A 'crucial' year for Hailie Deegan's career begins today at Daytona




  • In Sports
  • 2020-01-24 12:00:43Z
  • By NBC Sports
 

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Hailie Deegan will be racing a sports car today at Daytona International Speedway with an eye toward her future in stock cars.

Signed by Ford Performance to a developmental deal that will put her in a full-time ARCA car (and possibly a truck race or two) this season, Deegan was surprised when the manufacturer also expressed a desire to put her in a few IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge events.

The first will be Friday's season-opening BMW Endurance Challenge, a four-hour warmup race at Daytona International Speedway ahead of Saturday's Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona.

Deegan and Xfinity Series veteran Chase Briscoe will start 20th in the No. 22 Multimatic Motorsports Ford Mustang GT4.

MEET HAILIE DEEGAN: 'I put my helmet on the same way as everyone else'

"I originally never planned on this, but (Ford) came to me and were like we want to get you on our IMSA program,'" Deegan said. "That's what we did with Briscoe, (Cole) Custer, (Austin) Cindric All the guys that came through the ranks with Ford.

"When they told me that, I was excited because more road courses will be in the NASCAR world, and there already are quite a few. I think what makes an all-around good driver are the ones that are good at every single type of track."

There's been much talk of adding road and street races to the Cup schedule in the next few years, and the Xfinity Series schedule just expanded to five road courses with the move from the oval at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Deegan, 18, still remains a long way from the top two national series, but they are her goal, which makes 2020 critical for earning results.

"This is the year that's very important and crucial to my career because it decides contracts for years out with sponsors getting behind you for the higher levels," said Deegan, who had three K&N Series victories in 2018-19. "If we can do good this year, I feel I can get more people behind me so we can go in the top three level series (of NASCAR), and have sponsors that want to stay with me full time while I'm there.

"My goal is to win a few races in the ARCA Series, which is going to be hard. There are a lot of good guys, good cars this year."

Aside from running full time in ARCA for DGR-Crosley, Deegan would "love to do a truck race" if the sponsorship materializes, "but funding right now is all focused on ARCA so we can try to work toward those championships and winning races. I know I want to be in a good car with good people behind me. If we can focus on that, hopefully everything else will come along."

If it does, Deegan would like to return to her roots.

"I want to be in Eldora in a truck," she said. "Everything I know and do, I learned from dirt racing. So that's why everyone always calls me overaggressive and stuff. I learned all that from dirt racing. If we get funding for Eldora, I'd be super happy. It's definitely a bucket list thing.

"But I want to get my feet wet in the truck series before I go there full time. I think if we can just do that this year, it won't slow down the process for the years after."

Deegan made the switch to Ford from Toyota Racing Development, which had backed her through K&N the past few years. Ford offers more seats in the NASCAR Cup Series than Toyota, but Deegan said she didn't view the move as "necessarily a faster track.

"It was just a matter of where do we want to be for the best possible future," she said. "(Ford) had a really good, clear path for me. I'm not a short-term goal person. It's what is going to be the best for the future. What's going to get me the longest career possible in the best possible equipment with the best possible people and situation. I think when they came to me with that offer, and it's something you can't really turn down."

The long-term preparation will begin today at Daytona on a track that Deegan was unfamiliar with before a test session three weeks ago. She walked the course for nearly two hours with Cindric (who also is in the race) to learn braking points and racing lines.

She joked then that her expectations were all over the board because she wasn't even sure how many cars are in the race (there are 51).

"Austin Cindric told me (the Mustang GT4) probably is one of the easiest cars you'll ever drive when it comes to road courses, compared to a stock car on a road course," she said. "It does everything you need it to do. I think it'll be good. We'll gain as much information and data we can. That's what I'm here for is to develop and get better."

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