Zack Albert | NASCAR Digital Media

Deegan’s development taking patient approach, even with Cup Series as ultimate goal

CONCORD, N.C. — Brian Deegan rattled off the dates as if he was reading from an annual planner. His daughter, Hailie, had just been introduced as the latest member of Ford Performance’s driver development program, but the careful and deliberate blueprint for her long-term future was also top of mind.

“So it’d be ARCA, 2020; ’21, trucks; ’22, trucks; ’23, ’24 Xfinity, which is kind of what we’re hoping and laying out as our goal for her to have that path and then get to Cup,” Brian Deegan said, spelling out the provisional plan for the 18-year-old prospect’s aspirations for reaching NASCAR’s major leagues.

“Where do you see yourself in five years?” is almost a job interview trope by now. For Hailie Deegan, that question already has a tentative outline, but with a heavy emphasis on a measured approach.

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Deegan is set for a full 20-race schedule next season in the ARCA Menards Series, joining DGR-Crosley’s operation for 2020. Her slate also includes spot duty in IMSA sports-car competition, and the potential for a midseason debut in the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series was breathed more than once during Tuesday’s news conference at the Ford Performance Technical Center.

Mark Rushbrook, the global director of Ford Performance Motorsports, indicated that no firm timetable was in place for Deegan’s advancement to NASCAR’s top division and that any moves up the career ladder would be determined by her progress at each step. While acknowledging that it was enticing to possibly accelerate Deegan’s timeline, Rushbrook said that a more gradual track was something mutually agreed upon from an early date.

“From the very first serious discussion, that was very clear — both from us and the Deegan representation — that that’s the way everybody wanted to approach it,” Rushbrook said. “There’s no good reason to jump to Cup too quickly and to not win and be competitive. We don’t want to do that, they don’t want to do that, so I think we’ve got the right approach, the right timing.”

Not that it’s been easy. Deegan branched off from her full-time duties last season in the K&N Pro Series West (now ARCA Menards Series West) for some seasoning in the ARCA Menards Series. All the while, Derek Kraus — her then-teammate at Bill McAnally Racing and the eventual West champion — delved into the Gander Trucks ranks with four starts over the course of the 2019 campaign.

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It’s prompted talk about when Deegan’s own shot at the tailgate tour might happen, but those thoughts have been tempered by patience from all sides.

“There’s moments where you want to rush it a little bit, and then you have to realize, man, I can’t make the mistake of doing that,” Deegan says. “Because at the end of the day, you really only have one reputation and one shot, and once you kind of get that bad reputation and don’t have some good results, then it’s kind of over. It’s really hard to build it back. It’s going to take a lot more money and funding, so you want to make sure you do it the right way, the best way that’s not going to keep you in a giant hole, trying to find sponsors that want to commit to you and are on the same page and don’t try to rush you.”

Deegan has made little secret that a potential Gander Trucks start on Eldora Speedway’s dirt half-mile is on her wish list of possible appearances. Her background in off-road racing plus her penchant for dirt-track showcases is what helped her to victory in the West Series opener this year at Las Vegas Motor Speedway’s dusty bullring.

The ultimate goal, however, is a well-earned place in NASCAR’s premier series, a position that’s going to take time, no matter how methodical the progression.

“Of course there’s a rush to get there, and it’s hard when you’re looking over the fence and you’re in one series and you see that other series as much bigger and more attention,” Brian Deegan said. “Trust me, we love media and we love attention, but the problem is, we gotta take our time, right, because what happens if she rushes there and just can’t hang with the pace and then it’s done, right? And then all that for that. So it’s important for us to take some time.

“The bottom line, that’s most important, and Ford understands that. That’s why we laid out the deal the way we did. It’s a clear-cut path to get through those ranks and get to Cup. That’s what we wanted to lay out because the most important thing was as a family, making a decision of where can we be that’s going to be the best path for us to develop and learn and get faster and faster.”