Hailie Deegan gave herself passing marks at Daytona for her first superspeedway race in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
With veteran spotter TJ Majors as her eyes in the sky, the 19-year-old Truck rookie ran inside the top 10 for periods of last Friday night’s season opener on the oval at Daytona International Speedway.
But on Lap 81, she lost control of her No. 1 David Gilliland Racing Ford and made contact with the inside backstretch wall. Deegan drove her damaged truck to the pits for repairs, and she finished 24th, three laps down.
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“Going out there, I kind of had a lot of goals, as in just being smooth – not being the driver that’s out of control, bouncing on and off the line,” Deegan said Tuesday in a media teleconference.
“But I think with my spotter TJ in my ear the whole time coaching me through it, I feel like we ran a pretty good race until our little incident.”
As the night progressed, Deegan herself noted on her team radio that she “did not realize how smart you have to be in this race.”
Being a rising young athlete, Deegan is striving to make her mark. But she also is learning the importance of recognizing what she doesn’t know and when to rely on experienced hands such as Majors at the track.
“I think everywhere, every race I go to, I try to be like a sponge and absorb all the information I can,” she said. “Having someone like TJ on my team is amazing. I like people on the radio that talk a lot, and he does just exactly that.
“I told him at the beginning of the year, when we first started going over footage for Daytona, I was like, ‘Hey, I need you to practically drive this car for me, because I have no clue how these Trucks handle on superspeedways.’”
Another key figure in Deegan’s development has been longtime Cup Series driver David Ragan, who works with her regularly at Ford Performance’s technical center in North Carolina.
Deegan says Ragan also has helped her break down footage and attends her sessions on Ford’s simulator. But most valuable to Deegan is his overall knowledge base from more than 600 NASCAR national series starts.
“A lot of these tracks, I’ve never raced at before,” she said. “Him having that past experience there, having a lot of notes he can give me, is crucial.”
Deegan now turns her attention to Daytona’s 3.61-mile road course, which will play host to the trucks’ second race of the season this Friday night.
It’s a track where she has some of her own experience to draw upon. She raced on that layout last August in the ARCA Menards Series, finishing sixth.
But while that race and continued simulator work has Deegan feeling good on track knowledge, she doesn’t know how her Truck will handle the 14-turn layout.
“Once you get out there – we have no practice and no qualifying and go straight into the race – the first couple laps will be about being smart, staying out of the chaos and not overdriving and just hitting our marks and learning how the Truck feels and what I need out of it,” she said.