Hailie Deegan's third NASCAR K&N Pro Series victory is a thriller
Hailie Deegan admits that teammate Derek Kraus, driving a car with a broken sway bar, caught her off guard when he dove under her to take the lead on an overtime restart Saturday night at Colorado National Speedway.
The 17-year-old Deegan, who had led 65 laps, was determined to make sure his move didn't keep her from snaring her second NASCAR K&N Pro Series West victory this season -- and the third of her career.
"We had this race in the bag until that caution was brought out," Deegan said Sunday. "I wasn't going to lose the race because of that."
Deegan's victory in the NAPA Auto Parts 150 moved her into second in the series standings, just 12 points behind Kraus.
"It's still a long season," said Deegan, who has recorded four top-five finishes in five events this year. "I think it will be a hard battle."
The green-white-checker finish in the 155-lap event was set up by a caution period that occurred with three laps remaining, when Deegan teammate Brittney Zamora spun. During the yellow flag, Deegan and her team discussed whether to take the inside lane or the outside for the final restart. They finally decided on the inside, giving Jagger Jones the top lane.
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"Even though we were faster on the top, I chose the bottom because I wanted to control the race," Deegan said. "I thought the No. 6 [Jones] would try to chop me off or try to get behind me and hit me, something like that."
That, however, didn't occur. When the green flag waved, Kraus stuck his Toyota's nose to the inside of Deegan, making it three wide as they sped into turn one. Kraus' car collided with the left side of Deegan's Toyota. The move sent Deegan and Jones up the track and shot Kraus into the lead.
"I didn't expect him [Kraus] to come flying in, especially since he was broke," Deegan said. "I thought he would settle back in second or third, knowing it would be a good points day for where his car was. It was an unexpected turn of events."
Team owner Bill McAnally said Sunday that when Kraus made it three-wide on the restart, he experienced a wide range of emotions.
"There was a second there that I thought all three of them were going to wind up not finishing the race," McAnally said.
When they took the white flag, Kraus was leading, but Deegan shot to his inside as they sped into Turn 1. The two collided and Kraus spun. Deegan then held off Kody Vanderwal for her win on the 0.375-mile track. Kraus had to settle for eighth. Jones finished seventh.
"If he [Kraus] is going to run me hard, then I'm going to run him back hard," Deegan said. "He left it [the inside] open. I wasn't there until early in the corner. I don't think he was expecting me to do that or maybe his spotter didn't tell him I was on his bumper. In the end, I think we all just saw it as we were racing each other really hard and stuff like that is going to happen."
Deegan said she and Kraus haven't talked, but McAnally said there would be a team meeting regarding the late race incidents between his two drivers.
"Derek saw a hole open up, he took advantage of it and he got a little rough," McAnally said. "Hailie got a little rough. I know she didn't mean to or want to take Derek out. She wanted to win. It just wound up where it took him out and that's not the way I like to have my teammates race.
"I tell them I want them to be teammates and use that as an advantage and not wear their race cars out on one another, but use it on the competition. But when it comes down to 10 laps to go, you guys do what you need to do to get yourself the win ... because you deserve it, but do not take each other out. That is my golden rule."
Deb Williams has covered auto racing for United Press International, USA Today and The Charlotte Observer. She was the 1990 and 1996 NMPA Writer of the Year.