Photo by Daniel McFadin

Hailie Deegan looking forward to being a ‘focus’ of attention at Ford

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CONCORD, N.C. — Hailie Deegan‘s future with Ford started in style.

The 18-year-old began the next chapter of her career Tuesday at the Ford Performance Technical Center by slowly piloting a blue Ford Shelby 350 through a set of dark curtains before taking questions from the media.

That followed a hype video showing Deegan doing donuts in another Ford car.

Hailie Deegan emerges from a Ford Shelby 350 as part of her introduction as a member of Ford’s driver development program. (Photo by Daniel McFadin)

The theatrics on her behalf are one of the reasons why, after a few years with Toyota, she’ll be be spending “a lot of birthdays” as a Ford development driver.

But it mostly came down to there not being enough rides for her in Toyota’s stable to properly propel her up the ladder.

“At the end of the day, Toyota, they introduced me to the NASCAR world … they pushed me into it, they gave me a really good base and that’s something I’m super thankful for,” Deegan said. “But at the end of the day, there’s so many Toyota drivers and there’s not many seats. I think we made the best decision for my career long-term.”

Deegan joins a development program that boasts Chase Briscoe as its founding driver.

“There’s going to be more of a focus,” Deegan said. “That’s something I was super adamant about. I want to be focused on, I want to have the attention over here to be a better driver and get developed and that’s something that stood out to me and I think that’s going to help my career.”

Ford recently entered a partnership with the David Gilliland co-owned DGR-Crosley that will add to its efforts.

A three-time winner on what’s now the ARCA Menards Series West, Deegan will compete full-time with DGR-Crosley in the ARCA Menards Series while also competing in select IMSA races, beginning with the Jan. 24 Michelin Pilot Challenge endurance race at Daytona International Speedway.

The looming ARCA season won’t be Deegan’s first interaction with DGR-Crosley. She competed in one ARCA Menards Series East race with the team this year at Bristol Motor Speedway.

“I got used to the team, I got to feel everyone out, see what I liked, didn’t like and there was a lot of things that I liked about them,” Deegan said. “I saw how hard their work ethic was. I really like how David, he was a racer. He understands it. He has a son (Todd Gilliland) that races, he knows the game of trying to build your kid into the ranks of NASCAR and running a team at the same time while still being a racer. That’s something I think is a really good combo that’s just going to help his team get better and better. Especially with how much Ford is supporting them, getting behind them.

“The resources they’re giving them is insane.”

Among those resources now at her disposal is Ford’s “marketing push.”

“That’s something I didn’t really have in the past with the team I was with and the manufacturer, that’s something (Ford wants) to push more,” Deegan said. “Push more stuff that’s away from racing, that’s ‘OK, let’s gets you in a Mustang, lets get you in a truck and let’s do some cool videos and stuff like that’ and that’s something I’m big into. I love social media. I love doing stuff like that and that’s definitely a push they want to connect us with.”

All this is work towards one goal: reaching the NASCAR Cup Series.

Both Deegan and Ford Performance Motorsports’ global director, Mark Rushbrook, preached the importance of Deegan moving up each step on the stock car racing ladder when she’s ready.

“We want to make sure, and Hailie wants to make sure, her team wants to make sure, she progresses to those levels when she’s ready to ensure success at each step,” Rushbrook said.

While Ford didn’t announce an expected plan for her progression, Deegan’s father, action sports star Brian Deegan, hopes the opportunity arises for her to “dabble” in the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series at some point this year.

“I think she needs that,” Brian Deegan said. “She wants to race Eldora for sure, just because it’s a dirt race.”

He even mapped out the ideal structure for his daughter over the next few years.

“It would be ARCA (in 2020), 2021 trucks, 2022 trucks, 23′, 24′ (in) Xfinity is kind of what we’re hoping and laying out, is kind of our goal for her to have that path and then get to Cup,” Brian Deegan said. “By then I think she should have enough experience on everything to be ready, to be competitive.”

