LAS VEGAS — The NASCAR K&N Pro Series West opened up their 2019 season slinging dirt in Sin City alongside “The Greatest Show On Dirt.” But after the final 10 laps of the Star Nursery 100, the men and women in the stock cars may have given the sprints a run for their money.
The “Dirt Princess” called her shot and delivered, a first-timer came oh so close to winning in his debut and lapped traffic played a part in all of it.
Here is everything we learned from the Star Nursery 100 at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway Dirt Track.
Deegan Keeps Diggin’
“I have to win now. Anything else I’m going to be disappointed with.”
Those were Hailie Deegan’s words in the week leading up to the Star Nursery 100. She’ll be leaving Las Vegas not disappointed. A checkered flag and trophy don’t hurt matters.
The reigning Sunoco Rookie of the Year and 17-year-old NASCAR Next driver won the 100-lap season opener thanks to a last-lap pass on Jagger Jones, who was making his first career series start.
— NASCAR Home Tracks (@NASCARHomeTrack) March 1, 2019
“With 20 laps to go I was thinking in my head, trying to hit my marks,” she said. “Trying to go as slow as possible because it was fast. ‘Watch this come down to the last lap again,’ and in the end, it did. I don’t think we could have caught Jagger. We were catching him, for sure. but we weren’t catching him quick enough.”
Last season, Sheldon Creed outlasted Deegan by staying glued to the bottom lane in the closing stages. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t get by Creed.
She filed those lessons learned in September away for this year, and they paid dividends.
“As soon as you get that lead, you park it on the bottom,” she said. “It doesn’t matter how slow you have to go. In the end, they can hit you straight on your bumper, but you ain’t gonna go anywhere. That’s what I did. I was not giving an inch on the bottom. I did what I could to hold it down and brought it home […] you just have to know where to pass them. That comes with experience, and I think Jagger — first time out here, he killed it for sure, props to him — but he left that bottom open and I took advantage of it.”
Deegan was laser focused on this race from the outset. But coming off a disappointing result at New Smyrna Speedway (finished 16th, electrical) to open up the season and it just added more fuel to the fire.
“I wanted to win New Smyrna so bad and we had the car to do it,” she said. “100 percent we had the fastest car. That happens when you’re going as hard as you are and pushing the limits with everything. Once we get those little things figured out I think we’ll have a solid season behind us.”
Moves Like Jagger
Jagger Jones was making this K&N Pro Series thing look pretty easy for a good while.
The 17-year-old rookie led 31 laps, but failed to lead the last one. When Kenny Bumbera squeezed the No. 6 Sunrise Ford machine low entering Turn 1, Deegan capitalized and never looked back for the remaining three corners.
“It was the last lap coming to the white flag and he just came down on me which pushed me down towards the tires on the inside,” he said. “So I had to try and avoid those. And that slid me up the track and Hailie had a whole lane to herself on the bottom, the preferred lane. She got around me. I tried to get underneath her, move her a little bit in (Turns) 3 and 4, but she was expecting it.”
Jones had a four-second lead with 10 laps to go.
“I was driving pretty consistent, he said. “She was kind of hit or miss. But once she got more consistent with her speed from what I heard from behind me, she was able to catch us at the end. I was having trouble hearing on the radio too, so I didn’t really know she was coming until around a lap and a half to go.”
Both of Deegan’s wins have come on last-lap passes (Meridian, 2018 and Las Vegas, 2019). Unlike her then teammate Cole Rouse, Jones didn’t see the move as a dirty one.
“Oh I think her move was fine,” Jones said of Deegan’s last lap maneuver. “I mean she didn’t really do anything too bad. It’s just the lapped car cut me off in front. It just pushed me up the track. Once that all happened she had a whole lane to herself. It was kind of given to her, which is unfortunate on the last lap. It just sucks sometimes.”
Despite the runner-up finish in his first ever start, Jones struggled to stay positive.
“It’ll feel better in the next couple weeks when I’m like ‘I finished second, that’s a good start to the season.'” he said. “But right now, I definitely wanted to get that win in my first race. It’ll definitely set us up for a good season.”
Score One For The Little Guys
Matt Levin, Todd Souza, Austin Reed and Travis Milburn all recorded top 10 finishes in the season opener. Raise your hand if you saw that coming … yeah, I didn’t think so.
The result is Souza’s first top five since 2017. Levin ran as high as second at one point. Reed led the opening eight laps from the pole and Milburn kept his nose clean and brought his No. 08 Ford home in eighth place.
- Joey Tanner finished third in his first ever K&N West event for Jefferson Pitts Racing. After starting 15th due to a spin in his heat race, the No. 7 Ford was in the mix at the end. Tanner has a full-time dirt late model schedule planned for this season and is unsure of his K&N plans for 2019.
- Kody Vanderwal finished fourth in his first event with Levin Racing. The LaSalle, Colorado, native started seventh in the No. 43 Port of Tucson Chevrolet and sits third in the standings among full-time drivers.
- Derek Kraus led the most laps (60) in the 100-lap feature, but saw his chances of winning go downhill when Jones took the lead from the Stratford, Wisconsin native with 31 laps to go. The No. 16 Toyota would go on to finish sixth.