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OBSERVATIONS: New Smyrna 175 (and World Series Night 4)

The cleanest race for NASCAR during Speedweeks is in the books, and it didn’t even happen on the biggest stage. While the restrictor plate events at Daytona International Speedway will be mired with crashes, the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East took center stage at New Smyrna Speedway.

And frankly, they put on the better show with what they delivered.

Although it appeared as though Colin Garrett and Drew Dollar were going to battle it out for the win, neither of them accepted the accolades in victory lane as Derek Kraus took those honors instead.

The 27-years-old has raced in the K&N Pro Series ranks for the past two years with top-five points finishes, and the experience showed. Despite starting 16th on the grid, he conserved his tires while slowly making his way to the front, choosing to ride just inside the top-five. 

Then when the opportunity presented itself with the youthfulness of Garrett and Dollar getting together on a restart with 44 laps to go, Kraus did what he had to do, splitting the middle between the pair to drive by and cruise away en route to victory. Arguably, it was probably one of the best textbook restart passes that you will probably see all season. As he said post-race, “I might’ve gotten in the grass, but I got it done.”

While the pass highlighted the night, the field was arguably calm throughout without any serious wrecks, except for Brittney Zamora collecting Tanner Gray in her second spin on debut night. However, that doesn’t mean that the fans were not delivered a show. The drivers raced for positions door-to-door all night long within and outside of the top-five, sometimes making light contact along the way – but hey, rubbin’ is racing on the short tracks. 

There have been concerns about the state of NASCAR with some of the rule changes and an array of talented, experienced drivers stepping away over the past couple seasons. However, the next generation is there ready to take their place, and that was on display Monday night.

There are several drivers in the field that could easily make an impression in NASCAR’s top-three ranks down the road. Ty Gibbs proved himself with a runner-up in his K&N Pro Series debut, while Sam Meyer placed fourth in just his seventh start. 

– Although some of NASCAR’s rule changes recently haven’t gone over well, the decision to go to competition cautions with five minute breaks is very welcoming.

Essentially, when the caution comes out and if you choose to pit, you can take your time with your service, before returning on the track. If you chose to stay out, you get to start ahead of those who pitted; the cars that pitted then follow behind, in the order they were in entering pit road for service.

As a result, you keep the balance of strategy onto whether to pit or not, while not having to worry about possible consequences of a bad green flag pit stop. 

Kraus was one of the several drivers who elected to pit under the first caution, while four other drivers stayed out. Dollar and Garrett were among those who did not get service under either yellow flag, and it showed with the handling going away as laps were ran. Meanwhile, Kraus’ adjustments kept the No. 16 Toyota underneath him so he could make the move when it counted.

– Can we also applaud NASCAR for their cost-saving measure in only allowing one single set of General Tires for the event? On top of the money not being spent, it also teaches the drivers about conserving equipment – something we know can come in handy when they move up the ranks. 

Hailie Deegan has been regarded as one of the top up-and-coming female drivers, with plenty of media shined her way. She has also backed up the talk by winning a K&N Pro Series West event last year, too. Unfortunately after starting on pole, mechanical issues plagued her night all the way to a 16th-place finish.

Her evening continued to get worse, as she also wrecked out of the Pro Late Model event at New Smyrna following the K&N Pro Series race after getting loose off of the corner. Look for her to bounce back and prove herself in the upcoming races.

While the focus for many is the action at Daytona International Speedway, February in Florida is busy with racing events. Bubba Raceway Park and Volusia Speedway have something for dirt fans each night, while New Smyrna Speedway hosts their World Series.

If you want to get a glance at the next generation, checking out any of these events is a must as they always put on a good show. The best part? Fanschoice.tv is live streaming each night for free for your viewing pleasure. 

– Deegan wasn’t the only driver to find trouble during the Pro Late Model event. The Mike Skinner-owned team saw both of their drivers black-flagged for jumping the restart, with the second call being gut-wrenching as it saw Jamie Skinner go from victory lane to last car on the lead lap. 

