Hailie Deegan has adapted fast to stock car racing. She’ll face another new challenge Saturday.
The 19-year-old from Telecula, California, will make her first start ARCA Menards Series start at Daytona International Speedway in the Lucas Oil 200 Driven by General Tire.
Deegan has made a smooth transition from her off-road racing upbringing, becoming the first female to win a race and Rookie of the Year honors in NASCAR’s West Series in 2018 as a 16-year-old, and then picked up two more wins and a third-place finish in the West championship standings last year.
Now, her focus has shifted to a full campaign in the ARCA Menards Series, and it’s first test: driving her No. 4 Monster Energy/Ford Performance Ford on the 2.5-mile oval at "The World Center of Racing."
"It’s a work in progress since this is only my third year doing this," Deegan said. "I try to take what I learn from every situation and try to get better next time. I want to run all the laps and be there at the end to see what we can get."
Despite being a rookie with no race race experience in the draft, Deegan has proven she isn’t one to overlook.
"To win at Daytona would be huge," Deegan said. "If there is any race I want to win this year, it’s Daytona!"
– Daytona International Speedway (@DISupdates) January 13, 2020
It will actually be Deegan’s second start at Daytona and for Ford after an offseason switch from Toyota.
She competed in the the four-hour BMW Endurance Challenge, where she drove a Multimatic-prepared Ford Mustang alongside 2016 ARCA Menards Series champion Chase Briscoe to a 43rd-place finish after mechanical issues put them several laps down. She’ll transition to Ford’s stock car driver development program with DGR-Crosley Racing for her first full run at the ARCA Menards Series championship.
Deegan made six starts in the ARCA Menards Series last year, finishing eighth in the season finale at Kansas Speedway.
She’s proven she can master the short tracks, picking up West wins at Colorado National Speedway (.375-mile oval) and Meridian Speedway (quarter-mile) as well as the half-mile Dirt Track at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. And she’s shown that she’s getting more acclimated with the bigger tracks. Deegan started 17th and finished fourth in the 2019 West finale at Phoenix Raceway in the fall.
"I think that I’m still developing as a driver," Deegan said. "I’m in a development series, so there are things I’m still learning how to do. If I were perfect at everything, I’d be racing in the Cup Series. I am far from perfect, so at the end of the day I’m still learning."
Daytona is no stranger to female accomplishments in the ARCA Menards Series.
Shawna Robinson, who had been the most recent NASCAR regional series winner (1989) before Deegan, holds the series’ mark for highest finishing female with her runner-up finish at Daytona in 1999. Natalie Decker won the pole in 2018 and has finished fifth and seventh in the last two years, while Leilani Munter finished eighth in 2018.
This year, Canadian Dominique Van Wieringen posted the fastest time in open testing on Jan. 10-11.
Deegan, Decker and Van Wieringen are among the 34 entries in Saturday’s race.
While Deegan would indeed make history on many levels should she win the Lucas Oil 200, her goal is actually quite simple. Run all the laps, get to the finish and see where she ends up.
"In the end, I put my helmet on the same way everyone else does."
– NBC Sports (@NBCSports) February 5, 2020
Track activity for the Lucas Oil 200 Driven by General Tire starts with a pair of practices (1:30-2:30 p.m. and 3-4 p.m.) on Friday, with General Tire Pole qualifying Saturday at 12:30 p.m. The 80-lap season-opener will go green at 4:30 p.m. and will air live on FS1.