Hailie Deegan has a new home and a new number in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series.
Deegan will join ThorSport Racing to drive the No. 13 entry for the 2023 season, she and the team announced Thursday afternoon, as the championship-winning organization transitions to Ford for the upcoming year.
“With 28 years in the Truck Series, we look forward to the partnership with Ford Performance in NASCAR,” team owner Duke Thorson said in a release. “Our pursuit of wins and championships remains at the forefront of our objectives.”
Deegan heads to the Ohio-based facility after spending each of the past two seasons competing for David Gilliland Racing.
ThorSport’s returns to the Blue Oval after spending the last two years with Toyota. ThorSport, owned by Duke and Rhonda Thorson, fielded Fords from 2018-2020 after a six-year tenure with Toyota from 2012-2017.
The manufacturer switch came with Deegan at front of mind, Allison Thorson shared with media members Thursday afternoon.
“Welcoming and working back with Ford performance, that was kind of one of the main points,” Thorson said in a video conference. “We were also reviewing our driver lineup at the time when, like many other teams right now, what are we doing for the next season and stuff, and Hailie was ready. And that was obviously a top topic to talk about – where’s Hailie gonna go?”
The answer: Thorsport, a program that claimed two of the last four Craftsman Truck Series championships. Matt Crafton won the title in 2019 before Ben Rhodes was victorious in 2021. In 2023, Deegan will pair with crew chief Rich Lushes, who led Rhodes to the 2021 championship.
Surrounded with veteran experience and success heading into her third year in the NASCAR national touring scene, Deegan feels the resources around her have never been better.
“I think it’s huge. I think that that’s definitely a big piece of the puzzle that’s getting added to the factor of my career and my racing,” Deegan said. “The quality of teammates and experience these teammates have here are just incredible. 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.”
Deegan’s time at DGR featured teammates whose experience level in the Truck Series – or stock cars in general – was similar to hers.
At ThorSport, Crafton returns for his 23rd season in Trucks; Rhodes is back for his eighth full-time year, and Ty Majeski is back for his second. Together, those three combine for 23 wins.
“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 be able to work with you on track and kind of going into races with a game plan and having those conversations beforehand,” Deegan said. “Or if your one teammate’s running better than the other, being able to have that comfortable conversation of asking, ‘Hey, what are you feeling here? Hey, what changes did you guys make?’ Or what did you like? What did you not like?
“Those are the conversations that you have to have at these races and in between practice and qualifying. And just being able to break down the races after having those quality conversations. I think that that’s something that really plays a huge factor to the development of a driver.”
In a video posted to her YouTube page, Deegan got a full tour of the ThorSport shop from Lushes, her new crew chief, and spent time with Crafton, who talked her through the shop and the differences in sightlines as Deegan was getting fitted in her truck.
Deegan, the 21-year-old native of Temecula, California, scored a career-best sixth-place finish in October at Talladega Superspeedway. That performance bettered her previous personal record of seventh that she earned in August 2021 at Worldwide Technology Raceway at Gateway. Deegan netted a career-best two top 10s in 2022, ending the year 21st in the final driver standings.
ThorSport collected the 2019 series title with 22-year veteran Crafton in addition to five victories under the Ford banner in its prior three-year partnership and is welcomed back for the upcoming season.
“We’re happy to welcome ThorSport back to our NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series program,” Mark Rushbrook, global director of Ford Performance Motorsports, said in a release. “Duke has assembled one of the best organizations in the series with a driver lineup that is filled with youth and experience. We celebrated a championship together just a few years ago and know they have the potential to do it again in 2023.”
Ford has also invested heavily in Deegan through its development program. Deegan made her inaugural Xfinity Series start in October 2022 with SS Greenlight Racing at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, an effort that produced an impressive 13th-place lead-lap finish around the 1.5-mile oval.
“We love watching the development drivers progress, advance both on the track and off the track,” Rushbrook said. “And watching that maturity of Hailie in terms of how she evaluates a car or truck on the race track can break it down and articulate it back to her crew chief and team to set the direction that the car needs to go. That skill, I think, has advanced significantly, both on the track and while she’s working in the simulator with the team as well.,
“That’s awesome to see and a really important part of what a race driver needs to develop. And then it’s the racecraft on the track, which we’re seeing that develop as well. And I think this is the next opportunity with a team that’s going to be around her, the people that are going to be around her to give her that opportunity to go one more level.”
Moving to an established contender like ThorSport comes with inherent expectations. Deegan welcomes that challenge after two years with midpack results – a 20.9 average finish in 2021 and 22.1 mark in 2022, finishing 17th and 21st in points in respective seasons.
“I believe in myself. I think that I have it,” Deegan said. “And I think that we were just probably missing a few pieces of the puzzle because there are so many pieces to the puzzle. And you get to a point where, in your development, you have to take that next step. And I think that ThorSport is a very established team and has a very established path of success.
“And still, just throughout the years, they’ve been so successful consistently, even with all the changes and development in the Truck Series and with the trucks themselves. So I think that they’ve been such a good, consistent team that this will be, I feel, a good year for me.”
Deegan added that she plans to seek out continued opportunities to participate in the Xfinity Series in 2023.
As part of Lushes’ move to crew chief the No. 13 team with Deegan driving, ThorSport announced Shane Wilson will return to crew chief the No. 88 Ford with Crafton after heading the team for the final six races of 2022.
Jerrod Prince becomes the new crew chief for Rhodes and the No. 99 Ford while Joe Shear Jr. will lead the No. 66 team with driver Majeski.