By Seth Eggert, Associate Editor
A focus on handling rather than speed allowed Hailie Deegan to record her best finish of her NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series career at Saturday’s SpeedCash.com 250 at Texas Motor Speedway.
As the race shifted from a long green flag race to a survival race, Deegan found himself in the middle of the action. The driver of the #13 Ford Performance Ford F-150 drove through the field at the restart after the first major wreck of the 250-mile race.
Deegan restarted on the 20th. As the field entered Turn 4 on Lap 145, she placed her ThorSport Racing entry in 12th place. The hard crash involving Dean Thompson, Matt Mills and others erupted behind her.
After a red flag and another restart, this time Deegan had to dodge a wreck that wiped out her teammate Matt Crafton. While others broke loose and spun, the Temecula, California native’s truck was stable. The decision not to trim the truck for sheer speed put Crew Chief Rich Lushes’ driver on a better footing than others in the close battle towards the end of the race.
In the last restart, Deegan battled rookie Jake Garcia for eighth place. When she got to the white flag, she walked through the grass but kept control. She was just getting back on track when the three leaders collapsed in front of her. As the caution beckoned, Deegan initially took the checkered flag in fifth before NASCAR’s review of the final standings at the time of the caution dropped her to sixth.
“It was great, feels great to finish (top 10), we lasted all day,” explained Deegan. “My team gave me a really fast truck. I feel like we just had to work on it a little bit during the race and we had the opportunity to keep working on it and making it better, more to my liking. I was super, super happy with how it turned out.
There were a lot of big ones we had to dodge and we managed to dodge them all.”
Sixth place marked Deegan’s third straight top 20 finish. Recent finishes show the progress she’s made with ThorSport Racing. As she works to shrug off fan criticism of her performance over the past few years, Deegan remains focused on the momentum she’s built.
“Racing, no matter what, has bad days and good days,” Deegan admitted. “You will have more bad days than good days. There’s one who wins and then there’s all of us down in the pit lane who don’t. There is a winner out of it and you do everything you can to be that one winner from time to time. You just keep pushing, keep picking at it.
“I think we’re just getting the ball rolling this season. We won some tracks that we lift a bit more than others. That will really help us a lot. We started this race a bit slower… I just wanted to keep that momentum going, had some good finishes and a clean truck in the last couple of races. We want to work on them and make them better, not rebuild them.”
After opting for a setup that was more focused on handling, Deegan qualified 25th at the No Limits, TX track. Early race contact with Matt DiBenedetto had her almost spinning on the front straight. However, the lack of sheer speed versus handling combined with long green flag runs kept Deegan outside the top-10 by the end of the first two stages.
Sixth place was Deegan’s fourth career top 10 finish and her first of the 2023 season. It matches her career best from Talladega Superspeedway last year.
The top-10 puts Deegan in 16th place in the points standings, 110 behind leader and teammate Ty Majeski. She is 43 points off the playoff cutline currently held by Nick Sanchez.
Next up for Deegan is the Pinty’s Truck Race on Dirt at the Bristol Motor Speedway Dirt Track. In two starts at Bristol Dirt, her best finish was 18th place last year.
The only dirt track race of the Truck Series is scheduled for Saturday, April 8 at 8:00 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1. The race will also be broadcast on the Motor Racing Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, channel 90.