Deegan thrives in first Gander Truck Series start: ‘I had so much fun’

In her first NASCAR national series start, Hailie Deegan pulled off a first for the sport.

Deegan finished 16th in Saturday’s Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series race at Kansas Speedway, accomplishing the best finish by a female driver in her series debut. She steered the No. 17 Ford for DGR-Crosley, her full-time ARCA Menards Series team. The top-20 showing came without any practice for the up-and-coming driver, as NASCAR continues to limit at-track time due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

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“My first time starting that truck was coming off pit road and taking the green flag,” Deegan said. “It was definitely difficult. My expectations of how the truck was going to handle based on what my crew told me was not how it handled the first stage. We were able to tune it up to how I liked it and get better every single time we pitted.

“I think, at the end of the day, it was crazy. I had so much fun, and I can’t wait to do more of it.”

And she will.

During the race, Ford Performance announced Deegan will run in the 2021 Camping World Truck Series with DGR-Crosley. The goal is for the gig to be full time. Deegan indicated there are still some deals that need to be worked out before that is officially the case, but she is confident it’ll be a for-sure thing before the end of the year. The Truck Series is where Deegan, 19, believes she belongs at this point in her career.

“It’s going to be a struggle at first,” she said. “I’m not going to go out there and set the world on fire and win my first race. People have to understand that. It’s going to take time. It’s going to take a lot of learning. I think eventually we’ll obviously get better with time.”

That’s what happened Saturday.

Deegan fired off 34th with a loose truck, which she quickly figured out was not her preference. She navigated her way up to 25th by the end of Stage 1 on Lap 30 and then 18th by the conclusion of Stage 2 on Lap 60. Her 16th-place result was a lap down, but Deegan completed the 139-lap event that went into overtime with a running truck.

During all that, Deegan had to make her first-ever green-flag pit stop.

“I hadn’t entered the pits here under actual speed in anything,” Deegan said. “Even in the ARCA race we have scheduled pit stops. You’re already rolling with everyone; you can’t lose any spots. But in the trucks, you can lose or gain a ton.

“We weren’t even planning on coming in that early, like we were going to stay out for a few more laps. I don’t know if you guys heard me on the radio, but you could hear me panic saying, ‘It’s out. It’s out. It’s out. It’s out.’ That was off Turn 2, and I was able to just make it to my pit stall, get gas in it and by the time I took off, it was still sputtering. I was about to stall it because it was just so dry on fuel. That was definitely a sketchy moment.”

Even recalling that minor scare, though, Deegan couldn’t keep the smile off her face.

“It was so much fun,” Deegan said.