latter, as he also was passed again by Truex.
A big crash a few laps later halted again the race with a red flag: Marlar, Larson, Bohn e Moffit were all involved in the incident.
Truex retained the lead at the restart, while Deegan continued in the Top 16 before Smith and Sauter forcing the whole pack to slow down for another yellow flag.
Andrew Gordon hit the pit entry with 18 laps to go and caused the third red flag of the day.
Deegan lamented the very dry track in the closing laps - an issue that relegated her to a final P19, while Truex completed his dominant performance by taking victory ahead to Rodhes.
An unlucky Jessica Friesen saw her weekend coming to an end even before the race started, as she was unfortunately one of the three non qualified drivers to make the grid. Out of the 44 entries, in fact, only 40 cars qualified - denying Jessica and Stewart Friesen to be the first ever married couple to enter the same NASCAR race. She will attempt to qualify in another Truck race event later this year at Knoxville Raceway.
Series regular Jennifer Jo-Cobb didn't make it across the finish line after being tagged into a spin in the chaotic second stage.
The next NASCAR Camping World Truck round will see the teams heading to Richmond on April 17th, where Hailie Deegan will surely target more progress after her first top-20 of the season in Bristol.