Hailie Deegan completes chaotic Darlington Truck Series race in P20
In an action packed and unpredictable race at Darlington, Hailie Deegan still brought home a Top-20 after another positive run in the Truck Series, one week after her personal best result to date.
Coming from her best result of the season so far in the series in last weekend's Kansas event, young NASCAR star Hailie Deegan made her debut at Darlington Raceway - one of the most iconic places in NASCAR - and entered the eighth round of the 2021 Camping World Truck Series.
The DGR driver had been making constant progress from the start of her full-time season, despite the lack of track time that the no-practice and no-qualifying format ultimately brings. At Kansas Speedway, had a clean race one week ago and clinched a 13th position after a solid run in the Top 10 for most of the day - only missed out due to several late cautions that brought the race to overtime.
"Darlington is so unique in that it doesn't drive like any of the other tracks we go to. Hailie had a strong run at Kansas, but how you drive at Kansas doesn't apply at Darlington" - said Mike Hillman Jr, deegan's crew chief at David Gilliland Racing.
"Anytime a rookie goes to Darlington, if you can leave there with a clean truck and a top-15 finish you've had a good day" - he added.
The Ford crew celebrated the historical Ford GT's 1966 Daytona 24 Hour Continental victory with a special orange-white livery on Deegan's #1 Truck at Darlington.
When the race finally did get underway on Friday night, it was soon one of the most chaotic rounds since the start of the season, with several cautions that interrupted the action throughout the night.
Championship leader John Hunter Nemechek started at the top of the leaderboard but, during the opening stage, he found in Austin Hill and Ben Rhodes two very strong competitors, with whom he would swap the top positions on several occasions. But the driver that mostly took advantage from the Stage 1 cautions was Todd Gilliland, who finally brought home the extra point by winning the first race segment.
The lady from Temecula, California, took the start from the tenth place but found herself sitting in 17th position after the first caution. She then fought in the mid-pack and finished Stage 1 in P21. Reporting some issues on her F-150 into Turn 3 and 4 , Deegan made use of the pit stop break for adjustments and started the second stage from P22.
Kyle Busch Motorsports' drivers Nemechek and Corey Heim re-claimed the top spots with a dominant Stage 2, which saw the championship leader winning with no major pressure from the rest of the field. But that was only the calm before the storm: in a clean run that saw the only caution being called out with 10 laps to go, Deegan pitted when in 19th position and got ready for the final sprint.
As anticipated, Stage 3 was rather eventful and full of unexpected twists, that would overturn the result seen up until that moment.
With 30 laps to go, the KBM's duo were pushed from behind, causing a big crash that involved 17 out of the 33 cars in the field. Among the drivers that could do nothing to avoid the accident were some of the top names in the series like Austin Hill, Tyler Ankrum, Chandler Smith, Grant Enfinger, Matt Crafton and Hailie Deegan.
That was a very unfortunate turn of events for the rookie driver of the #1 truck, who had been running in 23rd and after briefly reaching the positions around the top-10.
Nevertheless, the DGR crew managed to complete repairs on the Ford F-150 and sent Deegan back out on track.
After the long stop, it was Rhodes to rejoin the action from the lead - after an overall difficult night until that moment, where he was forced to a recovery from a double flat tire and a penalty during the pit stop.
Behind him, reigning Truck Series champion Sheldon Creed could remain right behind Rhodes' truck and was back in contention for the victory himself, following two more cautions in the final laps.
Creed took the lead after the 10th caution of the night on lap 140 but, after an intense side-by-side battle with Rhodes, a spin by Danny Bohn halted again the action. Up until that moment, Deegan was on again on a charge and made it up to P14 - with full potential to reach a spot in the top ten.
Creed once again had the best restart, while Rhodes was unable to keep up with the rival's pace and dropped out of contention for the victory, which ultimately went to the reigning Truck Series champion following a yellow flag finish: the #01 Ford Truck of Deegan had in fact a contact with another competitor.
Despite the final collision, Hailie Deegan took the chequered flag in P20 - in a round that could have potentially allowed her to top her personal best in the series without a series of events out of her control.
"Tough race last night at Darlington" - she wrote. "Thought we were gonna knock off another top 15. Probably one of the hardest tracks I’ve raced at this year, but we had really good speed towards the end of the race. Just need a little more luck on our side."
In two weeks time, the young rookie will be back behind the wheel of her #1 Ford truck for the ninth round of the Camping World Truck Series, contested at COTA, Austin.