Saturday, March 19, 2022

TRUCKS: Flat tire, bizarre fire force Hailie Deegan out early in Atlanta

PHOTO: Daniel Baldwin, @DannyBTalks

Hailie Deegan picked up the 1st last-place finish of her NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career in Saturday’s Fr8 208 at the Atlanta Motor Speedway when her #1 Wastequip Ford fell out due to a tire after 24 of 135 laps.

The finish came in Deegan’s 26th series start. In the Truck Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 1st from a tire, the 15th for the #1, and the 114th for Ford. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 4th from a tire, the 72nd for the #1, and the 986th for Ford.

Without a doubt, Deegan has been one of NASCAR’s most anticipated young prospects. At age 16, the former off-road driver arrived in stock cars through the K&N Pro Series West as a relative unknown, taking the wheel of Bill McAnally’s #19 Toyotas. That is, until she finished 7th in her series debut at Bakersfield, then took her first checkered flag at Idaho’s Meridian Speedway on September 29. She scored another two wins in 2019, and in 2020 improved from 5th to 3rd in the overall standings, along the way gaining more fans with her aggressive driving. Her first ARCA season saw her rank 3rd in points behind Bret Holmes and Michael Self.

Deegan’s team owner in ARCA was David Gilliland Racing, which led to her national series debut in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. She made her first start in Kansas on October 17th, where she earned a solid 16th-place finish. A full-season deal with DGR quickly followed, by which point she drove the #1 with continuing sponsorship from Monster Energy. While she went winless that first year, she only failed to finish three times – consecutive crashes at Bristol, Las Vegas, and Talladega – and earned a career-best 7th at Gateway. Coming into Saturday’s race, Deegan was still finding her footing, taking 17th in Daytona and 33rd in Vegas.

Rain washed out qualifying, securing Deegan the 27th spot on the 36-truck grid. No teams were sent home as only the 36 entrants arrived at the track. In the delayed practice on Saturday morning, Deegan put up a strong 5th-fastest lap, ranking highest of the Fords.

Rolling off 36th and last was Cup Series regular Ross Chastain, who was entered in a new fifth entry from Niece Motorsports, a fast, but loose #41 Eat Florida Watermelon Chevrolet. He’d be joined in the back by five teams penalized for unapproved adjustments: 4th-place Ty Majeski in the #66 American Racing Wheels Toyota, 12th-place John Hunter Nemechek in the #4 Pye-Barker Fire & Safety Toyota, 20th-place Chase Purdy in the #61 David S. Gray “Found Love” Toyota, 28th-place Thad Moffitt in the #43 Clean Harbors Chevrolet, and 33rd-place Jordan Anderson in the #3 Easy Care / Chevrolet.

When the green flag dropped, Moffitt was the lowest-classified of the penalized drivers, but based on intervals was only in the 33rd spot. Chastain remained last across the stripe, 4.159 seconds back of the lead, as his and two other trucks dropped to the rear voluntarily: 34th-place Jesse Little in the #02 Sim Seats Chevrolet, and 29th-place Chris Hacker in the #33 Dal Dirt Toyota. Chastain made quick work of Hacker, dropping the #33 to last by the time the field exited Turns 1 and 2, and Hacker held the spot at the end of Lap 1, 0.101 second behind Anderson.

By the time Hacker crossed the stripe, there was trouble further up the pack. Matt DiBenedetto in the #25 Rackley Roofing Chevrolet broke loose in Turn 4 and smacked the outside wall. Without drawing the caution, he made it to pit road on Lap 2 and immediately took over the last spot from Hacker. DiBenedetto returned to the track at least two laps down, but the crew said he had to pit again as he still had a rub on the right-rear tire. On Lap 6, the crew told him to “Try not to tear it up too bad, keep nursing it.” He made it to pit road by the next lap, when he had four minutes left on the “Crash Clock” to make repairs.

As DiBenedetto’s team hurried their repairs, Deegan entered the last-place battle when she cut down a left-rear tire entering Turn 3. She maintained control of her truck, but had difficulty getting to the apron to come down pit road. She came in on Lap 9, just as DiBenedetto was down to the last 30 seconds on his “Crash Clock.” DiBenedetto re-fired his engine, and returned to the track five laps down, the crew still looking for smoke. Deegan lost two laps for her own stop, and was back on track by Lap 12, but NASCAR reported she now had smoke coming off the left-rear. DiBenedetto cleared the “Crash Clock” on Lap 13 and by Lap 17 made a third stop for additional repairs, ultimately dropping him 11 laps down. On Lap 23, DiBenedetto was caught by the leaders entering Turn 1 and moved to the high lane, losing his 12th lap as the spotter negotiated him through traffic. The team planned to make additional repairs under the Stage 1 ending caution on Lap 30.

Deegan remained in 35th spot, two laps down, but on Lap 25 reported “I might be on fire – it’s so hot in here.” The crew then spotted flames under the truck, but hesitated calling her down pit road. Deegan slowed on Lap 26 and came to the pits with visible flames from behind her left-rear wheel. The tire changer removed the tire, revealing the sidewall on the inside covered in flames. “Shoot it, it’s just rubber,” said someone as the crew grabbed the fire extinguisher. But by now, there was smoke pouring from the cockpit. “Stop – we’re done. Help her. Help her!” The crew got Deegan out of the truck, who was brought to the infield care center. She was treated for smoke inhalation, but was released by Lap 44. By then, the crew had pushed her truck behind the wall, and she’d taken last from DiBenedetto on Lap 38. NASCAR’s garage officials finally declared Deegan out on Lap 98, citing “fire” as the cause.’s leaderboard then indicated the reason was “tire” in their results about 20 minutes later.

Finishing 35th was Matt Mills, whose #20 J.F. Electric Chevrolet dropped debris on the frontstretch, and ultimately fell out of the race citing suspension issues. The 34th spot went to Dean Thompson, whose #40 Worldwide Express Chevrolet broke loose in Turn 4 and collected a pair of trucks, including his Niece Motorsports teammate Lawless Alan, who was unable to clear the “Crash Clock” in his #45 Chevrolet. Thompson likewise made it to pit road for the crew to remove the front splitter, but by then the truck was leaking water. Rounding out the Bottom Five was Thad Moffitt, whose penalized #43 lost a lap in the early stages, then retired with engine issues.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #1 in a Truck Series race since March 26, 2018, when Mike Senica’s #1 Pennsylvania Power Products Chevrolet was parked after eight laps at Martinsville. The number had never finished last in a Truck race at Atlanta.
*The reason “tire” is exceedingly rare for NASCAR last-place finishers, and had never before occurred in either the Truck or XFINITY Series. In the Cup Series’ points races, it hasn’t occurred since April 24, 1955, when Pepper Cunningham’s #6 1955 Chrysler had the issue after 3 laps at Langhorne. This is distinct from “tires,” which most recently occurred August 8, 1963 with Possum Jones on his #05 1961 Pontiac after 5 laps at the Columbia (SC) Speedway. There was also a single occurrence of “no tires,” which befell Joe Frasson’s #18 Chevrolet after just 5 laps around Bristol on August 29, 1976.

36) #1-Hailie Deegan / 24 laps / fire
35) #20-Matt Mills / 52 laps / suspension
34) #40-Dean Thompson / 68 laps / crash
33) #45-Lawless Alan / 75 laps / crash
32) #43-Thad Moffitt / 79 laps / engine

1st) David Gilliland Racing Ford, Front Row Motorsports, Niece Motorsports (1)

1st) Ford (2)
2nd) Chevrolet (1)


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