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(Photo: Zach Catanzareti)

2-Headed Monster: Is Hailie Deegan Ready For The Big Time?

After impressing during the past two seasons in the NASCAR K&N Series Pro Series West, 17-year-old Hailie Deegan could make her first starts in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series in 2020, per the Sports Business Journal.

This situation raises a burning question: Is Deegan being rushed? Adam Cheek and Clayton Caldwell debate this week’s topic.

A Little Can Go a Long Way

Deegan’s shown some significant talent in K&N Series competition, winning three races so far — one last year and two so far in 2019. She’s had a few ARCA Menards Series starts as well, finishing seventh, 12th and 18th. It’s time to see her in the Truck Series – but in a limited capacity to start.

There is such a thing, of course, as rushing a driver. We’ve seen that time and time again with someone brought up too quickly and fails to perform. And it’s understandable – too much, too fast can be overwhelming.

However, Deegan’s a somewhat different story given those three wins, many strong runs and extensive racing background to her name (her father is X Games gold medalist Brian Deegan). I’m glad she’s not being pushed to a full schedule in the Truck Series, but gaining experience is incredibly important.

Kyle Busch Motorsports is one of the premier teams that take on young drivers, and given her ties to Toyota is the team I’d assume Deegan would debut with. The team’s taken on numerous drivers in the past who’ve gained experience and even won races and titles – Bubba Wallace, Christopher Bell and Noah Gragson among them. KBM has proven to be a valuable stepping stone for up-and-coming talent.

Deegan has experience in just about everything — off-road trucks, karts and stock cars – but, again, it’s a good thing she’s not being rushed into a full season.

She turns 18 very soon, which means she’ll be eligible for the entire Truck schedule. She and the rest of the K&N teams race primarily on tracks under one mile, many of them a half-mile or shorter. Deegan has experience on dirt, so Eldora Speedway could be a possibility, as well as smaller tracks like Richmond Raceway, Bristol Motor Speedway and Iowa Speedway.

Even if she makes just three or four starts in NASCAR’s third-tier series next year, tracks like these would provide valuable experience for the rising star. The races would give her an idea of how the trucks drive, give her the feel of the trucks on similar tracks to what she already drives and allow her to race against the series’ competition.

I’m excited to see what she can do. Motorsports runs in the Deegan family’s blood, and the promise she’s shown so far looks like an encouraging preview of things to come.

Patience and experience are Deegan’s best friends as she ascends through the ranks of NASCAR. And she seems willing to use these to her advantage. -Adam Cheek

Let Her Progress Naturally

There’s no doubt, Deegan will run a Truck race in the near future, but I think we need to see more from her before we can say she’s ready to take that step.

So far, her career has been impressive, but keep in mind she is still very early in her oval racing career and the Truck Series has drivers who have been running on those tracks for decades. Think about the fact that Deegan’s three wins have come in the K&N West. What do I mean by that? Take Todd Gilliland for example.

Gilliland won back to back K&N West titles and scored 13 victories in the series in just 29 starts in 2016 and 2017. Following the 2017 season, Gilliland moved to the Truck Series with Kyle Busch Motorsports, arguably the best team in that series. The success hasn’t continued though. So far this year, team owner Busch has been very critical of his team’s performance and has flat out stated that Gilliland needs to do better. Gilliland’s career is now not as promising as it was two years ago, and it calls into question the level of competition in the K&N West.

Dylan Kwasniewski is another driver who dominated the K&N West, but quickly found himself out of the sport because he wasn’t given the proper time to develop. Kwasniewski was the 2012 K&N West champion. He won three races that season and finished in the top 10 in all of his 15 starts. He moved to the K&N Pro Series East a year later and won that title as well, winning six races in 14 starts in 2013.

His next move was a curious one. At the time, Kwasniewski was backed by RockStar Energy Drink, who struck a deal with Turner Motorsports to have him drive full-time in what is now the NASCAR Xfinity Series. It was a major competition jump for Kwasniewski, who was now running against a lot of Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers. Needless to say, he struggled. Even a crew chief change in the middle of the season couldn’t help him.

When it was all said and done, Kwasniewski had just three top-10 finishes in 33 starts and finished 11th in the point standings. And that was pretty much it. He was damaged goods after that. At age 20, Kwasniewski made just six more Xfinity Series starts before his racing career was over — a promising young talent who was rushed way too quickly and faded before he could legally drink a beer.

Take a look at a different case in Natalie Decker, whose first year in the Truck Series has been a rough one. She made just 27 major stock car starts with moderate success before moving up to the Truck Series with DGR-Crosley in 2019.

So far, Decker has wrecked — a lot. She’s only been running at the finish in half of her starts, and in most of those, she has spun but been able to continue. All the wrecks haven’t been her fault, but most can agree that a move to the Truck Series this early in her career may have been a step backward in her development.

At the end of the day, I am pulling for Deegan. I hope she does well and becomes the first female to win a Cup Series championship. However, it would be a mistake to rush her into a Truck Series ride just because NASCAR and the Truck Series are looking to generate interest. Let her develop the right way, and if she has as much talent as it looks like, she will find herself in the Truck Series naturally and she and the sport of NASCAR will be much better for it.  -Clayton Caldwell

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About Adam Cheek

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Adam Cheek joined Frontstretch as a contributing writer in January 2019. Currently attending VCU, he broadcasts and writes about sports for the college's athletic organizations. He has been a racing fan since he was three years old, inheriting this passion from his grandfather, who raced in amateur events up and down the East Coast in the 1950s.

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2 comments

  1. Avatar

    After watching her on the Dale show I think she has what it takes to get the job done. She’s not a cross-over driver so she knows what it takes to wheel a 3000lb car. And this is what NASCSR needs. For one I will be cheering her on.

  2. Avatar

    Deegan herself, on the Dale Jr Download show, stated she’s very aware of the downside of moving too fast and that she’s perfectly fine with spending more time in ARCA if that means her career benefits from it