Race Weekend Central

2-Headed Monster: Is Hailie Deegan’s Move Up to Xfinity the Right Call?

Hailie Deegan will be driving the No. 15 Ford Mustang in the NASCAR Xfinity Series for AM Racing, it announced last week.

Deegan has been competing in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series since 2021 but has struggled to find speed and consistency.

While still very early in a burgeoning career, having turned 21 in July, the ascension up the ranks to middle-tier series in NASCAR will see her driving one of the few full-time Ford entries, in equipment that may not quite be on par with her current ThorSport Racing ride.

Is the jump to Xfinity the right move for her at this point in her career? This week, Vito Pugliese and Trenton Worsham provide differing perspectives in 2-Headed Monster.

Languishing in Truck Series Is of No Benefit

NASCAR is a sport that has been built using other people’s money, be it through loans or sponsorship. Racecars don’t run on hopes and dreams; they crush them. Ask anyone who’s competed at a grass roots level, and they’ll tell you – and you’ll understand why they don’t do it anymore.

See also
Happy Hour: Denny Hamlin's Beef With Jeff Gordon

When it was announced last week that Deegan would be moving to the Xfinity Series with AM and Ford Performance, the comment section on a few social media sites produced about what I expected. The majority were supportive, then the negative comments quickly followed: the same tired tropes that are rolled out anytime someone steps up to a series and hasn’t checked off all the boxes in the lower tier.

“She doesn’t deserve it!”

“She hasn’t won anything in Trucks!”

“It’s just about MONEY!”

Uh, yeah, actually, it really is all about money.

Not sure if you’ve noticed or not, but motorsports has never been a meritocracy. There’s a high barrier to entry, and in the Xfinity Series, there is about $3 million in fixed costs that need to be paid. You might feel that a different driver is more deserving, but the sponsor that’s cutting the check to keep the lights on in the shop – and conversely the homes of the people working there – might feel differently.

Ultimately, their judgement of who the best candidate is what makes the difference.

The Truck Series has gone through a few evolutions over the years. First it was seen as a stepping stone to get to the Xfinity or NASCAR Cup Series. After a few years it transitioned to the seniors tour of former Cup competitors who had their fill of stresses of trying to stay at the pinnacle of the sport during its apex of popularity.

The last few years have seen it turn into a ride-buying exercise with young, desperate drivers causing wrecks and destroying equipment at a pace you’d never fathom in the late ’90s or 2000s.

With limited practice and no testing, Deegan’s first full season in 2021 saw her first time at many tracks sailing off into turn 1 with no idea what to expect. Whenever she’s started to put a solid race together, she inevitably gets wrecked or caught up in something not of her doing.

When she competes in the Camping World SRX Series against championship-winning drivers, she mixes it up well with them and holds her own. Battling with Ryan Newman, Tony Stewart and Helio Castroneves is probably a better barometer than getting into it with Lawless Alan or Dean Thompson.

In her lone Xfinity start in 2022, she finished 13th at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. It was a car that won earlier in the year with Cole Custer driving at Auto Club Speedway and managed a top five and a 10th- and 11th-place finish with it that season, so it’s not like she under performed with it in her first start compared to an established, winning driver. If anything, she was within a couple of positions of Custer and current AM driver Brett Moffitt the balance of the year.

Granted, you can’t judge a career off of one start, but she’s proven herself qualified for the opportunity.

Deegan doesn’t need to look further than her current ThorSport teammate as an example of moving up and out might serve her better. Matt Crafton is a three-time series champion – and a pretty good boxer, it turns out – and raced full time in the Truck Series with top-tier teams for 10 years, winning … one race. In 2013 he made his first three starts in the Xfinity Series – and scored two top threes and a top 10.

Would he have been better served moving up to Xfinity earlier in his career if the opportunity presented itself?

Deegan is marketable, gaining experience and developing the tools to be successful in NASCAR. She remains the only woman competing full time in the top three touring series and can be a key demographic driver for the sport. To say she doesn’t deserve to drive in Xfinity is to entitle somebody else to be there who may not be any better or bring the required funding to make the operation work properly. – Vito Pugliese

Deegan Hasn’t Warranted a Promotion

Deegan has been a driver who has had the spotlight on her from the start.

I remember as a kid, playing a Motorcross game featuring her dad Brian Deegan on the original PlayStation console. Her growing up around motorsports led her down a path we have seen very few daughters of dads who have had their own careers in the past follow. Being the daughter of a well-known father and a woman in some of the highest forms of racing in NASCAR puts an extra spotlight on her, which is at times unfair.

Deegan has announced the next step in her career in moving up from the Truck Series to Xfinity for 2024, but the only full-time woman the three highest divisions of American racing shouldn’t, based solely on where she wants to go.

We have all seen the youth and bumper car-driving mentality in the Truck Series over the years, which can at times cast a shadow on someone’s true talent. Xfinity is seen as the more professional and experienced level, preparing the driver for the NASCAR Cup Series. However, Deegan moving up may hinder her development not in terms of talent or experience, but rather the Next Gen Cup car itself.

