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9 things to know about rising NASCAR star Hailie Deegan  1 Month ago

Source:   USA Today  

Hailie Deegan had been making waves in NASCAR's developmental K&N Pro Series West this season, but it wasn't until she earned her first victory late last month that she officially exploded onto the national racing scene.

The 17-year-old California native won the NAPA Auto Parts/Idaho 208 at Meridian Speedway in Idaho, becoming the first female driver to win a K&N Pro Series race. Through 12 of 14 K&N Pro Series West events this year, Deegan has five top-5 finishes, 10 top 10s and a pole win - another first for a woman in the series.

To win at Meridian Speedway, Deegan bumped her Bill McAnally Racing teammate Cole Rouse out of the way on the final lap to take the checkered flag, but he wasn't the only one. And she knew exactly what she was doing after fading back to eighth place mid-race.

"I figured out this line in Turn 1. Everyone was braking, and I've practiced this for hours at the go-kart track with my driving coach back in California, Troy Adams. And I was just there the day before the race practicing for hours some bumps and runs - just a little tap, under-braking to drive them in just a hair deeper, just enough to give them a little push and slide. And you can go right under them and not take them out.

"I didn't take out anybody, and I've practiced that so much. But all the spotters were flipping out like, 'Dude, what is she doing?!' And I'm like, 'Did I take anybody out? I got you a little loose, and you filed right back in behind me.'"

"(I) kept using it on people, and all of a sudden, I started bouncing up spots over and over again and nobody was catching on! I was expecting me to do it to someone, and they'd come back and do it to me, and no one was doing it. It was the weirdest thing ever, so I just kept doing that.

"And then it came down to the last lap. I knew in my head, my teammate - he's cool and a nice guy, and I knew if I gave him a little nudge any earlier, he was probably going to give me a nudge in the end. So I knew it had to be on the last lap."

Courtesy of NASCAR

After she bumped Rouse, she had about a quarter of a lap before the finish line: "My initial thought after that was like, 'Run! Go! You gotta run, Hailie!'"

And then when she crossed the line, she didn't know if she won.

"I was like, was that the end? Was that real? Watch something like my luck that be like be (the last lap) white flag and me getting passed or something crazy. And I just couldn't believe it and my initial thought was like, 'Oh my god!' I couldn't even process it, honestly. It was too crazy."

"I've been racing since I was 8 years old. Everyone's always like, 'How do you race without a driver's license? You're not even old enough to drive in the street.' I got that when I was 15 every single day."

She grew up off-road racing, and her father, Brian Deegan, built a dirt oval for her to practice driving her truck on in their backyard.

(Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY Staff)

"I love music. I always listen to music before I race. My crew in the K&N races, we're all like the younger people. Everyone's like, 'OK, those are the kids.' They just look at us like that. One of my crew guys, he'll carry around a speaker with him playing music before the race."

So what were they listening to before her first victory?

She also graduated from high school earlier this year, but she had her own personal graduation ceremony and it was at a race track.

Deegan joked that after she tapped a few drivers out of the way to win her first race, she's expecting they might not be too happy with her in their next one - the season's penultimate race - which is Saturday at All American Speedway in California.

She just wants to "finish without getting taken out."

"There's going to be a few people that are a little upset with me from the last couple races because I had to be aggressive. And if you're going to win, it's every man for himself out there. You're not helping other people, especially people that aren't your teammates.

"And I did rough up a couple people, and they roughed me up back. I'm not the person to take it, so I give it right back. My personality's not the type where I'll give you a little nudge and you're going to try and put me in the wall and then we're even. No, no, no. Look, we're going to keep fighting over this position until the end. I'm not one to be a pushover."

She still hasn't finalized her plans for next year. But she said she'd like to stick with the K&N Pro Series for another season because she's so young and wants more experience.

"I'm not happy until we're winning consistently. I'm not happy until we're winning championships. Then I'll be happy."

But after her first win, that's not what everyone else thinks.

"I go on Twitter, and people are like, 'Put her in a truck (in the Camping World Truck Series)! Put her in an XFINITY (Series) car!' And I'm like, 'Guys, I just turned 17.' Long term, I just want to be able to win in every series I'm in. …

"Myself, I want this feeling of knowing I can win at the level I'm at before I move up, so I can win at that level and continue winning."

(Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY Staff)

"And it helps with getting other drivers' respect. It's like, 'Oh, she's not just happy with being the highest finishing girl. She's going out there and she's winning.'"

"I always liked a lot of people and little things about them. Like Kyle Busch - I like his aggressiveness. I like his rough personality off the track. That's just kind of the California style, the Vegas kind of style.

"And I love Kyle Larson's style just because he goes and he drives anything - anything he can get in. And you can see he's not always in the best equipment, but he makes it look like good equipment. And Jimmie Johnson came from off-road racing, and so I like him too. I'm like, can I just take bits and pieces and be the perfect one?"

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