Hailie Deegan is one of the most popular figures in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. Her results, however, have not come around like many expected them to so far in 2022.
In 2021, struggles were expected. Deegan was just 19 years old and was in a top division of NASCAR. She finished 17th in points with one top-10 finish. This year after 12 races Deegan finds herself 25th in the series point standings. A jump in performance was expected, but so far that has yet to happen.
However, there is news that Deegan is considering running an Xfinity Series race in 2022.
Is it possible she’s moving up too quickly? Should she run an Xfinity race in 2022? Vito Pugliese and Michael Nebbia debate.
Toiling in Trucks Is Not the Answer
With the Camping World Truck Series at the halfway point in the 2022 season, it’s a natural time to reflect on how a driver or team has fared thus far, in relation to their goals for the year, or judging off of a past season performance.
If you’ve followed Hailie Deegan’s foray into the trucks thus far, you’d be excused for cringing at what has transpired. Following this past weekend’s race at Sonoma Raceway that started off promising with a top-10 qualifying effort, a solid pace in the first stage, only to be undone by pit issues and an off-road excursion on lap 66.
To say she’s had a sophomore slump would be an understatement – and also suggest that her freshman year was an unbridled success … which it was not. So what is the resolution to correct this path of mediocrity? Switch crew chiefs? Change manufacturers?
No — move her up a level.
Last week Deegan had intimated that an Xfinity start or two was in her future this year. Given how things have gone thus far, that seems like the opposite of what anyone offering responsible career guidance would suggest. In her case, I think there’s more upside than down at this stage in her development process. As Viper told Jester in Top Gun when Maverick couldn’t get back in the saddle, “Keep sending him up…”
Let’s take a step back to last season, her rookie year in the Truck Series.
We were still under COVID protocols from the year before, so teams had no practice and as a rookie driver in the series, most of the time her first look at a track was taking the green and sailing off in the first turn, hoping it stuck. She’d spend most of the first stage trying to learn how to drive the track, and the second stage trying to get the truck comfortable to try to go fast. That’s a really challenging position to put someone in, in equipment they’ve never driven, tracks they haven’t seen, and starting around guys who probably only have a year or so to prove something and in perpetual desperation mode doing really smart things.
This season seems to be a point of regression unfortunately. The last month or so, the No. 1 team has been starting in the mid-20s, and ends up somewhere in the mid-teens if there isn’t a crash or some catastrophic failure. By comparison, her David Gilliland Racing teammate Tanner Gray usually qualifies around where she is, and after the first few races this season that saw him racking up top 10s, hasn’t exactly fared much better.
And he hasn’t had to deal with a stalker either.
When Deegan arrived in 2019 in the ARCA Series, she showed much promise, finishing in the top six (in a series with 10 decent cars) regularly, and contending for a couple of wins, without any embarrassing ARCA-brake incidents – or letting off in the corners at Daytona International Speedway or Talladega Superspeedway. She was moved up to the Truck Series perhaps a little too soon, but there’s only so much you’re going to learn running in such a diluted series such as that. The Truck Series is remarkably competitive and overly aggressive at times – but such is the nature of a stepping stone series when drivers need to get noticed early and often.
A shot at Xfinity isn’t such a risk either, as the expectations can’t be that high given the lack of any significant Ford presence in the series. There’s no longer any Penske cars, Roush has been long gone for a couple of years now, and other than Riley Herbst’s Stewart-Haas Racing entry, you’re left with B.J. McLeod and the Sieg family. If there’s anything that she can pull from Ford and SHR at this point it would be some coaching.
Deegan’s biggest issue to date seems to be a lack of guidance. She’s 20 years old in one of the top 3-4 series in North America, living 2,500 miles away from her family, and desperately needs some kind of mentor with the requisite experience and success to help get her up to speed and sustain her confidence at this level of racing.
Her greatest asset thus far besides her ability has been her attitude. She hasn’t succumbed to the pressure and scrutiny that seemed to plague Danica Patrick when she arrived on the scene as the top female in an obviously male dominated environment. However, her focus appears to be with selling branded merchandise and content creation for her YouTube channel. I get it, it’s part of the game now, and mandatory to master the art of social media to attract sponsorship and remain relevant – coupled with the obvious monetization opportunity is part of the equation now for any modern competitor getting started.
That said, being forced to focus on solely being a driver at a higher level, with some Cup Series influence while doing so might be what gets her on the right track.
To suggest she’s a bust at 20 years old is terribly unfair and a baseless argument if you consider the circumstances she was learning under last year. She took the jump to trucks after a year in ARCA, and her first truck race while she was a rookie in ARCA was an uneventful but clean run at Kansas in 2020. After all, Ty Gibbs has seven wins so far in Xfinity and he’s never started a Truck Series race before. Perhaps being among some higher caliber talent and a more solid foundation will is what she needs to see where her potential lies. – Vito Pugliese
No Need to Rush
I do not think Deegan is mentally or professionally ready for the jump to Xfinity. We’ve seen drivers rushed up through the ranks before and it did not turn out well. Remember Dylan Kwasniewski? He had all the talent in the world and was successful in the lower ranks of NASCAR. He had a big money sponsor behind him. He was the 2012 NASCAR K&N West Series champion and was rushed up to the Xfinity Series in 2014 and had a disastrous year, with just three top-10 finishes in 33 starts. What happened next? He ran six races in 2015 and was out of NASCAR at the age of 20.
And for what reason? Because a sponsor couldn’t wait to get him to the Xfinity Series? How does that make sense? There are countless examples of rushing drivers through the ranks and it’s the same story. They’re not ready for it, they lose their confidence and shortly thereafter it’s over.
I think that was part of Danica Patrick’s problems in the Cup Series. I believe had she run a few more years in the Xfinity Series and got more familiar with stock cars before making the jump to the Cup Series, she would have been a lot more competitive in Cup. But because her big money sponsor wanted her in the Cup Series and she was moved up to Cup after two years in the Xfinity Series, she couldn’t compete.
For Deegan, this was supposed to be her breakout season in Trucks. Instead, she’s taken a step backwards. At this point last season she was 17th in the standings. She currently sits 25th in the points in 2022. Her focus should entirely be on the Truck Series and improving her performance there. To make the jump up to longer races and arguably stronger competition is just not a smart idea at this point.
If I were David Gilliland Racing and Ford, I wouldn’t want her to have any other distractions. She’s had quite a few so far this year and another distraction is the last thing she needs. The opportunity to run in the NASCAR Xfinity Series is something that can be done in the future when things are going a bit better and her confidence is up.
This season has been one catastrophe after another for Deegan. She needs one more full season without all this stress before she’s ready for the Xfinity Series. The last thing I want to see for Deegan is for her to become the next Kwasniewski. That would not only be a disaster for her, but it would be a disaster for the sport. –Michael Nebbia
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