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Natalie Decker claims personal best in Xfinity Series, leads laps in Daytona

At her return behind the wheel, Natalie Decker’s 18th place finish at Daytona marked a career-best in the Xfinity Series - in a race that saw the driver of the #36 Amped Fitness DGM Racing Chevrolet becoming the first woman to lead laps in the series in 11 years.

Natalie Decker, #36 Amped Fitness DGM Racing Chevrolet
Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Natalie Decker made a successful return to NASCAR Xfinity Series with a great run at the Daytona season opener, where the driver of the #36 Amped Fitness DGM Racing Chevrolet claimed a top-20 finish after a solid, clean race that saw the 26-year-old leading seven laps and scoring her career best finish in the series.

Coming off two challenging seasons where she only managed to get a handful of starts in both the Truck and Xfinity Series due to limited funding, Natalie Decker was finally back behind the wheel last weekend at Daytona, as the new NASCAR season was off to a highly encouraging start for the Wisconsin-native.

Decker joined DGM Racing having last attempted to qualify at Homestead-Miami at last year's Contender Boats 300 in a SS-Green Light Racing entry. Now at the helm of the #36 Amped Fitness Chevrolet with no owner points, she would need to qualify in the top-33 to secure a spot in the race. Decker rolled off for her single-car qualifying lap and clocked a 50.418 which put her in provisional P9 after her run.

With 24 drivers left, the ninth place was mathematically enough to secure the grid slot and, at the end of the session, she sat comfortably in P31. After technical inspection, a disqualification moved her up to P30 on the starting grid of the United Rentals 300.

“We had a great qualifying lap, and know there’s more speed to be found in my No. 36 Amped Fitness DGM Racing Chevrolet!” Decker commented after getting locked in the grid. “Shoutout to Amped Fitness and Wawa for keeping me fueled and motivated all weekend! Excited to see what we can do when the checkered flag drops!”

Just a couple of spots ahead, Hailie Deegan - at her first race as a full-season entry in Xfinity - was 28th on the grid, which resulted in the first NASCAR Xfinity Series race with two women competing since 2014.

While the race was set to get underway later in the afternoon, the rain disrupted the schedule and was eventually postponed to Monday after the Truck race.

Decker had a good start and moved up to P27, held the high line and kept position. On lap 22, the first of nine cautions neutralized the race after a contact took Weatherman, Deegan and Mayer out of contention. Decker navigated the chaos and was up to P22 as she pitted under caution for new tires and fuel.

Unfortunately, an air gun issue forced the driver of the #36 machine to return to pit road again to ensure the tires were properly fitted and, as the race went back to green for the final lap of the first stage, she opted for a safe restart and crossed the line in P34 at the end of stage 1.

Natalie kept her nose clean and masterfully avoided a second accident on lap 36, which saw seven cars involved. As the dust settled, she had managed to move up to 13th place, then fell down to 27th at the following restart and she continued to stick to her strategy without getting involved in the chaos; a contact just ahead of her on lap 44 resulted in yet another yellow - and Decker pitted to check for damage potentially caused by debris.

Luckily her Chevrolet was intact and she pitted for fuel and fresh tires, before the race resumed with 12 laps to go in the second stage. After a disrupted restart, Natalie took a cautious approach and dropped to 26th at the end of the stage. The team was then handed a penalty for a pit stop infringement that cost her a few spots and sent her to the back at the next restart.

By stretching the fuel strategy, Decker made her way up through the field and, on lap 81, she took the lead of the race in between green flag pit stops; she held on to the top spot for seven laps - her first in Xfinity and the first for a female driver since Danica Patrick in 2013.

As Natalie then ran in the top three, the plan would be to stay out and wait for a caution to pit for the final time - and the caution did come on lap 96.

The strategy had paid off and Decker pitted under caution - but unfortunately a second penalty for driving through too many pit boxes sent her to the back once again at the restart.

An accident at the restart involved multiple cars and Decker's #36 machine also caught some damage. She would return to pit road for some tape on the nose but could take the restart in 24th place, with only 11 laps to go.

The ninth and final caution was deployed only two laps later - but Natalie was quick to check up and avoided the carnage. Having made her way up to 18th, she held on to the top-20 in the final laps and brought home a highly positive result as the chequered flag fell, claiming her personal best finish in NASCAR Xfinity Series - at only her 11th start.

Her P18 was also her first top-20 since the BrakeBest Brake Pads 159 in 2020 in the NASCAR Truck Series. In the same year, she had made NASCAR history by becoming the highest-finishing female driver in Truck Series history with a top-five at the season opener in Daytona.

While Decker won't be on the starting grid at Atlanta Motor Speedway for the second round of the season, her 2024 is certainly off to a positive start and she proved that with competitive equipment she's capable of running towards the front of the pack.

While her next racing commitments haven't been released yet, hopefully Decker will be able to return behind the wheel of a part time programme in Xfinity Series.



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