By Seth Eggert, Associate Editor
A quiet but clean day was what Hailie Deegan and her ThorSport Racing team looked for in Saturday’s Fr8 Auctions 208 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
The aim for a clean race came after Deegan was swept up in ‘the big one’ at Daytona International Speedway and was squeezed into a wreck at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The two wrecks marked an inauspicious start to her tenure with ThorSport.
The strategy to hang back until the final Stage of the 208-mile race allowed the No. 13 AdventHealth Ford F-150 to avoid the mayhem. The lane choice on each restart aided Deegan’s climb up the running order. Though the dominant lane throughout the race was the outside.
As the race entered overtime, Deegan found herself restarting 15th. Following her instincts, she avoided trouble during the overtime restart. The Temecula, Calif. native narrowly avoided a last lap incident that collected fellow Ford Performance driver and defending NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series champion Zane Smith.
The wreck forced NASCAR to throw the caution before the field could take the checkered flag. Even with another wreck off of Turn 4, Deegan cruised to a 12th-place finish, her Ford F-150, which on the truck bed carried the names of many women that work within NASCAR as part of a celebration of Women’s History Month, untouched.
“I think it was a great day,” Deegan said. “Our goal going into this race was to hang back until it really means something. It means something at the end in the third stage, so we just hung back and waited. I think it worked because there were a few times where I’d be in a good position to keep going forward and I’d tell myself, ‘This doesn’t feel good. Something is [going to] happen.’
“Then like a lap later all of a sudden something would happen, so I think we put ourselves in a good position to bring home a clean truck and be able to have it for Texas. That’s great because we have something to build off of and we’re not repairing something.”
The decision to choose the inside on every restart was a strategic one. Every wreck that took place in the corners at the superspeedway hybrid of Atlanta slid up the track because of the momentum the trucks carried. Staying to the inside gave Deegan an increased chance to avoid the typical late-race, last-lap superspeedway mayhem.
“We took the bottom because every wreck here ends up at the top before it comes back down,” Deegan explained. “I think you’re guaranteed to at least (avoid the wreck) if you get past it when it goes up that you’ll be pretty good. We were just [going to] try to be on the bottom and go from there.”
The top-15 finish moved Deegan up from 29th in points to 21st. The 12th-place finish also snapped a three consecutive race run of crashes for the 21-year-old, though none were of her own making.
Next for the ThorSport Racing driver is the XPEL 225 at Circuit of the Americas (COTA) which marks her 50th career start in the Truck Series. Deegan’s best finish at COTA was 14th in the inaugural Truck race at the 3.410-mile Texas road course in 2021.
The XPEL 225 at COTA is scheduled for Saturday, March 25 at 1:30 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1. The race will also be broadcast on the Motor Racing Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, channel 90.