Hailie Deegan’s Former Crew Chief Delivers Brutally Honest Remark About Driver

Hailie Deegan at Bristol

Getty Hailie Deegan watches practice.

Hailie Deegan came into the 2023 NASCAR Truck Series season with high expectations after moving to ThorSport Racing, an organization known for winning races and championships. To improve her chances at success, the team shifted 2021 title-winning crew chief Rich Lushes from Ben Rhodes to her No. 13 truck.

Unfortunately, this season hasn’t matched those hopes. It hasn’t come anywhere close. As a result, days before the September 14 race at Bristol Motor Speedway, the organization made a change and reunited the crew chief with the No. 99 truck and his champion driver, Fox Sports’ Bob Pockrass reported on September 13. 

Before the race, Lushes talked with the spotter over the team radio about the plan for Rhodes at the drop of the green flag and how that strategy included taking advantage of his former driver’s weakness.

“So I explained to him that obviously we need to get to the bottom as soon as possible,” Lushes said. “We should be able to do that on the initial start here because more than likely she won’t get a good start.”

Deegan lined up on the inside one row behind her No. 99 teammate. On the race’s start, it went as the crew chief had predicted, and Rhodes moved down in front of the No. 13 on the second lap. 

The pair went in opposite directions for the rest of the race. Rhodes finished inside the top 10 in both stages and scored a solid seventh-place result. Deegan finished 17th. 

Hailie Deegan’s Future in Question 

While Deegan and her fans won’t like what her former crew chief had to say, it’s the painful truth. Not being aggressive has dogged the 22-year-old throughout her career, and this season has been no exception. In every race in 2023, Lushes and the spotter repeatedly encouraged the driver to be more aggressive on starts and restarts. It didn’t happen.

The proof is in her results, and the problem is further magnified because most pundits expected the sport’s most popular driver in her third full-time year to have her best season running in top equipment with all the necessary resources available to her, including her crew chief. 

However, based on the numbers alone, through 20 races, Deegan hasn’t shown any improvement from her first two years at David Gilliland Racing. Last year was her best in the category of top-10 finishes, when she recorded a pair versus a single one in 2021. This season, she has just one. 

In 2021, she had 10 top-20 finishes. Last year, she earned 12. This year, she sits at 11 with three races remaining. 

With ThorSport moving Lushes, who many consider to be the top crew chief in the truck garage, and returning him to the No. 99 team, the organization is effectively saying two things: we want our best crew chief to help our playoff driver go as far as possible, but more concerningly for Deegan, we tried to make it work and don’t believe you’re worthy of our top guy anymore. 

That move means it’s unlikely that she will return to ThorSport in 2024. If that’s the case, then wherever she goes, it will automatically be considered a step down. That doesn’t mean she won’t ever find success, but it will be a much steeper climb doing so without the best of everything that she had available to her this year. 

Ben Rhodes & New Crew Chief Get Off to Good Start

Before the season, Rhodes admitted losing Lushes was a “gut punch” but remained confident in his new team, which was effectively the No. 98 truck and crew of Christian Eckes that finished eighth overall in 2022. 

The Kentucky native started the season strong, scoring five top-10 finishes in the season’s first seven races. After a DNF at North Wilkesboro, the No. 99 found victory lane at Charlotte, securing a berth in the playoffs. 

Rhodes recorded four consecutive top 10s after that win but has since experienced a decline in performance, his most recent stretch of four races yielding no top 10s, including his worst result of the season, a 25th place in the September 8 Kansas race. 

ThorSport switched the crew chief days after that race, and in their first time out together in 2023, Rhodes posted his best finish in five races, finishing seventh at Bristol. 

The team still has a hole to dig out of, sitting 19 points below the playoff cutline, but the driver and crew chief have been here before. They won it in 2021 and finished runner-up last season. There’s no reason to think they can’t replicate those performances and find themselves battling for a championship in Phoenix.  

As for Deegan, she can only look back on her season and think what might have been.

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