INTERVIEW: Deegan keeping an open mind ahead of Xfinity debut

INTERVIEW: Deegan keeping an open mind ahead of Xfinity debut

It has been up, down and all around for Hailie Deegan throughout the 2022 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. While the 21 year-old David Gilliland Racing charger became the first female driver in NASCAR history to record two top 10 finishes in a season – a 10th at Mid-Ohio and a sixth at Talladega this summer – there have also been six DNFs as well as a host of other lackluster starts. As a result, Deegan is currently 21st in truck series points with only the Miami and Phoenix races left to be run.

Deegan will face another fierce challenge this weekend when she lines up for Xfinity Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where she’ll make her series debut in the No. 07 SS Green Light Racing Ford Mustang.

Q: Las Vegas Motor Speedway and your very first Xfinity Series start this Saturday. That’s one hell of a blank canvas for you, huh?

HAILIE DEEGAN: Oh yeah, for sure. I’m super-excited. Going back with some of the truck stuff, some of my better tracks where I performed the best on were the mile-and-a-half-tracks. Las Vegas Motor Speedway and a mile-and-a-half; I just feel super-comfortable there. I could not tell you why. I have no clue why. For some reason I just feel super-comfortable and confident on mile-and-a-half stuff. I figured that when I came to the Xfinity stuff, I would have to make my first race start on a mile-and-a-half track.

Q: As far as the Xfinity Series car itself, do you know what you’re climbing into?

HD: So again with the NASCAR stuff, we’re not allowed to go test or anything like that. Even with being a rookie, we can’t test. The only access that I really have is to a simulator. With the Ford simulator, they do a really good job with it. I’ve been able to put in a bunch of time on it. I’ve actually been on there quite a bit. I’ve been on a bunch of hours trying to get ready for this race. I’ve just been practicing every little thing from changes that we are making on the car, to just seeing how I react to those changes, to providing feedback on the changes. I’ve also just been trying to see how the car feels in general and practicing pit road stuff and qualifying runs. There is a lot you can do with those simulators in being able to input your own setups. The simulator helps out a lot because you’re actually able to make changes that will relate back to what you’re actually doing at the track.

Q: How did deal come together?

HD: So I knew at the beginning of the year that I really wanted to make my first Xfinity start in 2022. I wanted to be able to do at least one Xfinity race because I don’t know what the future holds for me. I don’t know what we’re doing next year. I just knew that if I got the opportunity to do a few Xfinity races in 2023, I at least wanted to know what I was getting into. Not that the opportunity has come yet. I just think that being able to get some experience is great so you know what your strong points are; what your weaknesses are so you can work on them to be better prepared for the next opportunity.

Q: Looking to your truck series season thus far in 2022, your sixth place result at Talladega had to put a spring in your step coming into Las Vegas this weekend?

HD: Yeah, yeah, it has been really good lately. We’ve been getting better and better with every single race. We made some crew changes over at DGR and everything has been working out pretty good, so I feel like we are finding the right pieces to the puzzle and everything is just starting to work out and calm down and it is all just kind of figuring itself out. We’ve been running better in the races. I feel like my feedback has been better than ever. I’ve been spending a lot of time just really working on the studying side of it and doing my homework so that I can be the best driver possible. I’ve been putting a lot of time and effort into it and giving it my all.

Q: A hell of a lot goes into all of this, doesn’t it? Even in talking with Xfinity drivers such as Ty Gibbs, Noah Gragson and Riley Herbst throughout the 2022 season, those guys talked a lot about the daunting learning process.

HD: Oh yeah! It is, for sure. Just knowing and having experience, it’s just hard to beat that. You’re trying to get that experience as quick as you can. It’s not like how it used to be back in the day where you got a whole day of practice beforehand. Now, with my first Xfinity race – and I’m lucky that there is going to be practice – I get 25 minutes of practice and it goes right into qualifying. I don’t have time to debrief. I won’t really be able to go to anyone and have time to talk to anyone before I even hop in for qualifying. It’s just different now and, I feel, a lot harder. There is more pressure on these younger drivers to step up to the pate and to try and be as perfect as you can. You can’t really ask anyone to be perfect. You’re just trying to do everything you can with as few as mistakes as possible, but also trying to learn as much as you can and not exactly having enough time to learn everything that you want to.

Q: What will you hope to achieve this weekend?

HD: Yeah, there are a couple different ways that it can go. Finishing the race with all the laps and not getting in any little stupid mishaps on the track would be very good. There are some things that are out of your control. The things that are in my control during the race – I don’t want to make any mistakes. I just want to go out there and get comfortable and go into the second stage and make some good changes and then really get after it in the third stage. It’s hard to say. I’d be super-happy with a top 10 or a top 15. I’d be pretty happy with that.

Q: You’ve earned two top 10 finishes in the 2022 Camping World Truck Series. When you take a look back, what’s your take on your ’22 truck series body of work?

HD: The year overall… it’s hard for a lot of people on the outside to see, but I think we’ve had a lot of great moments of running really good and something would happen during the race and that would take that great effort away from us. Sometimes it won’t necessarily even be in my hands and we experience trouble. We’ve had a lot of great top 10 runs going this year, but we’ll get wrecked on a restart and there is nothing that we can do. There can also be a massive pileup in front of you at a superspeedway and there is nothing that you can do. There have just been a lot of instances where I feel like we’ve had great runs and have carried a lot of speed and sometimes there just isn’t a lot to show for it when it comes to a number.

It’s a tough one. It’s a double-edged sword, but at the end of the day, I feel like I’ve grown a lot as a driver and I’ve been putting as much effort as I possibly can into my racing and trying to learn to be a student of the sport.