Hailie Deegan isn’t messing around. The 18-year old phenom made her superspeedway debut Saturday in the ARCA season opening race at Daytona International Speedway. After leading Friday’s practice session, the Ford driver started seventh Saturday. She avoided several big crashes and was in a position to win in the closing laps. She held on for second behind Michael Self.
Turns out winning wasn’t her top priority and she was happy to tie for the best finish in ARCA by a female driver. She now holds the distinction with Erin Crocker who accomplished it three times and Shawna Robinson who finished second at Daytona in 1999.
“Pretty much at the end there, all I wanted to do was finish,” she said. “My goal for this race was top three to top-five was a victory for me. First of all, I wanted it to go green from that last caution, I was good with third, third was good. Then we had that caution and it was like, ‘Oh my God, Michael is going to take the top.’ I knew he would get help behind him. I told my spotter on the radio, ‘Think of all the times I have let Michael get past me and stuff when he was racing for the championship last year.’ I told them I would push them and help them win. I was totally fine finishing second. I wasn’t going to try to do anything to Michael. It is a long season and I have to race against these guys week in and week out. It is best to stay on good terms with them.”
Even though Daytona is a storied track that any racer wants to win at, Deegan is looking at the future.
“I know (it’s Daytona),” she said laughing “I will say that one thing I regret from the past two seasons was making more enemies than I should have. Carrying more grudges than I should have. That is something this season, especially coming to the ARCA Series and a lot of new drivers, I want to stay away from that and have people on my side so that when I do get in situations like where Michael is and we can help each other, it gets him a victory and me a good finish and we are both happy. That was really my goal. Second is really a win to me this weekend. Winning the first race would have maybe been a little too high of standards for the rest of the season. Everything would have been downhill. This gives me something to still work towards.”
She now has the entire ARCA season to learn from. The series races on a superspeedway (Talladega) in April, but most of the races will be held on short tracks and even dirt. And she is well aware of what she needs to do moving forward.
“I think having a good race, no wrecks, nothing negative, can keep the season up-beat,” she said. “I feel like the first race sets the tone for the season. Having a good first race can help keep the ball rolling and help the guys at the shop. When you are on a nice, positive, high level you bounce that off each other and the work ethic and it just helps for the rest of the year.”
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