The Pro Late Models have been putting impressive side-by-side racing together on-track, while stealing the headlines. The restart controversy follows up the first night where Colin Kravil and Derek Griffith wrecked racing for the lead, and Deegan called out Jeremy Miller for a motor advantage. For the record, while Deegan wrecked out, Miller drove from the back to third after blowing his engine in practice; for Kvapil and Griffith, neither was able to rebound as they would have hoped on Monday.

– The Florida based modifieds are causing fans to talk for all the wrong reasons. The racing was pretty much strung out single-file, with the race experiencing a lengthy delay at the end to clean up fluid. It would’ve been better to call a time limit on the end of the event, and move on. Thankfully Bob Dillner eased some of the pain with his interviews and commentary for those at home.

Doug Coby may say that he is just down there testing, but he’s doing a fine job in the process as he put together a dominating performance in pacing every single lap en route to victory. Despite the races getting longer in the coming days, he’ll be a threat to sweep them all – but don’t start engraving the trophy yet.

Patrick Emerling and Matt Hirschman put together an impressive battle for second through the final 10 laps, with Hirschman looking for every way possible around for second. While it seems worth nothing now after Emerling was disqualified for a left-side weight violation, they could easily give Coby a run for his money over the next couple nights.

Ryan Preece is another name that can’t be forgotten. He had the speed to race up through the pack and could’ve been right there with the top-five, but an unscheduled pit stop for the car being stuck in gear put him behind. 

– The Super Late Models didn’t have the smoothest night of competition, with a couple big accidents eliminating drivers from the event. The frustration was echoed by the drivers, with Ryan Moore saying, “They have enough trouble lining up. You can’t expect them to know how to race.” 

At the front of the field, talent was the name of the game with arguably the best Super Late Model driver across the country Bubba Pollard conserving his equipment through the first half, before scoring the victory. Despite having won practically every big event across the United States – well, except the Snowball Derby, this marks his first win down at the World Series. 

He isn’t driving his own car, though, as he was asked to drive Dave Rogers’ entry with Rogers having surgery. The first night it seemed that Pollard was out of place, scoring a fourth-place finish by mere luck after the leaders got together. Now that he has the No. 11 driving as he wants, this may be the start of a dominating run from here on out.

Dan Frederickson led the first half of the event, and appeared set for a strong podium performance. However, with Pollard closing in, he made a mistake and got up into the wall. Ultimately, that caused him to drop through the running order. Heartbreaking.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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ASHLEY ASKS….. Hailie Deegan

Last weekend at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway dirt track, Hailie Deegan made NASCAR history by becoming the first female pole winner in the NASCAR K&N Pro West Series en route to a runner-up finish. 

Recently, POPULAR SPEED spoke with the NASCAR Next member to get her thoughts on the weekend, and more.

POPULAR SPEED: What are your thoughts looking back on the Las Vegas dirt race?

HAILIE DEEGAN: It was crazy. Like, it wasn’t like expected. I expected it to be like practice on Friday. The track wasn’t that dusty, there was nice grip laid down – it was so dusty going into the first corner I almost ended up screwing myself. For the initial start, going from third to forth, I jammed it in neutral, and it ended up rounding the dogleg on the gear. So what ended up happening going around the corner every other lap, it would pop out of fourth gear. So it was really hard on the restarts to get it from third to fourth.

So from there, it made a problem for us to deal with. But once I got it into fourth gear, we ended up bungee cording it, which made it hard on the restarts because my arm was shaking so badly holding it in third. But we ended up making it work enough to pull off a second.

PS: With that said, after the adversity you faced, the runner-up is certainly amazing. But what do you feel it would’ve taken at the end to beat Sheldon Creed?

DEEGAN: I was missing two laps; that’s all I needed. That whole weekend, we had the best car. Sheldon struggled that weekend as he wasn’t in the best car, but we, that weekend, had hands down the best car. It showed because we were the best every time we came out. So I think the only thing I was missing was I got by the second-place guy on the restart, and reeled in Sheldon on the last lap, but just needed two more laps to put a little bumper on him to just get under him.