Hailie Deegan admitted it’s been difficult to see her fellow competitors from the ARCA East and West Series get a shot at the Truck Series before she does.

“It’s been really hard, just going to ISM (Raceway) at Phoenix (in November,)” she said. “It was so hard for me because my teammate (Derek Kraus at Bill McAnally Racing), he was racing in the truck race and I was sitting there on pit road and I was like, ‘Man, if he can do it, I want to do it.’ Seeing all my friends reach trucks, that’s something hard for me to kind of hold back on, ‘Ok let’s race ARCA, let’s gain experience, let’s get better before I go there.'”

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Kurt Busch seeks first Las Vegas win, but without hometown fans

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A win by Kurt Busch in tonight’s Cup race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7 p.m. ET on NBCSN) couldn’t come under more bittersweet circumstances for the Chip Ganassi Racing driver.

Should Busch claim the victory on the 1.5-mile track, he’d go from being the last driver on the playoff grid (3,001 points entering the race) to the first driver to advance to the Round of 8.

While it would be his first victory of the year, it would also be his first NASCAR win at his home track in 23 starts across the Cup and Xfinity Series.

More: Stage points critical at Vegas

“The Vegas track has definitely been one of the tough ones for me over the years with results and finishes not where I would have expected them to be,” Busch said this week. “And the teams that I’ve raced for just have never quite found that right magic set-up or combination. And then for me, it’s a track that I just have that trouble with.

“There are a few tracks like Indianapolis and Martinsville; those are a few places where I struggle. And so with Vegas, I always put that little extra hometown pressure on myself and I would love to win there.”

The 42-year-old Las Vegas-native rolls off ninth on the 1.5-mile track. It’s his fourth while driving for Ganassi.

In his 21 Cup starts in Las Vegas, Busch’s best result is third in 2005 when he competed for Roush Fenway Racing. He has just one other top five. That came in last year’s spring race when he drove a throwback paint scheme to his 1999 NASCAR Southwest Series championship.

That day he led 23 laps. It was only the seventh time he’d led laps there and just the third time he’d totaled more than six laps led.

In February, Busch finished 25th.

If Busch were to finally make it to Vegas’ Victory Lane, the celebration would be somewhat muted.

It was announced last weekend that fans would not be allowed to attend the races at Las Vegas due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I would love to win through the spirit of the camera and everything on NBC Sports; and I know the fans there, local, will be watching and cheering on the Busch brothers,” Busch said. “So, that’s where I would connect. And hopefully do it through the TV side of it. We’ll get fans back one day and we’ll come back and race.”

Busch enters the Round of 12 having earned just one top 10 in the first round, an eighth-place finish at Darlington. He finished 13th at Richmond and 15th at Bristol.

“What I like is we have had better lap times at all three races so far compared to maybe the five or six races leading into the playoffs,” Busch said. “We know that our cushion is gone. We ended Bristol with 33 points to the good. And now we start Vegas minus four (points behind Austin Dillon in the cutoff spot). So that’s just part of the system and now we have to be perfect. We have to get every point possible that we’re able to get on our own at Vegas, Talladega, and the Roval. And, that should help us advance.”

Carolina Blue: Brad Daugherty and Michael Jordan bonded by NASCAR

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Brad Daugherty and Michael Jordan were teammates from 1982-84 at the University of North Carolina and Eastern Conference rivals throughout the 1980s and ’90s in the NBA.

But their friendship was about more than just hoops. While growing up on opposite ends of the Tar Heel State, Daugherty and Jordan both developed a passion for following NASCAR.

Tobacco Road meant fast cars and hard-driving heroes for these two North Carolina natives.

LIFELONG FAN: Michael Jordan explains why he’s partnering with Denny Hamlin

In a NASCAR on NBC feature, Daugherty recalls how NASCAR impacted his life and Jordan’s and led both into team ownership. Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin announced they will form a team to field cars for Bubba Wallace next season.

