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NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series

Deegan Joins ThorSport in Renewed Ford Alignment

(Photo: Sam Draiss | The Podium Finish)

Hailie Deegan has an opportunity she could have only dreamt of.

Deegan and ThorSport Racing announced Thursday that she’d join the team to drive the No. 13 full-time in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series as the organization switches back to Ford.

And just days into the partnership, Deegan already feels at home.

“I feel so comfortable and so accepted, and I think that’s a great feeling to have as a new driver going anywhere,” Deegan said in a media teleconference. “There are so many people that care and care about your racing, care about your career and your success.  They truly care about their driver and I think I just feel that already after being here for 24 hours.

“It’s really been more than I could have dreamed of – everything that I’ve wanted it’s been more than that, exceeding my expectations.”

Deegan joins ThorSport after two seasons with David Gilliland Racing, where admittedly, she couldn’t piece everything together. She recorded just three top 10s in 46 races and failed to make the Playoffs in both seasons. In 2022, Deegan had an average finish of 22.1 with seven DNFs.

“I’ve been trying to figure it out and kind of learning the ropes of the Truck Series and I feel like I’ve good a grasp on it now,” Deegan said. “There’s just a lot of pieces to the puzzle and I think maybe the last two years it was trying to find those pieces and trying to figure it out.”

In October, DGR announced it would switch to Toyota and re-brand as TRICON Garage. Deegan, however, wanted to stay with Ford.

Ford reacted immediately. It sat down with ThorSport about re-joining the manufacturer after a three-year alliance from 2018-2020. Deegan became at the forefront of those conversations.

“That was obviously a top topic to talk about, where is Hailie gonna go?” said Allison Thorson, a team representative. “I know from our management perspective we had open arms and thought there was a lot of potential.  She has a large following and a lot of backing. Obviously, being a female driver, she brings a lot to the table.”

ThorSport made the agreement to switch to Ford, but under the condition it got Deegan.

“The moment that we sat down with Duke and ThorSport it was very natural, having had a relationship before and went very smoothly,” said Mark Rushbrook, global director of Ford Performance Motorsports. “In that very first discussion, Hailie was part of it.  It was a question from ThorSport, ‘Can Hailie come to ThorSport?’ They wanted her. They wanted to be part of her continued development.”

(Photo: Christopher Vargas | The Podium Finish)

Deegan will have expanded resources by joining the organization. She’ll have three-time series champion Matt Crafton, 2021 champion Ben Rhodes and 2022 contender Ty Majeski as teammates.

“The quality of teammates and experience these teammates have here is incredible,” Deegan said. “Just talking and having those conversations and seeing how open and willing they are to help you and making sure you’re as comfortable as possible is awesome, and I think that’s something that’s invaluable.  You have to have teammates that are willing to work with you, that are willing to go out of their way to make sure you’re in a good spot and being able to work with you on track.

“There’s just so much experience that I’m lacking that they have had over the years.  I don’t even have questions yet, but will in the future that they’ll be able to answer.  I think there’s just gonna be so many quality conversations and so many quality moments at the track that they’re really gonna help out and be that kind of person who has my back.”

And Deegan will have an experienced crew chief atop the pit box. Rich Lushes will lead Deegan’s No. 13 team after two seasons with Ben Rhodes, where together, they won three races and the 2021 championship.

When Deegan joined ThorSport, she wanted Lushes as her crew chief. The team granted her wish. He showed Deegan around the race shop upon her arrival and they immediately got comfortable, as shown in a video on her YouTube channel.

“When the opportunity arose first of all to come to ThorSport my eyes lit up and then second of all to be able to have Rich as my crew chief, I think, it just became almost like a dream came true,” Deegan said. “I was so happy, so excited and just so positive when it came to the outlook about it.  If everything is right and all those pieces to the puzzle are right and everything kind of makes up the perfect ideal situation for me, that’s what I want.”

But why break up the championship pairing of Rhodes and Lushes?

“[Lushes has] had a lot of experience and a lot of success,” Thorson said. she looks at it as a confidence boost, a sturdy chair to kind of say, ‘Hey, he’s reached this success, so here you are and we’re gonna help you do that,’ We felt like Rich was the right person who fit that job.”

Hailie Deegan will switch from the No. 1 to the No. 13 in 2023. (Photo: Trent Neilson | The Podium Finish)

It’ll be a complete change in environment for Deegan’s third Truck Series season. She’ll commute from North Carolina to the race shop in Sandusky, Ohio. She’ll join an organization with four championships under its belt.

Deegan said the key is to piece everything together in 2023 and find what she missed at DGR. That goes both on and off the track.

“You get to a point in your development where you have to take that next step and I think ThorSport is a very established team and has a very established path of success,” Deegan said.” I believe in myself.  I think that I have it and I think that we were just probably missing a few pieces to the puzzle because there are so many pieces to the puzzle.

“I just wanted to be somewhere where I truly felt I was around the most quality equipment, people and quality of people who care about my racing.  I think that’s a huge thing that I’m already feeling here at ThorSport is just accepted.  It feels like a family environment.  You kind of get that small team, family vibe, but on a big scale of a super successful team.”

In addition, Deegan said she’ll pursue additional Xfinity Series opportunities, something Ford supports if the proper resources surround her. She made a start at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for SS GreenLight Racing in October, where she finished 13th.

But Deegan’s main focus is competing for a Truck Series championship and proving she belongs. Ford believes in her doing that.

“I think this is the next opportunity with a team that’s gonna be around her, the people that are gonna be around her to give her that opportunity to go one more level,” Rushbrook said. “She’s shown the potential that we’ve seen in her all along.”

Editor’s Note: Shane Wilson will pair with Matt Crafton and Jeriod Prince will pair with Ben Rhodes as crew chief-driver combinations in 2023. Joe Shear Jr. will remain with Ty Majeski. 

 

Nathan Solomon is a junior in the Jandoli School of Communication at St. Bonaventure University. He serves as editor-in-chief of the campus newspaper, The Bona Venture, and as the sports director for the campus radio station, WSBU 88.3 FM. Solomon started his journalism career in 2018 when he began covering hometown Cornell basketball for IvyHoopsOnline. In 2019, Solomon joined Empire Sports Media to contribute baseball content, and he started covering NASCAR for the outlet in 2020. In 2021, he covered his first two NASCAR races with Empire Sports Media. Solomon joined TPF in September of 2021 and became managing editor in the spring of 2022. He is recognized as an NMPA journalist. You may reach out to Nathan anytime at NSolly02@Yahoo.com.

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