PS: Looking overall, what are your thoughts on the season to date?

DEEGAN: I think we’ve been doing pretty good. I mean, the season started off pretty good and we’ve been getting better each race. Before the Vegas race, we just had a couple bad races where we got in some wrecks, just stuff that we couldn’t help. There were just a couple things that took us out of top-three finishes that we could’ve had. I think we’ve gotten past that now, and now my goal for the rest of the year – I’ve got nothing to lose. I’m not in the top-three or points championship, so right now we’re just going for wins.

Sean Gardner | Getty Images North America

PS: I was just going to ask. What would it mean for you to break through and get your first career win?

DEEGAN: It would mean everything to me, because I feel this year my goal was to get top-fives and we really didn’t think about it. I just wanted to run consistent top-five at the beginning of the year, and now we’re running top-three. So I think we’re moving a lot quicker than really planned, which is definitely good in my mind and everyone else’s, but now our goals have changed. It would be amazing if we could win a race.

PS: Your father Brian Deegan has had a lot of success in motorsports. How much extra pressure do you feel because of that, if any?

DEEGAN: Not even pressure – he helps me a lot, especially at the dirt race because we came from dirt racing. Together, we knew what to change. My car all weekend, we’d just been softening it up, just things that a lot of people would struggle and not change with not racing on dirt, so we had a good set-up from the get-go. I knew what we needed to get out of the car. I think that’s something that my dad taught me and helped me out with, and that’s why I was so successful this past weekend.

PS: So given your family’s dirt background, why the transition to asphalt and stock cars?

DEEGAN: I think in off-road racing, we were already at the top level; I was already running up front at the age of 15 in the Pro Lite class in off-road. There was not much more that I could go further in and if you ask anyone in America, the biggest racing is NASCAR. I think that I just wanted to challenge myself because it’s not what I grew up racing on. I grew up racing dirt, and not typical dirt circle track – but dirt short track in off-road trucks. It wasn’t the typical place that people come from.

I think that I knew it was going to be hard, but I wanted a challenge. I was only 16; I didn’t just want to stop there.

PS: That said, what was the biggest surprise for you in going from dirt to asphalt?

DEEGAN: I think the biggest thing that I had to work on myself was saving the tires, like not blowing them off early in the race. I think I’ve done a pretty good job at as I consider myself pretty patient at the beginning of races. I don’t go and make crazy moves, and roast the tires off of it. I think that’s one thing that I’m still learning is tire conservation. Other than that, I feel like we’ve made the transition very well. I feel it’d be harder going pavement to dirt, than it is from dirt to asphalt.

PS: What does it mean to you to be a part of the NASCAR Next program?

DEEGAN: The NASCAR Next program has done so many things for me off the track that has given me the capabilities to be able to drive on the track. I think they’ve definitely given me these type of situations where I can go and get myself recognized by everybody, and have sponsors calling us. It helps with sponsors when you’re on TV and doing radio shows.

I think the biggest thing in racing is the amount of sponsors you can get, and the more sponsors you have, the better your equipment is. So in the end, they help with the off-track side so you can do your best on the track.

PS: Speaking on the track, you’ve received a lot of praise from people within industry. What does it mean when you hear those comments from Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers like Kevin Harvick?

Steve Dykes | Getty Images North America

DEEGAN: I’ve had a couple Cup drivers say stuff about me. Even Kyle Busch tweeted something after I got second back at Douglas County in Oregon. It’s just crazy seeing these Cup drivers comment. I think it’s really cool that they go down and look at the smaller series in NASCAR, the grassroots level where they came from, and I think it’s really cool having those drivers notice you because it helps in getting a fan base and sponsorship. It’s like, “Oh, Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch talked about you. You must be a pretty good driver.”

PS: What would it mean for you one day to race right alongside those guys in the Cup Series?

