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Hailie Deegan speaks at a NASCAR event
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Hailie Deegan making smart career moves: ‘There’s a lot on the line’

Hailie Deegan is in no rush when it comes to her fast-paced career.

Turning 18 years old Thursday means Deegan will be able to compete on ovals longer than 1.25 miles and drive full time in any of NASCAR’s three national series. But just because she can doesn’t mean she will. At least not immediately.

Right now, the California native is focused on her second K&N Pro Series West season.

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“Every weekend is a weekend for me to learn something new,” Deegan told NASCAR.com. “A lot of people are like, ‘Oh, it’s just K&N. Wait until you get to (Gander) Trucks or Xfinity.’ But there’s still a lot more money involved than I’ve ever had in my racing career before.

“I see it as an opportunity. I don’t want to take it for granted. There’s a lot on the line, let alone my career and my future. So I don’t want to do anything that’s going to hurt it, and everything I do is to make it better.”

So far, so good.

This season alone, Deegan has visited Victory Lane twice through seven K&N West races. She won the late February opener at Las Vegas Motor Speedway Dirt Track and then followed up with another win at Colorado National Speedway in early June. The only person with more victories is Derek Kraus (three), and he’s No. 1 in the West championship standings right now with 289 points — just eight more than Deegan, in second.

RELATED: Deegan wins with last-lap spin

“Gosh, I don’t even want to think about it,” Deegan said. “It’s just you can get caught up in point chasing.”

And not every race track or race car warrants that in her mind. Winning, no matter the cost, can be the sole priority at times.

“I feel like I’m confident with what I know is a good car and what I know is not,” Deegan said. “I know when I’m having an off weekend, what tracks I’m good at, what tracks I’ve struggled a little bit and where I have to learn more. So I think it’s just coming down to figuring out every single piece of the puzzle has to be right. Like Colorado, everything worked good for me.”

Deegan led a race-high 66 laps at Colorado’s 155-lap race. The final go-around saw Deegan bump and spin Kraus out of her way to the checkered flag. It marked the third victory overall in her two-year career.

Since Kraus is one of Deegan’s teammates at Bill McAnally Racing, a bit of social media backlash hit afterward.

“There were some people where it was like, ‘Oh, well, she needs to be able to pass cleaner’ or ‘You don’t see her making passes before the last lap,’ and stuff,” Deegan said. “Well, no. I don’t make the pass for the win before the last lap because I know what it’s going to take and I want to be the first one to the finish. I don’t want to have to battle it back out again.”

That was a big moment for Deegan, who prides herself on having a strong social media presence. It was really the first time people, even if wasn’t a huge amount, came at her. She didn’t back down or cower to the critics. Instead, she stayed true to her personality.

And Deegan sure isn’t shy about it.

“Once I get on track, I’m aggressive,” she said. “I like throwing elbows. I like rubbing fenders with people. It’s fun to me.”

The West title is Deegan’s goal for this season. Ideally, she would like to run a full schedule in the soon-to-be-combined K&N-ARCA Series in 2020. That dream scenario would also include a few Gander Trucks races by the end of the year — emphasis on the words “a few.”

The urge to surge ahead in her career lives in the back of her mind. It’s just not strong enough to derail the path Deegan has already planned out.

“Sometimes, I just want to go to Trucks racing,” Deegan said. “Like I see people going to race Trucks, I feel like I can go race Trucks.

“But then, like, I don’t want to make the mistake of doing that too soon. I don’t want to fail. Everything I want to do, I want to succeed at. I want to make sure I don’t have any regrets.”