Hailie Deegan views her recent move to ThorSport Racing as the missing piece to the puzzle in her fledgling racing career.
After spending two full seasons learning the ropes in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series with David Gilliland Racing, Deegan has elected to remain in the Truck Series for a third year with her new team. Despite external conjecture that she would benefit from moving up the NASCAR ladder to the Xfinity Series, Deegan is firm in her belief that joining ThorSport was the right decision.
“I think whether the option came up to do Xfinity or Trucks for this, being my third year, I would say wherever I ended up, I just wanted to be in a quality place,” Deegan said. “The level and the caliber of teammates that I will have … I really couldn’t ask for better.”
ThorSport is fielding a four-driver roster in the Truck Series, including Deegan, Matt Crafton, Ty Majeski and Ben Rhodes. Majeski and Rhodes were part of the Championship Four this year, while Crafton is a three-time Truck Series champion.
Deegan trusts that it will be a key year for her development and will perhaps lead to the kind of success she has lacked in the past.
This season, Deegan collected two top-10 finishes — her best being sixth-place effort at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway. She earned a seventh-place finish at World Wide Technology (Ill.) Raceway during her rookie season in 2021, which was her only top 10 of the year.
However, now that she’s joined an established, championship-caliber team like ThorSport, the expectations for her performance have grown.
“I think the world kind of looks at it as a more negative aspect, or tries to view it as, ‘Oh, it’s more pressure. Now the pressure is really on. How are you gonna deal with that?’” Deegan said. But in her mind, “When the opportunity arose, first of all to come to ThorSport, my eyes lit up. And then second of all, to be able to have Rich as my crew chief, I think, it just became almost like a dream come true.”
With ThorSport’s manufacturer swap from Toyota to Ford, Deegan will drive the No. 13 Ford F-150 under the guidance of crew chief Rich Lushes.
Just a year ago, Lushes and Rhodes conquered the Truck Series title together — a driving factor in ThorSport’s decision to pair him with 20-year-old Deegan. After witnessing Lushes skillfully unlock Rhodes’ potential in their first season as a duo, the hope is the same for he and Deegan.
“Like Hailie noted earlier, she looks at it as a confidence boost, a sturdy chair to kind of say, ‘Hey, he’s reached this success, so here you are and we’re going to help you do that.’ We felt like Rich was the right person who fit that job,” said ThorSport representative Allison Thorson.
With Lushes’ wisdom, ThorSport’s championship capability and the support of her teammates, the door is wide open for Deegan to step toward the next level of her NASCAR career.
All that remains is for her to capitalize on the opportunity at hand and refine the issues that have hindered her in the past.
“Last year, we kind of struggled on mile-and-a-halves and I don’t know if it’s because we changed some stuff from year to year or what,” Deegan said. “That’s something I want to go back to, is running good on those.”
Though her main objective is improvement in the Truck Series, she’s also keeping an eye out for some seat time in the Xfinity Series. She made her series debut at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in October and finished 13th, leaving her optimistic about getting another chance.
“As there are opportunities to get more Xfinity experience, that’s absolutely the right thing to do,” agreed Mark Rushbrook, global director of Ford Performance Motorsports.
But he’s not looking to rush Deegan’s development.
As he’s watched her mature since her Truck Series debut in 2020, Rushbrook has seen several flashes of her potential. He believes Deegan’s residence on the ThorSport team will naturally lead to the results she’s looking for and will serve to advance her career.
He added, “It’s about having the right equipment, the right people around her and she’s got that at ThorSport. It’s going to be a great season.”