DEEGAN: It’s what motivates me right now. Coming to all these NASCAR races and just watching, I know that’s what I wanted to do, and I’m 110% committed to do that ever since I started racing when I was eight years old. That’s what I’ve been training to do. All the work that I’ve been doing since I was a little was to be racing at the top level.

PS: As you’re making your way up the ranks, though, you’re inspiring other girls in go-karts and other levels of racing with your success. What does that mean to you?

DEEGAN: It’s pretty funny. Going back to when I raced off-road trucks, it was me and one of my friends that was a girl, and we were the only girls there. Now going back to where I started racing, there are 12 girls racing in the division that I got started in. It’s funny having these dads come up to me and say, “I got my daughter racing because of how good you did,” and all of these things. Off-road racing is just a good foundation, in general, and I see all of these girls doing it and it makes me happy.

I’ll help some of the girls. One of the girls got my mod kart, the one that I won the championship with in 2015. She ended up buying it and running the same body. I go out there and help there, we practice together sometimes. It’s just cool seeing all of these girls coming into racing.

PS: That said, if you could give one piece of advice for someone coming into racing, what would it be?

DEEGAN: I think just be aggressive. Don’t see yourself as different. Growing up as a girl in racing, everybody asked me what was it like to be a girl. I never saw myself as different. Everyone is like, “Oh you did good. You were the highest finishing girl,” and I’m like, “No, I want to be the highest finishing driver.” I don’t want to be categorized; I don’t just want to be the best girl, but the best driver.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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NASCAR NEXT Driver Hailie Deegan Makes Transition to Asphalt

Hailie Deegan has carved out her own reputation in off road racing as the “Dirt Princess,” but now she’s making the transition to asphalt as she competes in late model events in North Carolina.

The 16-year-old from Temecula, California, who was named to the 2017 NASCAR NEXT class, recently began chasing pavement in various Super Late Model races. Teamed up with Bond Suss Racing, Deegan has already started having success – leading laps in a Fast Five Pro Late Model Series event at Southern National Motorsports Park in August.

“I raced a little bit of asphalt back in California, just a couple races in a slower Late Model car but these cars are pretty big and a lot faster,” Deegan told POPULAR SPEED. “I think I’m really good at setting fast lap times.  I need a little more work in being around people. In off road racing, where I come from, it’s all about passing people within one second. Here, it’s like, you could be trying to pass someone for 10 laps.

“It’s just a different type of racing which I’m still trying to learn.”

Hailie Deegan is the daughter of the off-road racing icon and X-Games legend Brian Deegan. In her own off-road career, she has already had success, becoming the first woman to win a race in the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series. While she has shifted gears, literally and figuratively, and is focusing on her asphalt mostly, she still competes off-road.

“My dad and me, we came from off road racing which I currently still race in,” Deegan remarked. “I race in the Pro Lite Class which is an all age open from 15-years-old on. So I’m racing that and asphalt.”

It’s the success she has already had, along with the desire to take on a new discipline, that made Deegan want to transition to asphalt racing.

“I think, in off-road, I’ve been doing really well and I ventured out seeing what else I could do that would make me that much better,” Deegan explained. “Coming to asphalt racing, it’s a whole new game for me. It’s a whole new thing I’m learning and so, I think, coming to asphalt, it will teach me a lot more abilities.”

At Southern National Motorsports Park, a NASCAR-sanctioned 4/10-mile oval in Lucama, North Carolina, Deegan immediately took a liking to the track.

“It reminds me of a track that I raced at back in California called Kern County,” Deegan commented. “It’s just a smaller version of that with the banking and the straightaways. It’s a little smaller than Kern County, but I’ve raced there, and it’s pretty similar, and I’m catching on pretty quick.”

Now that the teenager from California is starting to find her groove in asphalt racing, she has decided to make her career in NASCAR. Deegan is a member of the 2017-18 NASCAR NEXT class – a program initiated by NASCAR to shine the spotlight on up-and-coming racers competing in the developmental ranks.

“I’m looking more toward the pavement side because I think I can have a bigger, better career with that side,” Deegan elaborated. “I know off road will always be there. That’s where I started, and I love it, and I can always go back there.”

