Tony Stewart Shuts Down Hailie Deegan Haters After Her Impressive Runner-Up Finish in SRX at Eldora

Expectations were understandably high for Hailie Deegan coming into the 2023 NASCAR Truck Series season with her switching over to a powerhouse team in ThorSport Racing. It’s been a struggle for the 22-year-old, who has recorded a single top-10 finish in the first 16 races and missed the playoffs. Her haters have been vocal about her lackluster performance, questioning her talent.

However, she’s driven differently in the trucks and the SRX Series over the last month. She admitted as much on Thursday night after finishing runner-up behind Tony Stewart at Eldora. The three-time Cup Series champion took note and specifically addressed the young driver’s talent on dirt in his post-race remarks, offering high praise for her skills and silencing her critics in the process.  

Hailie Deegan impressive at Eldora SRX race, finishes second

Hailie Deegan’s night didn’t get off to the best of starts when she was among five different cars involved in a Heat 1 pileup that started when Austin Dillon blew a radiator hose, and his car crashed into the wall. Deegan, Chase Briscoe, Tony Kanaan, and Marco Andretti could not avoid the wounded car, resulting in several big impacts. All of the cars suffered heavy damage. 

Going to a backup, Deegan finished a respectable seventh in Heat 2. 

In the 75-lap Main Event, she started eighth. Just 15 laps into the run, the No. 5 car had made its way up to fifth, and it was a steady progression forward. By Lap 50, Deegan found herself behind Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman. 

Those three would battle it out in multiple late restarts, including one with 18 laps go, when the young driver got a great launch and took sole possession of second place behind the series and track owner. She did it again on a restart with 12 remaining, starting on the outside of Row 2 behind Stewart. Both she and the NASCAR Hall of Famer cleared the field and pulled away.

On the race’s final restart, with six to go, she once again lined up behind Stewart on the outside and, once again, got another great launch, pulling out in front with the race leader and clearing the field. She was unable to get close enough to make a pass on Stewart and held her position, finishing second, tying for her best-ever SRX finish, a runner-up result on the Knoxville dirt in 2021.  

Tony Stewart lauds Deegan on dirt

After Stewart won both heats and the race in dominating fashion, Matt Yocum asked the driver who he was concerned about the most during the multiple restarts at the end — Deegan or Newman.

“Yeah, that’s the one thing people don’t realize is Hailie Deegan is one hell of a dirt driver,” Stewart acknowledged. “She gets the second there. She’s going to put pressure on. Just had to try and get some clean laps on some restarts, get in rhythm again and get going.” 

A few minutes later, Nicole Briscoe caught up with the runner-up finisher and asked about her night.

“Oh man. I don’t know what’s happened the last couple of weeks or what’s changed, but I’ve been lacking a little confidence the last couple of months,” Deegan admitted. “I feel like this last — I don’t know, two or three races — it’s starting to come back. I’m starting to get those finishes. Starting to have more speed. It’s just all coming together. I’ve been working really, really hard the last couple of weeks, and it’s paying off.” 

What happened over last few races

When looking at the last few races Deegan was referring to across both SRX and the Truck Series, it’s evident something has changed. After enduring the worst four-race stretch in her NASCAR career with no finish better than 26th, unsurprisingly resulting in her critics questioning her talent, she’s scored a pair of top 15s in the No. 13 truck at Pocono and Richmond.

In SRX, she had the second-place finish on Thursday and a fifth place the week before at Berlin Raceway. After last week’s race, she admitted that she’s been more aggressive in both series, something her ThorSport crew chief Rich Lushes has been encouraging since the start of the year. 

That was clear at Eldora as she made her way through the field and was the only driver to really threaten Stewart in the closing laps. And that was the reason why he offered such high praise for the Truck Series regular. Now it’s a matter of if she can sustain this momentum and carry that confidence with her through the remaining races in both series for the rest of the season.

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