Hailie Deegan passed teammate Cole Rouse on the final lap to win Saturday night’s race at Meridian Speedway in Meridian, Idaho, becoming the first first female driver to win in the history of the NASCAR K&N Pro Series.
In her first season in the series, 17-year-old Deegan had twice been a runner-up in a NASCAR K&N Pro Series West race, most recently at the dirt track at Las Vegas Motor Speedway two weeks ago. That tied the series’ record for highest finish by a woman in either the K&N Pro Series East or West.
She made the pass on Rouse going into Turn 1 for her sole lap led in the NAPA Auto Parts/Idaho 208.
“I was in bed last night thinking, ‘If it comes down, last lap, I’m in second, I’m a car length off of him, what am I going to do?’” Deegan said.
“And I found that Turn 1 spot. I knew what exactly I had to do there. I was doing it to some other people just getting right under them to get them a little light to get them, not wrecking loose, nothing crazy, but enough to just get a little under them and make the pass happen. We did that. I knew exactly what I had to do the last lap. I did it, we executed, and we made it happen.
“This has to be the best day of my life right here. It doesn’t get any better than this. People don’t understand how many days, how many hours I’ve put into this. How much work I’ve done to get to this moment. It’s just amazing … this is the happiest day of my life. We did it.”
At Vegas, Deegan became the first female to win the pole in a NASCAR K&N Pro Series race. The NASCAR Next driver has five top-fives and 10 top-10s in 12 starts, and took over the lead in the Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings.
Rouse finished second — the third time in the last four races he’s finished as the runner-up.
“We were going into Turn 1 … and she doesn’t lift and drives into me, gets me completely sideways,” said Rouse, whose left rear quarter panel was damaged. “We were going to win that race if it was run clean, but unfortunately it wasn’t. I’m just going to go into the next two races, not give her any slack and we’re going to win both of those. It was a good night, but I don’t really care about second, honestly.”
It was a disappointing third-place finish for pole-sitter Derek Kraus, who brought his No. 16 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota home in third after leading 190 laps, completing a podium sweep for Bill McAnally’s stable out of Roseville, California.
“We led 190-plus laps, then a lapped car spun again,” Kraus said. “I was predicting he was going to roll down because he didn’t have his brakes on yet. But he stayed there, and I was already committed (to the top) … and I guess NASCAR ruled me third. I don’t know, I guess we’ll go onto Roseville and Kern and win them two.”