Female drivers hit Daytona with eyes on the NASCAR Cup series

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Hailie Deegan spent extra time at Daytona 500 media day than another driver.

The 17-year-old was a visitor host for NASCAR.com, buying and selling in her firesuit for a microphone and interviewing one Cup Sequence star after one other. It was the closest Deegan will get to the motion at Daytona Worldwide Speedway throughout Speedweeks.

It additionally is likely to be the final yr she’s a spectator.

Deegan has her sights set on driving within the entry-level ARCA Sequence in 2020, a precursor to what she hopes can be a prolonged racing profession that rises to the premier Cup Sequence. NASCAR will do all it may to assist, even placing in entrance of the digital camera on one of many sport’s busiest days.

And with fan favourite Danica Patrick lacking from Daytona for the primary time since 2011, Deegan, Natalie Decker and others have a void to fill.

“On the finish of the day, there is a motive why there hasn’t been a woman or lady profitable in NASCAR’s highest degree,” Deegan mentioned. “There’s quite a lot of room for enchancment. For certain, I wish to be the primary to do it and hopefully extra women will find yourself profitable. However I wish to be the primary.”

Decker has a head begin. The 21-year-old Toyota driver will make her Truck Sequence debut Friday night time at Daytona, considered one of three ladies within the area. Jennifer Jo Cobb and Angela Ruch are the others.

(Ruch is a NASCAR Truck collection driver.)

Decker didn’t qualify for a vehicles race at Martinsville Speedway in 2016 and spent the final two years in ARCA. She had 9 top-10 finishes in 20 begins final season for Venturini Motorsports. She moved to DGR-Crosley this season and can run 12 Truck Sequence races in addition to a mix of NASCAR Ok&N and two extra ARCA occasions. She completed sixth within the ARCA season opener at Daytona final weekend.

She bought behind the wheel of the No. 12 Tundra for the primary time Thursday, participating in two practices.

“I used to be actually nervous,” the ultra-positive Decker mentioned. “I used to be making an attempt to cover it.”

“I am getting in making an attempt to be taught as a lot as I can for subsequent yr,” she added. “However I actually wish to win a race.”

Decker may very well be in as many 5 collection in 2019. She has 5 begins deliberate within the Trans Am road-racing collection and can be taught in late March whether or not she lands considered one of 18 spots within the W Sequence, an all-female developmental collection set to launch in Europe.

She hopes the hectic, numerous schedule will assist her grow to be a greater driver and result in extra sponsors and alternatives.

“Should you’re studying and doing one of the best you’ll be able to with what you could have, that is progress,” she mentioned.

Though Patrick’s on-track success — winless in 253 NASCAR begins — by no means matched the eye she obtained for standing out in a male-dominated sport, her six-year stint within the Cup Sequence seemingly set the groundwork for different ladies to observe.

Nevertheless it may take time to get them to NASCAR’s high degree.

There are not any ladies within the second-tier Xfinity Sequence this season, and 45-year-old Cobb is the one lady racing full time in vehicles.

“Plenty of eyes are on us,” Decker mentioned.

Deegan made headlines final September by turning into the primary feminine driver to win a Ok&N race. She additionally received Rookie of the 12 months honors and seems to be on the quick monitor to racing stardom.

She has 14 races within the Ok&N Professional Sequence West on her schedule this season together with 4 extra within the East collection.

“I wanted to get that weight off my chest, that first win,” Deegan mentioned. “Received some poles, bought rookie of the yr. We completed all the pieces I needed to perform. However I bought new targets for this yr. I wish to win a championship within the West collection and win a race within the East collection, no less than one, and a pair races within the West. Hopefully the season goes as deliberate.”

Whereas NASCAR’s largest weekend is with out Patrick for the primary time in eight years, two different ladies are making historical past on the season opener.

Brehanna Daniels and Breanna O’Leary will make their Daytona 500 debut Sunday as tire-changers on Cody Ware’s No. 52 Chevrolet, turning into the primary feminine graduates of NASCAR’s Drive for Variety Pit Crew Growth Program to participate in “The Nice American Race.”

“We got here in collectively, educated collectively and bought higher collectively,” O’Leary mentioned. “(This) can be one other milestone we get to share collectively.”

Different feminine milestones may observe.

“It should occur,” Deegan mentioned. “It is only a matter of time.”

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