Hailie Deegan is thankful for the opportunity to make her NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series debut in Saturday’s Clean Harbors 200 at Kansas Speedway.
And the timing is helpful. By the time the 19-year-old suits up for her first national NASCAR series race, she will be the 2020 ARCA Menards Series Bounty Rookie of the Year.
"I was happy when they announced the schedule change," said Deegan, referring to NASCAR’s announcement last month that the Truck Series race had been pushed from Friday night to Saturday afternoon. "So now I can run the ARCA race first on Friday and get those extra laps before racing the truck on Saturday.
"Before I was going to have to run both races back-to-back on Friday with the truck race first, which was not ideal for me."
Deegan will drive the No. 4 Toter Ford in Friday’s Speediatrics 150 presented by The NASCAR Foundation at Kansas (5 p.m. CT, FS1), the last of 20 races in her first full ARCA Menards Series season racing for DGR-Crosley.
The Temecula, California, native is locked into third place in the championship standings heading into the final race, behind title contenders Bret Holmes and Michael Self by 53 points and ahead of fellow rookie Drew Dollar by 27 points.
Which means Deegan only needs to roll off the starting grid Friday to clinch the rookie title. She then will look to improve upon her ninth-place finish at Kansas when the series visited the 1.5-mile oval earlier this season.
"I think our team has come a long way since we raced at Kansas in July," said Deegan. "We were very loose late in the race last time, so this time we should be able to go off our notes and get the set-up closer so we can really dial it in during the brief practice we get Friday afternoon."
It’s gonna be a big step for me. First time in the truck will be taking the green flag with no practice. Goal is to just finish the race! Can’t thank everyone enough for the support? @FordPerformance @Ford pic.twitter.com/6K7BHwb6I1
– Hailie Deegan (@HailieDeegan) October 7, 2020
– Hailie Deegan (@HailieDeegan) October 10, 2020
Deegan has four top fives and 16 top 10s through 19 ARCA Menards Series races this season. She has led 86 laps throughout the year and has an average finish of 7.4.
The rising star’s Truck Series debut will come at 3 p.m. CT on Saturday with the Clean Harbors 200, which is scheduled to air live on Fox.
ARCA Menards Series championship standings leader Holmes has an eight-point advantage over Self going into Friday’s season finale at Kansas. Which is a good thing in the mind of the 23-year-old from Munford, Alabama.
"Luckily we have the cushion that we do, and it’s not by two or three points," said Holmes.
Yet Holmes knows even an eight-point lead is not safe against Self, who has a win (2017) and four top-five finishes in five ARCA Menards Series starts at Kansas.
"Definitely a lot of nerves going into this last race, just knowing that this is it," said Holmes, who will drive the No. 23 Golden Eagle Syrup Chevrolet on Friday. "Everything before doesn’t matter. This race is all that’s left.
"I feel like we should have a little bit more of a cushion; I feel like we could have made a couple different decisions early in the season in some races and would have been a lot better off than the position we’re in."
Check out the tale of the tape for Friday’s championship race at @kansasspeedway
– ARCA Menards Series (@ARCA_Racing) October 14, 2020
Self can understand the pressure Holmes feels as the points leader entering the season finale. This is the position the driver of the No. 25 Sinclair Lubricants Toyota was in last year; he entered the Kansas race with the points lead but lost the title to race winner Christian Eckes.
Though the 29-year-old is in a less favorable position this year having to make up ground in the points standings, at least Self isn’t feeling the weight of the moment the way his rival is. The Venturini Motorsports driver can finish no worse than second in the final points standings.
"There’s no plan. You just go win," said Self. "That’s all we can do. We’re in a nothing-to-lose situation. The [worst-case scenario], we crash, and we still finish second in points.
"I think as a team at Venturini Motorsports, whatever has to be done to go win."
Only Holmes controls his own championship destiny at Kansas, as he can finish third and still win the title no matter what Self does. And if Holmes leads the most laps Friday, he can win the championship finishing as low as fifth without having to worry about Self’s status.
The series champion has won the season finale at Kansas three times in the last four years: Chase Briscoe in 2016, Sheldon Creed in 2018 and Eckes in 2019. Only Austin Theriault did not win in that span. The winner that night? Self.
History at Kansas
As championship contenders, both Holmes and Self are thankful the title will be decided at a track the ARCA Menards Series has already visited this season.
Holmes won the Dawn 150 at the track in July, his first ARCA Menards Series victory, and Self considers Kansas among his favorite tracks.
Friday’s Speediatrics 150 presented by The NASCAR Foundation will mark the first time Kansas Speedway has hosted two ARCA Menards Series races in the same season. The series has raced at 20 times since 2001.
It will mark the 1,494th race in ARCA Menards Series history.
– ARCA Menards Series (@ARCA_Racing) October 13, 2020
– Ty Gibbs leads all drivers in Friday night’s race with an average finish of 3.8 in the ARCA Menards Series this season. He has a chance to clinch the General Tire Superspeedway Challenge championship for his father and car owner Coy Gibbs.
– As for the driver who have competed in all 19 ARCA Menards Series races ahead of the finale, Holmes has the best average finish at 4.74. Self is just behind with a 5.21 average.
– Holmes also leads the S&S Volvo Laps Completed standings with 2,609 laps completed out of 2,614 possible. Self is second with 2,600 laps completed.
– Eckes last year became the 37th driver in ARCA’s 67-year history to win at least one series championship. Either Holmes or Self will be No. 38.
– Seven drivers earned their first ARCA Menards Series wins at Kansas: Jason Jarrett (2001), Scott Lagasse, Jr. (2007), Scott Speed (2008), Ty Dillon (2010), Spencer Gallagher (2014), Self (2017) and Holmes (2020).