LAS VEGAS – NASCAR Next class member Hailie Deegan had Thursday night’s Star Nursery 100 at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway Dirt Track circled on her calendar from the moment it was announced on the series schedule.
Deegan – whose father is off-road legend and extreme athlete Brian Deegan and who has plenty of background in dirt racing in her own right – knew that the Vegas clay might provide her best shot at a victory during the year, and she did everything in her power in order to accomplish that feat.
The 17-year-old set the fastest time in two-lap qualifications, becoming the first female driver in the 64-year history of the K&N West division to earn a pole award; then won her heat race to earn the top starting position for the 100-lap main event.
Deegan led 13 laps early on in the feature, but was plagued by shifter issues during the middle stages of the race and had to rally through the field in the second half. She fought her way inside the top five for the final restart of the event, but couldn’t quite catch eventual winner Sheldon Creed.
She crossed the line second at the checkered flag, falling .623 of a second short in an overtime finish.
“It was a struggle,” said Deegan, who matched her career-best finish. “I knew it was going to be a struggle from the get-go, but that was difficult. I just kept overdriving it from the initial start. I dropped back, jammed the shifter from third to fourth … and I think we chipped some teeth off the gears or something because it kept popping out of fourth every other lap or so. We had to battle that all night.”
Luckily, Deegan’s Bill McAnally Racing crew was able to craft a fix for the issue that allowed her to rally back from outside the top 10 to have a shot at her first-career win in the final laps.
“In the end we fought back,” she said. “I think with another lap or two, we definitely could have had him. … I knew I was in the best position to strike. I expected Sheldon to overdrive the first corner a little more, but he’s a good driver and he’s done this before. He’s raced ARCA on dirt. He knows to protect that last corner. He knew what do to and drove a smart race.”
Deegan received Rookie of the Race honors for her efforts in Thursday night’s Las Vegas Dirt Track event and now has a season record of four top-five and nine top-10 finishes in 11 K&N West starts this season.
However, the one thing missing from her resume is a victory, something she’s desperate to change.
“Winning the pole was nice; it was really special, but I want to win a race now,” Deegan noted. “We’ve been really close a few times this season. I hope we can seal the deal before we’re done for the year.”