Stock car driver Hailie Deegan took part in the ARCA Menards Series in 2020, kicking off her first full-time season with Ford Performance. She expected the opportunity to develop as a NASCAR driver while getting extended seat time, but the COVID-19 pandemic threw a wrench into the plans. Despite facing unfamiliar tracks with little or no practice time, she has still secured nine top-10 finishes, and a season-best second-place finish in the Lucas Oil 200 at Daytona.
Speaking exclusively with PopCulture, Deegan reflected upon the first few months of her first season in the ARCA Menards Series. She explained that her goal was to spend considerable time driving the No. 4 Monster Energy Ford Fusion and better prepare herself for a long future in NASCAR. However, the altered schedule and regulations due to the coronavirus took away much of her seat time and forced the entire team to make significant adjustments. While the challenges have created some frustration, Deegan has found ways to work with her team and continue building her knowledge base.
"It's been really hard. It sucks not getting practice because I came into the ARCA Series as a... I'm trying to develop," Deegan told PopCulture. "And that was my goal is to develop and learn as much as possible and get a lot of seat time. And that's the one thing I need the most is seat time with these tracks that I've never raced at before. ... So it's hard to get the experience that I was planning on getting with only an hour of practice or five laps of practice at some of these racetracks, the bigger tracks. So it's been difficult. I've definitely had to learn how to crunch as much knowledge as I can into little time."
Part of finding success in the 2020 season has been regularly meeting with her spotter, who films laps from his stand. He and Deegan participate in a film study to examine how she can improve on a weekly basis. He talks to her after practice, at the shop and before races as part of the ongoing development.
Additionally, one of the most successful Cup Series drivers has taken an interest in her career and has provided feedback. Kevin Harvick, who drives the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Mustang, previously raced against Deegan during the K&N Series, and then he talked about her during some interviews. He also texted her father, Metal Mulisha founding member Brian Deegan, during a race to provide tips. The longtime X Games star passed on the messages to Deegan's spotter, and she ultimately raced her way to a sixth-place finish at Michigan Speedway.
With the ARCA Menards Series season nearing its end, Deegan has expressed her intention to remain in the developmental program while continuing to grow as a driver. Moving up to the Trucks, Xfinity and Cup Series are a career goal, but she plans on putting more time in ARCA. "Ford totally understands [and] they want a slow... They want to do what's best for me and my driving and my career," Deegan explained.
Watch Deegan in Friday's ARCA Menards Series General Tire 100 at the Daytona Road Course on TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold (5 p.m. ET). The race will serve as her first time on the road course since previously taking part in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge before the 2020 season. The car is different considering that Deegan is in the No. 4 Monster Energy Ford Fusion instead of a Mustang GT, but she plans to use her experience to find more comfort on the road course.