That Hailie Deegan didn’t run well during her rookie Camping World Truck Series season should not come as a surprise. Even knowing that moving up into a NASCAR national series would be hard, Deegan still admits she didn’t perform as she expected in the No. 1 David Gilliland Racing Ford.
Deegan had just one previous start under her belt going into 2021. Her little experience was exacerbated by there being no practice and qualifying, meaning few opportunities to learn. The depth of competition is deeper than what Deegan was around in the KN or ARCA Menards Series. A truck drives nothing like an ARCA car, and Deegan believes anyone who says otherwise is lying.
In the end, Deegan finished 17th in the championship standings with one top-10 finish.
“I needed last year to learn to be good this year,” Deegan told RACER. “There were so many components (to truck racing) that I was at the bad end of that, and I had to kind of push through it as best I could and absorb as much information as I could to be able to apply it this year.”
Deegan was thrown into the deep end of the pool last season. But now, she has some rafts to help her swim with the return of practice and qualifying, and continually leaning on the resources around her.
“I think a lot of people would have the same outlook coming from ARCA or wherever they did and jumping into the truck series – you to need to learn everything, but the problem is you do that in practice,” Deegan said. “We didn’t have that last year, so we had to do it in the race.”
Deegan spoke to RACER after coming off four peaceful hours on a boat fishing. Although it was something new to her, Deegan enjoyed getting away from reality and electronics when invited to the Academy Sports Outdoors Celebrity Fishing Tournament. She only caught two fish on Lake Lanier and called her day mediocre, but found herself being about to use the time to relax and refocus her thoughts.
“I was like, ‘This is so relaxing and much needed,’” Deegan said. “This is what I imagine people would feel like if they went to a spa.”
Getting her mind right is something Deegan has spent quite a bit of time on recently. Deegan revealed she battled to get through last season, getting through the 23-race schedule by building a notebook and keeping her head up. Confidence became a struggle.
“I’m generally not insecure, but I’m not usually cocky confident,” Deegan said. “This year, I’ve heard it from so many people around me that I’ve got to be more confident, I’ve got to be mentally stronger, more confident in myself. That’s what I’ve worked on a lot this offseason and really broke down everything because you can go, ‘Oh, I’m going to be more confident,’ but that doesn’t mean anything. You have to figure out how you’re going to do that. I figured out what I needed to work on to game plan goals and how to accomplish them.”
Deegan made more time to study resources and data than previously. Veteran David Ragan remains an ally and someone Deegan spends time with at the Ford simulator. When it comes to the sim, Deegan dug into specific tracks for weeks at a time “just so I can nail this one.
“We’re going to try every single change, I’m going to tell you what’s good, what’s not, what I liked, what I think we should start in the truck with,” Deegan said. “Because you’re basing a lot of these trucks off the simulator, and a lot of the changes you make in the simulator, if they’re good and do everything you want, you’ll take it over to the truck before you bring it to the track.
“I feel like I built a mindset of, we’re going to do everything we possibly can here beforehand, so I’m confident that when I got to the track, I can say that worked, that didn’t, now let’s figure out the next thing and just constantly be in working in my head.”
Believing that racing is racing and seat time never hurts, Deegan also invested in a micro sprint at the end of last year. She races and works on the machines with boyfriend Chase Cabre, and Deegan feels it helps stay competitive and intense.
Deegan understands a lot is expected of her, and it’s been that way since the beginning. The constant hounding can eat at a driver, but Deegan tries to keep her expectations in check. That doesn’t change even when Mark Rushbrook, global director of Ford Performance Motorsports, not only publicly said he expects a lot of Deegan, but if things go well, she could be looking at moving to the Xfinity Series in 2023.
“I think me, Monster (Energy), Ford, all of us are on the same page,” Deegan said. “Mark is a great guy. Mark’s competitive, just like me, so I understand. But I knew I had those expectations on me the moment I signed with Ford. It comes with it. You get big deals, you get big expectations.”
And given everything that Deegan learned and experienced last year, she’s all in with her goals this season.
“I want to make the playoffs; that’s my goal for this,” said Deegan, who will be back on track at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the second race of the season (Friday, 9 p.m. ET). “When it comes to (overall points) finishing, that’s my goal.”