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Hailie Deegan ‘making the best’ of 2020

Hailie Deegan NASCAR

AVONDALE, ARIZONA - MARCH 06: Hailie Deegan stands on the grid at Phoenix Raceway on March 06, 2020 in Avondale, Arizona. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

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Hailie Deegan doesn’t want to call her rookie season in the ARCA Menards Series a “lost year,” but as Kyle Busch is fond of saying, it’s 2020.

“I haven’t got everything out of it that I was planning on,” Deegan said Wednesday ahead of today’s race at Toledo Speedway (5 p.m. ET on Trackpass).

It’ll be the third time this year ARCA has visited the half-mile track. Like every major form of motorsports, it’s a schedule arrangement caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The pandemic has also thrown a wrench in the development plan for the 19-year-old Ford development driver.

When Deegan was announced as a Ford driver in December, her father Brian Deegan hoped she would be able “dabble” to in the Truck Series this year before moving up full-time in 2021. That dabbling could have included competing in the annual race at Eldora Speedway.

But it’s 2020.

“As of now nothing is really set in stone,” Deegan said. “Money is still tight. ARCA is expensive. We are still figuring it out. At the beginning of the year I thought we would be in the clear to do a few truck races money-wise and budget-wise for my racing, but what actually happened was with the whole COVID deal and everything, everyone’s budgets that they were going to give extra on top of what I had was cut.

“We had to start from square one again.”

Deegan said she knows “people that have trucks but I am struggling to find people that want to pay for them.”

Deegan, who has three ARCA Menards West wins, has been “making the best” of what she has had available to her this season while racing for DGR-Crosley.

“Put a lot more time on the simulator and been doing a lot more around stock car racing, not just practicing at the track,” Deegan said. “I have been doing a lot more dirt circle track racing and sim time and studying footage and focusing on the off-track stuff to get me ready for the on-track stuff to get me ready since we have such a lack of practice.”

Through 14 races, Deegan has 12 top 10s and a best finish of second in the season opener at Daytona. Her best non-superspeedway result was third at Lucas Oil Raceway. Going into Toledo she’s third in the standings, 48 points behind Michael Self.

Her two DNF’s were at Kentucky (wreck) and Iowa (mechanical issue).

“If I finished outside of the top 10 without anything happening I would be nervous for myself,” Deegan said. “I just hold myself to such a high standard and have such high goals for myself to accomplish and I know I am still in my development years and stuff but still, having a lot of eyes on me does add pressure and it does add pressure to do better than I am at any moment. I think I just have to keep my mind that I am in the ARCA Series and developing for the future.”

Deegan said the pandemic has made “it difficult, especially for a driver like me that doesn’t have as much experience as I want to have and needs more experience.”

Deegan transitioned to stock car racing after getting her start in off-road racing. This is just her third full-time year racing on pavement.

“It favors drivers that have been there forever,” Deegan said of the lack of additional track time. “Those are the ones it doesn’t affect the most. The up-and-coming drivers are trying to get seat time and experience. These races still cost the same for sponsors to pay for as they would if we got practice and qualifying and all that stuff. I get cut short, I am really the only one that gets cut short in the whole process because I am not getting the most out of it that I am needing to and was planning on from the beginning.”

While Deegan doesn’t believe the circumstances of this season push her racing plans “back a year,” she knows she’s will have to “really buckle down and focus” for the rest of this season.

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