She scored nine top-10 finishes in her first 11 races, including a pair of runner-up results at Oregon’s Douglas County Speedway and The Dirt Track at Las Vegas.

For Deegan, the next logical stop was victory lane.

She took that step on Sept. 29 at Idaho’s Meridian Speedway when she used an old-fashioned bump-and-run on her Bill McAnally Racing teammate, Cole Rouse, to take the lead on the final lap of the NAPA Auto Parts Idaho 208 and earn her first stock car victory.

“Winning that race, I felt like I knew I could do it, just everything had to fall into place,” said Deegan, who became the first female winner in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series. “I got second twice before that. I remember at The Dirt Track (in Las Vegas), that was the race before, I got second there and I was so over getting second. I was like, ‘It’s right there. I know I can do it. Everything just has to fall into place perfectly.’

“And it did for that one race.”

Hailie Deegan in her Bill McAnally Racing Toyota. (NASCAR Photo)

She explained that the aggression she used to earn her first K&N victory was something she picked up in her time racing off-road trucks.

“I think that is definitely something that transferred over to stock cars,” Deegan said in reference to her use of the bumper. “You put a little bumper on them and the next thing you know they’ll have their hands out the windows on the straightaway.

“Stock car racing makes you soft. Off-road racing makes you tough. That’s how I felt like it went. Even my dad says, ‘All these NASCAR guys are just soft. All of them, they complain after you give them a little bump or whatever.’ When I’m at the stock car track and someone hits me, that’s like off-road racing, we hit each other like 10 times throughout the race and it’s no big deal. That’s just how it is.

“I think that is something that translates well to stock car racing, especially being a girl because there are a lot of guys who probably don’t want a 17-year-old girl beating them and might drive you harder,” she noted. “In the end, it helps to be aggressive.”

Deegan ended the year fifth in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West standings with one victory, two poles, five top-five finishes and 12 top-10 results. She’s the first to admit she still has a lot to learn.

“Right now, I want to focus on a series where I’ve won, I’ve gotten poles,” said Deegan, who will be back with Bill McAnally Racing this year to chase the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West title during her sophomore season. “We’ve accomplished that. What’s next after that? A championship.

“I don’t want to be bounced around too much and get with too many teams and too many cars where I don’t feel comfortable to do that,” Deegan explained. “I’ve learned a lot this year very quickly, but I still have quite a bit to learn. Like little things, little mistakes that I can fine tune before I move up. I think that’s something I need to do in the K&N Series before I move to ARCA, before I move to trucks.”

As a result of her victory at Meridian in September, Deegan has been the talk of the NASCAR world. Many have asked if she will finally be the first female winner in one of NASCAR’s three national touring series.

Perhaps she will be, but Deegan isn’t listening to the hype. Her focus right now is to make herself better and if she produces results on the race track, she says everything else will come.

“I think that in the end there are some drivers who get caught up in the hype of it, that get almost a little too involved in the media to where you’re not focused on your racing,” Deegan said. “If I focus on the racing, if I win, the media is going to come. I think it has shown already. So right now, I’m focused on myself and my racing and I really don’t let anything get to me.

“Winning makes me feel like I’m going to go out there and push myself even harder so that we can do this over and over and over again.”