Interview: Deegan keeps an eye on Xfinity’s debut

It’s been ups and downs and all over the place for Hailie Deegan throughout the 2022 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. While 21-year-old Charger David Gilliland Racing became the first female driver in NASCAR history to score two Top 10 Finals in a single season – a mid-10th Ohio and sixth in Talladega this summer—there were six DNFs as well as a host of other lackluster starts. As a result, Deegan is currently 21st in Truck Series points with only Miami and Phoenix races remaining.

Deegan will face another fierce challenge this weekend when she lines up at the Xfinity Series at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where she will make her series debut at the #07 SS Green Light Racing Ford Mustang.

Q: Las Vegas Motor Speedway and your first Xfinity Series start on Saturday. This is the hell of a blank canvas for you, huh?

Hailey Deegan: Yes, absolutely. I’m so excited. Going back with some truck elements, some of the best trails I’ve run have been my best mile-and-a-half trails. Las Vegas Motor Speedway and a mile and a half; I feel very comfortable there. I can’t tell you why. I don’t have the slightest idea. For some reason, I feel super comfortable and confident in the mile-and-a-half stuff. I figured when I got to the Xfinity stuff I’d have to make my first race start on a mile and a half track.

Q: Regarding the Xfinity Series itself, do you know what you’re climbing into?

HD: Again with the NASCAR stuff, we’re not allowed to go for audition or anything like that. Even as a beginner, we can’t test. The only access I really have is a simulator. With the Ford simulator, they do a really good job. I was able to set aside a bunch of time for it. I’ve actually been there quite a bit. I’ve been in a bunch of hours trying to get ready for this race. I’ve just been practicing on every little thing from the changes we’re making to the car, to just seeing my reaction to those changes, to giving feedback on the changes. I was also just trying to see how the car feels overall and to practice for off-road things and qualifying runs. There is a lot that you can do with these emulators to be able to enter your own settings. The emulator helps a lot because you are already able to make changes related to what you are already doing on the track.

Q: How did the deal happen?

HD: I knew at the beginning of the year that I really wanted to start my first Xfinity in 2022. I wanted to be able to run at least one Xfinity race because I don’t know what the future holds for me. I don’t know what we’ll do next year. I just learned that if I had the chance to do some Xfinity racing in 2023, I at least wanted to know what I would have been in. This does not mean that the opportunity has come yet. I just think being able to gain some experience is great so you know what your strengths are; What are your weaknesses so you can work on them to be better prepared for the next opportunity.

Q: Given your truck series season so far in 2022, your sixth-place result in Talladega should have put a spring in your next step into Las Vegas this weekend?

HD: Yeah, yeah, it’s been really good lately. We are getting better and better with every race. We made some changes to the crew at DGR and everything was going well, so I feel like we’re finding the right pieces for the puzzle and everything is just starting to work and calm down and it’s all just kind of finding itself out. We ran better in the races. I feel like my notes have been better than ever. I spent a lot of time really working on the study side and doing my homework to be the best driver possible. I put a lot of time and effort into it and do my best.

Q: A lot of hell goes into all of this, right? Even while speaking with Xfinity drivers like Ty Gibbs, Noah Gragson and Riley Herbst throughout the 2022 season, these guys talked a lot about the hard learning process.

HD: Oh yeah! It sure is. Just knowledge and experience, it’s hard to beat. You are trying to get this experience as fast as you can. It’s not like how you got used to the day you got a full day of training beforehand. Now, with my first Xfinity Race – and I’m lucky to have it he is I’ll be practicing – I get 25 minutes of practice and qualifying starts right away. 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 qualify. It’s different now and I feel even more difficult. There is more pressure on these younger drivers to rise to the occasion and try to be as perfect as possible. You can’t really ask anyone to be perfect. You are not only trying to do everything you can with as few mistakes as possible, but you are also trying to learn as much as you can and you don’t have the time to learn everything you want.

Q: What do you hope to achieve this weekend?

HD: Yes, there are two different approaches you can take. Finishing the race with all the laps and not making any stupid little accidents on the track would be very good. There are some things that are out of your control. Things that are under my control during the race – I don’t want to make any mistakes. I just want to go out there and feel comfortable and get into phase two and make some good changes and then really go after it in phase three. hard to say. I will be very happy with the top 10 or the top 15. And I will be very happy with that.

Q: You’ve made two of the top 10 finals in the 2022 Camping World Truck Series. When you look back, what do you think of your 22 Series truck line of business?

HD: The year in general…it’s hard for a lot of people outside to see, but I think we’ve had a lot of great moments on a really good run and something will happen during the race and that’s going to take that much effort away from us. Sometimes it won’t necessarily be up to me and we run into a problem. We’ve had a lot of great top 10 runs this year, but we’re going to crash on the restart and there’s nothing we can do. It can also be that there is a huge pileup ahead of you at breakneck speed and there is nothing you can do. There have been a lot of instances where I feel like we’ve done great rides and carried a lot of speed and sometimes there isn’t much to show when it comes to a number.

It’s tough. 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 that I’m doing my best in racing and trying to learn to be the sports student.

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