Of the three dirt ringers to show up at Knoxville Raceway on Saturday night (June 19) for the second ever SRX race, Hailie Deegan had the best showing.
The Camping World Truck Series regular not only bested dirt racers Scott Bloomquist and Brian Brown. But Deegan ran neck-and-neck with eventual winner Tony Stewart, who was noted as having more dirt experience than any other driver in the field, en route to a second-place finish.
“Honestly, that was so much fun,” Deegan told CBS. “My goal coming into this race was to prove to everyone that I deserve to be here, and I feel like we did that tonight.
“Running second to Tony Stewart, that’s a huge accomplishment for me.”
Deegan fighting Stewart hard up front for the lead @SRXracing when caution came out. Would be huge for her confidence.
— Tom Bowles (@NASCARBowles) June 20, 2021
Deegan ran near the front the entire race. After finishing the first heat in third, a field inversion sent her back to 10th. In no time, the 19-year-old worked her way through the field, finishing the second heat in fifth.
— Frontstretch (@Frontstretch) June 20, 2021
After a thrilling battle with Stewart and Michael Waltrip in the feature, Deegan dropped to fourth on the final restart.
— Michael Waltrip (@MW55) June 19, 2021
But in the closing laps, she worked her way around Helio Castroneves for third before setting sights on Ernie Francis Jr. in second place. On the final lap, Deegan passed Francis to take the runner-up finish.
“I feel like we just ran a clean race,” Deegan said. “We just wrapped the bottom, and I stayed consistent, ran my line and finished second.”
The result came one night after finishing 21st in the Truck race at Nashville Superspeedway. CBS’ broadcast discussed how Deegan had to hussle through the airport to even make it to the track in time after her flight was delayed a little.
Deegan, the 2016 Lucas Oil Off Road Driver of the Year, noted that she was impressed with how well the SRX cars raced on the dirt of Knoxville.
“These cars are so much fun,” Deegan said. “Ray Evernham [SRX cofounder] did a great job putting on this series, especially for a dirt race. It is difficult to put a dirt race on for stock cars, so he absolutely killed that.”
Deegan, who is splitting her SRX ride with Tony Kanaan, will be back in the series one more time this season: The July 10 race at Slinger Speedway.