Superb performance for Hailie Deegan at I-44 Speedway
By leading for the vast majority of the race, Hailie Deegan was the absolute protagonist of the Lebanon ARCA Menards round before an unlucky spin in the final lap.
ARCA Menards returned to action for the 14th round of the 2020 season, as the Zinsser SmartCoat 200 event went underway at I-44 Speedway - which marked Deegan's debut at the short track in Lebanon, Missouri.
The Californinan lady entered the weekend sitting fourth in the general standings after she scored a positive streak of two top-five and 11 top-10 finishes out of the 13 starts so far.
"I've never been to I-44, but it looks like a fun track. I really enjoy racing on the short tracks. It will probably be new to almost all of us, since it isn't usually on the ARCA schedule. It's not on the Ford Performance simulator, so about the only thing you can do to prepare is watch past late model races from there. We won't have any notes to go off of from previous races, but my DGR-Crosley team always brings fast Monster Energy Fords to the track, so we should be good." - commented Deegan before the racing weekend.
Bret Holmes and Chandler Smith shared the first row after qualifying, while Hailie Deegan started from third.
The polesitter retained the lead in the initial phases of the race, followed by Ty Gibbs in second, while Smith and Deegan dropped both some positions before being protagonists of a contact on lap 36 - with Smith having the worst out of it as he found himself with damages. On the other hand, the DGR Crosley driver didn't suffer relevant damages and she was able to rejoin the competition in third place after the caution, with Holmes still leading the race and Micheal Self running in second.
Micheal Self and Ty Gibbs battled for P2 in a heated action that forced the championship leader to drop to P6 with a tire puncture.
A recovering Sam Mayer closed the gap to Holmes and, with Deegan right behind his neck, he attacked the race leader. The three frontrunners provided one more exciting fight on the busy racetrack and it was the young lady to come out on top after a contact that sent Holmes spinning - with Mayer left spectator of the 19-year old Ford driver who reached the top spot for the first time in the race.
After this battle for the lead, it was the time for the first scheduled race break of the night.
Hailie Deegan was the absolute dominator of the second stage, having a phenomenal restart after the break and winning yet another battle against the competitive Sam Mayer.
Chandler Smith spun again on lap 120 and the action was again interrupted as the caution was called out.
At the restart, the show for the lead resumed between Deegan and Mayer: the pursuer tried to find any possible way to pass Hailie, but no success thanks to some skillful defense from the driver of the #4 Monster Energy Ford.
Mayer continued to keep the pressure in the following laps but with the same outcome: in fact, Hailie Deegan defended the lead while Sam Mayer made an error as he attempted a move and dropped down the field, allowing a recovering Bret Holmes to advance to P2.
The Californian young lady opened a comfortable gap and managed the race until the second break on lap 152.
Sam Mayer had the best reaction at the green flag and took away the lead from Deegan, who started a close battle for second place with Holmes. She gave up the position after a small contact that allowed to the two frontrunners to break away from the rest of the field.
An unfortunate final stage of the race for Deegan ended with a spin in the last lap caused by Ty Gibbs, which dropped Hailie to P5 - her third top 5 of season - which has a bittersweet taste after leading a huge part of race.
Sam Mayer won after a never-ending battle of 200 laps, followed by Bret Holmes in second and with Taylor Gray to complete the top 3, while points leader Micheal Self ended sixth.
"It's not the finish we wanted." - she commented. "We had a lot better Monster Energy Ford than where we finished. It's just mayhem when you are racing the whole bottom lane and it's pretty much all wet down there so you can't really make passes. It's a difficult track to pass at, there weren't really any spots you could make passes without it getting dirty here and there, and people wrecking. I can't be mad about the end because I did the same thing to other people, not on purpose, but on accident just because you are trying to finish the pass and it just doesn't work when you get loose on the bottom."
"I feel like we made a lot of progress as a team tonight and made some good changes. We had a good run there in the middle and I'm bummed that run didn't last until the end, but it happens and we'll get 'em next time."- concluded Deegan.
After this round, Deegan passes Drew Dollar for the third championship spot, with a 47 points gap to Bret Holmes in second place. Micheal Self still leads with only a one point advantage to Holmes.