MOORESVILLE, N.C. — Hailie Deegan will be the first to tell you that her NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series debut last weekend at Kansas Speedway was an eye-opening experience.
Deegan wheeled the No. 17 Ford F-150 for DGR-Crosley from the 17th row of the starting grid to a 16th-place finish, an impressive run given her relative lack of stock-car experience prior to the last two years.
While she had plenty of memorable experiences during her first Truck Series start, Deegan couldn’t put her finger on one specific instance at Kansas that she would have considered her “welcome” to the big leagues.
“I wouldn’t say there was a specific moment,” Deegan admitted. “What I really tried to work on that race was giving good feedback. I was trying to over-produce on information during the stops and stage breaks and everything like that. So that’s something I really tried to do my best on and I think that’s something that the crew chief and the spotter really appreciated.”
The debut by the Temecula, Calif., native was the best finish by a female driver in her first NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series start.
Deegan noted that she’s gotten some positive feedback from folks in the NASCAR garage area about her successful maiden voyage into the Truck Series, but that she’s tried to somewhat keep to herself.
“I’ve had a few drivers come up to me and just kind of like say, ‘Good job,’ and stuff, but, honestly, I don’t talk to a lot of drivers. I kind of just do my own thing,” Deegan noted. “I’m really focused on my racing. I keep my circle around of sponsors, my team and stuff and, obviously, I talk to my teammates a lot, but I’ve had a good group of people around me for this. Whether it was my crew chief and spotter, Drew (Blickensderfer) and Tim (Fedewa), or everyone who gave me really good feedback of the race and everything that have been involved in situations of higher-level racing, it has been a group effort.
“The people helping me have said things like, ‘Hey, you did really good at this. I think these are things we can get better at.’ I love people that give me criticism that know what’s going on and things I can actually work on. I want to know what I’m doing wrong,” Deegan added. “People can be honest. It’s not going to hurt my feelings. I’d rather know because I’m not the best racer. I haven’t made it to the top level, so there are, obviously, things I can work on.
“I’d rather know those things, so I know how to prepare for them and how to get better at them.”
Deegan wrapped up her full season in the ARCA Menards Series at Kansas as well, securing third in points and wrapping up Bounty Rookie of the Year honors with DGR-Crosley.
She finished a season-best second in the season opener at Daytona (Fla.) Int’l Speedway in February, part of a scorecard that included four top-five results and 17 top-10 finishes during the 20-race ARCA season.
“I think my first season in ARCA I had goals, obviously, and everything kind of had to change with the COVID deal … and something that I valued a lot in my career is practice,” Deegan explained, reflecting on her season as a whole. “I love practicing and I always get better throughout practice. I’m better at setting up cars when we have practice. It gives us more time, a lot more data to learn off of for the team and develop more, which that has gotten minimized because of the situations that we’re in, but it’s just honestly making the best of it. I think in ARCA we did make the best of it.
“Our equipment has gotten a lot better from where we started at the beginning of the year. We had some stuff to work on … and it’s hard changing manufacturers for a team. It takes some time to get everything figured in place, but Ford has done a great job with the resources that they’ve given to the team to do that,” Deegan added. “I think that’s why just in this season, after the break of racing, the time that we’ve had to actually race, there’s been so much development and I’ve seen just physically so much progress with the team. But I’d say we made the best of every situation. The competition is tough once you start getting in that top five in ARCA and we had some good finishes this year. We had a few second-place finishes. We’ve been close to wins a few times and we’ve had a lot of good runs.
“I feel like I’ve learned a lot, but moving into the Truck Series, I think that’s where I’m going to learn the most.”