Daughterty notes in the feature that Wallace “has led a dynamic transformation as NASCAR banned Confederate flags and recommitted to inclusion amidst times of great unrest. This is a huge moment for NASCAR, a cultural momentum shift. This is people of all colors coming together to create an all-American race team already with championship lineage.

“With proper funding, equipment and crewmembers, this will be the best chance ever for a Black driver to win – and while driving for a Black owner. An opportunity to shock the world like Muhammad Ali once did.”

Watch the feature above on Brad Daugherty and Michael Jordan or by clicking this link.

Las Vegas Xfinity results, driver points

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Chase Briscoe‘s victory Saturday night at Las Vegas Motor Speedway sends him into the next round of the Xfinity playoffs.

Noah Gragson led a 2-3-4 finish for JR Motorsports. Gragson was second and followed by Daniel Hemric and Justin Allgaier. Ryan Sieg finished fifth.

Briscoe dominated the race, leading 164 of the 200 laps.

Click here for Xfinity race results

POINTS

Ross Chastain finished 16th, last among the playoff drivers, and fell out of a transfer spot to the second round. He’s two points behind Harrison Burton for the final transfer spot. Michael Annett is 10 points behind Burton. Riley Herbst is 14 points behind Burton. Brandon Brown is 20 points behind Burton.

Click here for driver points report

Chase Briscoe scores 8th Xfinity win of year with Las Vegas triumph

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Chase Briscoe met a preseason goal of winning eight races with his victory in Saturday night’s Xfinity playoff opener at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Briscoe, who also won at Las Vegas in February, advances to the second round.

Briscoe dominated, winning both stages on the way to his second consecutive victory and eighth of the year. He led 164 of 200 laps.

“Awesome car,” Briscoe said on the radio of the car that also won at this 1.5-mile speedway earlier this year. “Can’t say enough, awesome car.”

Gragson said of Briscoe’s car on NBCSN: “Lot of race cars out here and one space shuttle.”

Las Vegas native Noah Gragson finished second and was followed by JR Motorsports teammates Daniel Hemric and Justin Allgaier. Ryan Sieg placed fifth.

Austin Cindric placed sixth and was followed by Michael Annett, Anthony Alfredo, Harrison Burton and Justin Haley.

Briscoe’s eight wins through 27 races ties him with Jack Ingram and Sam Ard for the most wins by non-Cup drivers through 27 races in a season. Ard and Ingram both did it in 1984. Briscoe’s eight wins ties him with Carl Edwards for most wins by a Ford driver in a season in the Xfinity Series. Edwards accomplished the feat in 2011.

“I knew this team was fully capable of achieving that and even more,” Briscoe told NBCSN of winning eight races this year. “I just can’t say thank you enough to Gene Haas and Tony Stewart and everyone that lets me drive these race cars. It has been an unbelievable season and we still have a lot, six more wins that we can try to get and a championship. That is what we are going to try to do. I am so happy to start the playoffs like this. After the last couple weeks we had, to go to Bristol and win and now here is a pretty good way to start our playoffs.”

The 25-year-old Briscoe does not know where he’ll run next season. He has a year left on his contract with Ford.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Chase Briscoe

STAGE 2 WINNER: Chase Briscoe

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Ryan Sieg’s fifth-place finish is his fifth top five of the season, the most he’s had in a season. … Runner-up Noah Gragson has finished in the top six in all four of his Xfinity Las Vegas starts. He did it by overcoming a bloody nose during the race. At one point, he put roll bar padding up his nose to clog it. … Daniel Hemric had finished 24th or worse in four of his last five starts before Saturday’s race. He finished third at Las Vegas.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Ross Chastain finished 16th, last among the playoff drivers. It’s his first finish outside the top 10 at a 1.5-mile speedway this season.

NEXT: The series races Oct. 3 at Talladega Superspeedway (4:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN) in the middle race of the opening round of the playoffs.