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  • Writer's pictureLIAM REDFORD

Hailie Deegan battles to top-20 finish at Darlington

At Darlington - one of the most challenging tracks on the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series schedule - Hailie Deegan secured her seventh straight top-20 result of the season and equalled her best result at the track.

Photo credits: Thorsport Racing

Hailie Deegan has continued her consistent start to the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series with a hard-fought 20th place finish at Darlington. This was Deegan’s seventh straight top-20 result of the season and equalled her best result at the track known for being ‘Too Tough To Tame’.

After qualifying 26th and falling a lap down in the opening stage, Hailie recovered well to secure the free pass at the end of stage two, before even leading several laps via pit strategy in the closing stages.

Arriving at Darlington, Deegan was looking to build upon a run of six straight top-20 finishes, including an excellent twelfth last weekend at Kansas Speedway. Darlington is one of the most challenging tracks on the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series schedule with different profiles to turns 1 & 2 and turns 3 & 4, meaning setup is always a compromise. In the only practice session of the weekend prior to qualifying, Hailie completed 20 laps and finished with the 28th fastest lap time.

Deegan was the 24th truck to take to the track in qualifying and set a lap time of 30.255 seconds, fourth tenths faster than her quickest time in practice. This time was good enough for the 26th place starting spot, however races at Darlington are always exciting with many opportunities to move through the field.

Lining up on the thirteenth row of the grid, Hailie fell back at the start and settled into 31st after the third lap of the race. Throughout the first stage, she enjoyed good battles Ryan Vargas and Lawless Alan, re-entering the top-30 by lap 15. Despite falling a lap down on lap 39, Deegan fought hard towards the end of an uncharacteristically caution-free first stage, ending stage one 29th, just two spots away from the free pass position.

After a good pit stop by the #13 ThorSport Racing crew, Hailie restarted stage two in 26th and occupied the free pass position as the race got back underway. Deegan made a good restart and continued to hold onto 26th in the opening laps of the stage, fending off the challenge from nearest competitor Alan.

As stage two progressed, Deegan’s lap times improved and she built up a gap to her nearest rival while hopeful of a caution to put herself back on the lead lap. Despite a second caution-free stage of the race, Hailie held onto the free pass position which put her back onto the lead lap for the final 50 laps of the race.

Restarting in the 24th position, Hailie made good progress to start the final stage and was challenging for a top-20 position as the first natural caution flew on lap 100 following a multi-truck incident. On lap 113, another caution period saw the majority of the field, including Hailie, pit for new tyres with the ThorSport Racing driver restarting 21st. When the third caution of the stage came out on lap 127, crew chief Rich Lushes made a bold call to stay out on old tyres with Deegan assuming the lead for the restart with 15 laps remaining.

With drivers behind her on new tyres, Deegan fell back outside the top-20 with nine laps to go, however a caution period in the closing stages would give her a chance to assume a tyre advantage over the field. Indeed, with just a few laps remaining the caution came out which led to an overtime finish and Deegan took the chance to fit new tyres.

Restarting 20th, two successive overtime cautions, the second of which coming out after the white flag was shown, meant the race finished under caution with Hailie in 20th. It was an unfortunate finish with Deegan poised to gain a number of positions had the race ended under green flag conditions.

Hailie should be encouraged by her performance and can feel unlucky not to achieve a better finish after the smart strategy call by crew chief Rich Lushes in the final stage. Nonetheless, Deegan still achieved her joint-highest result at Darlington and has made her best ever start to a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season.

This result means Hailie drops one position in the overall standings to 16th, now 48 points outside the cut-off line for the playoffs with seven races to go until the regular season is complete. The next event on the NASCAR Camping World Truck series takes place on Saturday 20th May at North Wilkesboro Speedway, with the series returning to the track after a 27 year hiatus.



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