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Hailie Deegan focuses on present, while Ford looks toward her future

Kyle Petty is joined by Mike Helton, Rick Hendrick, and Dale Earnhardt Jr., as they swap stories at the Hall of Fame to honor Dale Jr., who opens up about what the presence of Helton and Hendrick has meant to his career.

The head of Ford’s motorsports program said he’s “expecting a lot” from Hailie Deegan this year, and if she performs well in the Camping World Truck Series, “we would expect that she would go into Xfinity for 2023.”

Mark Rushbrook, global director of Ford Performance Motorsports, made the comments Monday about the 20-year-old Deegan, who begins her second year in the Truck Series with David Gilliland Racing. The Truck season begins Feb. 18 at Daytona.

Should Deegan move up to a full-time ride in the Xfinity Series next year, she would be the first female to have a full-time ride in that series since Danica Patrick in 2012.

Deegan’s immediate focus, though, is Friday’s Michelin Pilot Challenge at Daytona International Speedway on Peacock. She will partner with Chase Briscoe. They’ll drive a Mustang GT4 for PR Racing in the four-hour event the day before the start of the Rolex 24 at Daytona. Harrison Burton and Austin Cindric will a second PR Racing entry in the race.

MORE: Why are fewer NASCAR drivers racing Rolex 24?

“I think it’s just going to be a good experience to be able to get seat time,” Deegan said of Friday’s race. “I feel that’s one thing that I’ve really buckled down and said for this 2022 year that I just need to get as much seat time as I can, whether it’s in dirt, circle track stuff, whatever I can drive.”

Deegan discovered last year in the Truck Series, as did other rookies in NASCAR’s top three series, how challenging it can be without practice at most events. Her rookie season in the Truck Series saw modest results. She had one top-10 finish in 22 starts.

“I would say last year it took me probably twice as long as it would normally just to get comfortable and to figure out the ropes in the Truck Series, just for the sole fact that there was no practice my first time,” she said.

Even so, Rushbrook said Ford officials saw progress in Deegan last year.

“We did see as we went back to tracks for the second time she was performing a lot better, so I think this year she’ll be a lot more comfortable in the truck,” Rushbrook said.

Deegan says she seeks to build off last year’s experience.

“I feel like we definitely did get that solid base last season, even if it did take longer,” she said. “To be able to go into this season, into 2022, and be better right off the bat, not have to work up to things and just the practice side of things this year, will be able to help me now that I know the changes that we need to make to the truck and really know how to affect the truck — to be able to make those decisions during practice in the short amount of time span that we do have.”

The Truck Series will have extended practice this year at eight of its 23 races: Daytona, Atlanta, Bristol dirt, Knoxville, Sonoma, Mid-Ohio, Nashville and the Phoenix season finale.

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Lucas Oil 150 - Qualifying

AVONDALE, ARIZONA - NOVEMBER 05: Hailie Deegan, driver of the #1 Toter Ford, drives during qualifying for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Lucas Oil 150 at Phoenix Raceway on November 05, 2021 in Avondale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Getty Images

Deegan also looks to the new Ford F-150 Truck this season to accelerate her progress.

“I’m hoping that is going to help out a lot,” she said. “It seems like from the data that they have, it looks to be a lot better, so I think we’re going to go out there and be a lot more competitive as a whole team.

“From a team standpoint, we do have a lot of the same guys back on my program that were there last year. I felt like they were really good. I feel like we mesh really well and built a good relationship.”

As she looks ahead to this season, she has a few races she’s looking forward to run.

“I’d say one I’m excited for is Sonoma, just because I’ve raced there before in the K&N Series and qualified on the pole, so I know it’s possible for me to do good there,” she said. “I would say that’s one I’m excited for.

“As far as redeeming myself, I would say that would have to be the Bristol dirt track (a 19th-place finish). … Now that I have race there, I’m going to set my truck up a lot different than I did the last time.

“I feel like there are two ways to set up your truck for that race. You either have it really good at the beginning or really good at the end, and I had mine really good at the beginning and we weren’t there at the end.”

Her season might include more than this week’s race and the Truck Series. She competed in select SRX races last summer and could do so again.

“I talked to Ray (Evernham) and Tony (Stewart) last year and they said they would love to have me back, which is great to be able to hear that that opportunity is still there to come back and race in that series,” Deegan said. “That would be an awesome thing to do, so I’m kind of just waiting on their end, trying to figure out what the game plan is what races I’d be available to race.”