Hailie Deegan overcame significant adversity during her first start at North Wilkesboro but showed tenacity to maintain her streak of eight consecutive top-20 finishes.
Hailie Deegan continued her progress in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series with a second straight 20th place finish, this time coming at North Wilkesboro.
It was the first time that any NASCAR sanctioned event had taken place at the North Carolina track since 1996, with the circuit providing a challenge for rookie and veteran drivers alike.
The ThorSport Racing driver battled back from being a lap down on multiple occasions to claim her eighth-straight top-20 finish, maintaining her 16th place position in the championship standings.
Unlike the majority of NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series events on the calendar, practice and qualifying took place on different days in order to give the drivers additional time to familiarise themselves with the track. This resulted in an extended 50 minute practice session on Friday afternoon with Hailie completing 28 laps with her fastest lap placing her in 18th. This was a strong effort considering a large 40-truck field, with five full-time NASCAR Cup Series drivers entered,including Ross Chastain and Christopher Bell, the top two drivers in the overall NASCAR Cup Series standings.
Qualifying took place on Saturday morning, just several hours prior to the green flag, with Deegan the 17th driver to take to the track. Due to the track being one mile or less in length, drivers were given two qualifying laps and Hailie took full advantage of this to set the 10th fastest time, less than one tenth of a second away from the second row of the grid. Looking ahead to the race, tyre wear was set to be a crucial factor with the North Wilkesboro surface having not been fully repaved since 1981.
Lining up from the fifth row of the grid, Deegan slipped back to 14th in the early stages before settling in just behind NASCAR Cup Series points leader Ross Chastain. Following a caution period on lap 24, Deegan chose not to pit which allowed her to restart inside the top-10.
Hailie made a strong restart before slipping behind the drivers who had taken new tyres, before being involved in the second caution of the day where she was tapped into a spin by the #04 truck of Johnny Sauter. This resulted in Deegan losing a lap and restarting in 31st. However, she was able to recover quickly and claimed the free pass at the end of the first stage to get back onto the lead lap.
Beginning the second stage in 30th, progress was initially difficult in a highly competitive NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series field, however Hailie’s long run pace proved to be her strength. Passing Sauter in the progress, Deegan re-entered the top-25 on lap 112 before once again falling a lap down. Despite this setback, her consistent pace allowed her to climb up to 21st before a caution flew prior to the end of stage two.
Due to her proximity on the track to the leaders, Hailie was able to take the wave-around and was again back on the lead lap. This was a smart strategy call by crew chief Rich Lushes and ensured Deegan could take fresh tyres at the end of the stage.
Deegan begun the final stage in 28th and was able to work her way into the top-20 following a series of caution periods. On lap 153, Hailie was involved in another on-track incident and following contact with Dean Thompson, she found herself a lap down for a third time in the race. With the damage to her truck not substantial, she raced hard to claimed the free pass on lap 194 following another caution period.
An action-packed final stage saw the caution flag flying twice more in the next 30 laps, with Lushes making the call for stay out with30 laps of the race remaining.
This meant Hailie restarted in sixth, with the majority of her competitors having pitted for new tyres, resulting to a similar late-race restart situation to that of Darlington one week prior. Deegan was unable to hold off her rivals with the tyre deficit and was hoping for a late-race caution in order to regain the positions lost.
With just six laps remaining, Hailie was running 24th and a caution allowed the ThorSport team to change tyres for a late race charge. Deegan was able to successfully gain a number of positions in the final two laps to finish 20th, maintaining her streak of eight consecutive top-20 finishes.
Hailie overcame significant adversity during her first start at North Wilkesboro and should be encouraged by the tenacity shown by both herself and the team in salvaging a solid result. Falling a lap down on three separate occasions, Deegan rebounded to finish on the lead lap and ensure she maintained her 16th position in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series standings.
Hailie now sits 54 points outside the cut-off line for the playoffs and will be looking forward to the next round of the championship which takes place at Charlotte Motor Speedway on the night of Friday 26th May.