So far, though, things are going well as she’s already gotten media recognition Speed51.com, a short track media outlet owned and operated by Bob Dillner, recently said Deegan was the top female racing prospect in the nation in their annual Short Track Draft.  Despite the pressure from that and her last name, it does not seem to faze the poised and confident racer.

“I think, yes that has put pressure on me,” Deegan remarked. “But, I think pressure is good.  It makes me do better.”

Deegan is not the first driver to join the NASCAR ranks from the off-road racing world. Seven-time and defending Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion also started out in off-road before moving east and running ASA – logging his first laps in a late model at Southern National.

“I think I see all these other people coming into asphalt racing that came from dirt and they have these great abilities, being able to drive a loose car and being more aggressive,” Deegan stated. “So I think it’s definitely going to help me with my off road racing background, especially seeing that there’s been some competitive big names that have come from the same background.”

Along with racing in Super Late Models on the East Coast, Deegan, who is backed by Monster Energy and Toyota, recently tested in a NASCAR K&N Pro Series car for Bill McAnally Racing in Irwindale, California.

E-MAIL ANDY AT  andymarquis@gmail.com

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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The Future Stars of NASCAR Announced

The 2017-18 class of the NASCAR Next program, was announced on Tuesday and includes some familiar second-generation names, as well as drivers whom you may never heard of.

The program was established to help develop and highlight young drivers who aspire to compete at NASCAR’S top levels. Alumni include current stars Kyle Larson, Ryan Blaney, and Chase Elliott.

“The NASCAR Next program identifies emerging talent in our sport,” said Jill Gregory, NASCAR senior vice president, and chief marketing officer. “Drivers in this year’s class have already achieved success on the track or shown potential, and this program will help them further develop their skills. We look forward to watching these young stars connect with our fans and continue their climb up the NASCAR ladder.”

The selection process includes consulting industry executives, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Drivers Council and media members. The candidates are chosen from a pool of drivers between the ages of 15-25, who are actively racing at local tracks or lower-tier NASCAR series.

Here is a breakdown of the 2017-18 class.

Harrison Burton from Huntersville, North Carolina is in his second year of NASCAR K&N Pro Series East competition, with two wins to his credit. The 16-year-old is the son of former Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver Jeff Burton.

Chase Cabre is a rookie in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, driving for Rev Racing as part of the NASCAR Drive for the Diversity program. The 16-year-old picked up his first two pole awards in twin features at South Boston, before scoring a best-career finish of fourth.

Hailie Deegan has made a name for herself in the Lucas Oil Off Road Series, becoming the first female to score a podium in series history last season. The daughter of FMX legend Brian Degan won the Lucas Oil Off Road Modified Kart Championship last season.

Todd Gilliland from Sherrills Ford, North Carolina is running both NASCAR K&N Pro Series divisions in 2017, along with a limited NASCAR Camping World Truck Series schedule for Kyle Busch Motorsports. The son of former Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver David Gilliland won the Pro Series East Championship last year.

Riley Herbst raced in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West last season, scoring seven top-fives in 14 races. The Joe Gibbs Racing development driver is competing full-time in the ARCA Racing Series for 2017.

Cayden Lapcevich was a Canadian stand-out last year, winning three events en route to being crowned the 2016 NASCAR Pinty’s Series Champion in his rookie season.

Tj Majeski recently signed a development contract with Roush Fenway Racing to run a select number of NASCAR XFINITY Series events in 2017. The 22-year-old kicked off last year by winning the Super Late Model championship at the World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing at Florida’s New Smyrna Speedway, followed by a third-place finish in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series standings.

Chase Purdy from Meridan, Mississippi took home NASCAR Whelen All-American Series rookie honors last year with a track championship at Greenville Pickens Speedway. The 17-year-old is racing in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East this year.

Zane Smith put himself on the scene  by winning the Super Late Model championship at New Smyrna’s World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing in 2015. He finished off the year with a runner-up to Elliott at the Snowball Derby.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.