AVONDALE, Ariz. – At her current scorching pace, it feels like rising superstar Hailie Deegan will be racing at NASCAR’s highest levels much sooner than later.
But why rush a good thing?
That’s how Kevin Harvick, one of the 17-year-old driver’s most vocal proponents, feels.
“The thing I like about Hailie is she loves to race. She’s very good at talking about racing and very energetic in doing things off the race track,” Harvick told NASCAR.com Friday at ISM Raceway, site of Sunday’s TicketGuardian 500 (3:30 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). “But the thing that I like the most about Hailie is that her dad, Brian, has been there, done that and right now — and this is my opinion that I’ve voiced to both of them — is what’s the hurry?”
Good luck stopping her. In her short time in the spotlight, one thing stands out about Deegan: She likes to go as fast as possible, as often as possible.
Harvick’s perspective on her burgeoning career is particularly sharp, and it’s evident he has spent considerable time analyzing her situation. Not only was Harvick around when phenom Joey Logano broke into the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series at the ripe age of 18 in 2008 – and subsequently struggled to find his footing until a move to Team Penske in 2013 – but the 2014 champion had a front row seat as a teammate to Danica Patrick during her foray into full-time stock car racing with Stewart-Haas Racing.
“The biggest difference that Hailie has … right now is she’s going to have more stock car experience when she gets to the top level,” said Harvick, looking for his 10th career ISM Raceway win on Sunday. “I used to tell Danica Patrick this: ‘You’ll never catch up to the experience I have. It’s impossible. The only way you catch up is if I quit, and I’m going to have 25 years on you, no matter what you do.’ ”
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So what do you say to try to manage expectations on a meteoric trajectory that could potentially see Deegan racing on Sundays within a few years, or at least impart the knowledge – to a feisty, hungry 17-year-old race car driver, no less — that low and slow might be the recipe to glory at the highest level?
Especially if Deegan keeps winning races – she won the K&N opener at Las Vegas with a thrilling last-lap pass less than two weeks ago – the movement to move up may accelerate.
But Harvick says the knowledge, wisdom and lessons Deegan will learn in lower series is invaluable to the rest of her career.
“The thing about it is, having that experience when you get to that next levels and being even on that experience level with the people that you’re competing against to be a top-caliber driver needs to be as even as possible,” he said. “It’s like holding your kid back in school. A lot of parents do that in sports nowadays. They hold them back as long as they can and they take a seventh or eighth grade year then wait another year to put them in high school so that they can be bigger, stronger, faster and have an advantage.
“To me, the advantage is it doesn’t matter when you get here. You’re going to be a star and you will be a bigger star if you can compete.”