Several drivers have said that when it comes to aero and how the vehicle races, the trucks are more similar to the Cup cars at this time. Denny Hamlin recently said after his win at Darlington Raceway in the Xfinity Series that it’s a completely different car to drive and takes a completely different skill set. The hosts of the Door Bumper Clear podcast have also discussed this as well.

Look no further than Noah Gragson, who finished runner-up to Ty Gibbs in the 2022 Xfinity championship and looked to be in a battle for rookie of the year with him at the beginning of the 2023 Cup season. While it was known Joe Gibbs Racing equipment was better than the newly rebranded Legacy Motor Club, his talent may have outperformed the car. This was not the case as up until his suspension in late summer, Gragson was struggling and had even said he was ready for the season to be over.

See also
Up to Speed: Is There Strength Among Teammates in the NASCAR Playoffs?

On the other hand, the driver who has stepped in and has earned the ride for the remainder of the season has surprised in few starts driving the same car: Carson Hocevar. Hocevar stepped into the No. 42 after Gragson got suspended and has performed inside the top 20 and top 15, all while virtually skipping Xfinity.

Zane Smith is another driver who in limited starts in Cup has had solid results with some lower-level teams and will make the jump to Cup in 2024 from the Truck Series, having only raced in Xfinity part time. 

While Deegan may be ready to take the next step in her career, Xfinity from the business side can offer more marketing and money for her. Developmentally, though, going from Xfinity to Cup may create a new learning curve that will once again take time and shine an undeserving spotlight on her. – Trenton Worsham

About the author

Vito is one of the longest-tenured writers at Frontstretch, joining the staff in 2007. With his column Voice of Vito (monthly, Fridays) he’s a contributor to several other outlets, including Athlon Sports and Popular Speed in addition to making radio appearances. He forever has a soft-spot in his heart for old Mopars and presumably oil-soaked cardboard in his garage.

Sign up for the Frontstretch Newsletter

A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.

13 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Bill B

Hahahahahaha, using SRX as proof of anything. Good one!

janice

i have 2 words……princess sparklepony!

Alex Curits

Funny when a man moves up, GREAT JOB!!!! But when a woman moves up oh no, this is not deserved. Too many 400 Lb. men who sit on the couch all day playing video games and eating Cheetos think they are superstars and can outdrive any woman.

wildcats2016

Hmm well time will tell, won’t it.

gbvette

When Erik Jones first started getting offers to drive in trucks, his father told me Hendrick and others told them not to let Erik stay in trucks too long. The thinking was that trucks are so different that there’s very little that can be learned there that can be taken to Xfinity and Cup, and to some degree it could hurt his development. So maybe the move to Xfinity will help her, maybe not, but either way I guess we’ll find out.

To compare Deegan, or any other young driver to the has been’s in SRX is silly. The “stars” competing in SRX are there because they’re no longer competitive anywhere else. Look at Newman’s attempts at Cup this year, SRX is nothing more then a seniors exhibition series.

I don’t have a problem with female racers, I crewed for a woman who raced sports cars, and I think it would be good for the sport to have some competitive female drivers competing (but not another swinsuit model like NASCAR’s last effort to promote a female driver).

RCFX1

They laugh at SRX, but those ‘seniors’ race cleanly. After Tracy made an ass out of himself, he got booted. Let’s look back and see how many accidents were Hailie’s fault vs getting caught up in someone else’s mess.

RCFX1

Racing has become all about the popularity of the driver. Hailiie has a following, just as Bubba, Chase, Jr., etc… You don’t have to be successful to have a career. The one thing that I have to say about the change to Xfinity is that the truck series has some really out of control drivers and many of the drivers have made that comment over the last two years. I think she’ll be much more comfortable in the car vs the truck and racing with people that aren’t taking the chances that I’ve seen in the trucks. We’ll see…

Steve

That was my feeling. I wonder if she is leaving trucks because she is not getting anything out of the weekly bumper cars that is that series. Although, some weeks I don’t see much of a difference in Xfinity. There is still plenty of boneheaded moves in that series too.

wildcats2016

Maybe that’s true but it sure is more fun when you are having success and winning!

Ted

I believe the results will be about the same as she had in The Trucks . JMO

Shayne

Give her and a few others a 2 lap head start and see where they finish.

Shaýne

The sad thing is these kids are raised as a brand from an early age. I heard Ty Gibbs refer to his family life as a business. Not a family, but a business. A brand.

Gary James

Yes, Racing has always been about Money and Family. A family who has money can either own a Team, Driver or get the Sponsorship. It has always been about handing the Team/Car/Sponsor on down to the next family member. Anyone who says otherwise does not know “Family Names” like: Petty/Labonte/Earnhardt/Parsons/Jarrett/Allison/Elliott/Waltrip/ and others who are great “Family and Great Drivers”…. Yes raised as a BRAND. But as you say, “That’s Racing”. Good comment, YES Racing, any part of Racing is a BIG BUSINESS. I am not complaining, I am a fan.

Share via