DAYTONA BEACH, Fla — Austin Hill is no stranger to NASCAR as he was a part of the NASCAR Next program in 2014 and 2015. During this time, he ran part-time in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and eventually made a name for himself.
His big break came in 2019 when he joined Hattori Racing Enterprises. It drew some criticism because the team had just won the championship with Brett Moffitt but they dropped Moffit due to funding.
Hill came in.
In his first race that season, he won at Daytona.
In three seasons with HRE, Hill was consistently a contender. But, he decided that he needed one more break and took the leap of faith to not re-sign with HRE for the 2022 season and work on something else.
That something else?
Richard Childress Racing.
In the first year with RCR, Hill is victorious in the first race of the 2022 season.
“I came to RCR and RCR only baby and that’s to win race,” Hill said over the radio after earning his first career NASCAR Xfinity Series victory.
As to what made him even begin thinking he needed to make a change?
“Yeah, so the playoffs have kind of eaten me alive in a sense on the truck side. It seemed like we were always really good throughout the season, and then when it came down to the last part of the playoffs, we’d miss it by a couple points here or there on making it into the Final Four.
“I’ve definitely learned a lot over the last three years going into the playoffs that I think I can take forward into the Xfinity Series, and I had been wanting to move up for some years now and to run Xfinity Series, but there’s been talks and times that we’ve talked in here where I’m like, hey, I want to move up, but I want to do it in my terms, I want to do it with the right team and right people and organization around me, and I feel like Richard Childress and Richard Childress Racing is that type of organization that I wanted to be around because they’re very family oriented. I’m very family oriented, and that’s what I love about this team. They’re always there for you.
“I think that’s why this organization just works for me, and hopefully we can work together for a lot of years to come.”
Hill, led 23 of 120 laps including being in the lead group for much of the final stage. Following almost everyone pitting there in the Laps 74-76 sequences, five cars stayed out. Hill, was now the top driver who had not already pit.
On Lap 83, we’d get a debris caution which would allow those five to finally pit. Hill, cycled to the lead on Lap 86. He’d stay there despite the big Lap 90 crash behind until AJ Allmendinger used the inside line to get by on Lap 97. The duo would swap the lead four times in a 20 lap span but Lap 106, it was looking like this may be Allmendinger’s to lose.
He controlled the point while everyone else settled in behind. Justin Allgaier kept trying to get the inside line to work but no one would jump in behind and draft. Finally, with three laps left, the intensity rose. Noah Gragson decided to give it a go and others followed.
Gragson, would lead Lap 118. Hill and Allmendinger weren’t going anywhere. Allmendinger got the lead back on the white flag to lead Lap 119. Then, Hill made a hell of a move on the backstretch on the final lap and was out front when the frightening crash behind for Myatt Snider brought out the caution and froze the field before they’d cross the stripe for the checkered.
“Yeah, me and Derek Kneeland worked really well, my spotter,” Hill said of the race. “I was learning all night. I kept telling him, I’m just putting that in the bank, I’m putting that in the bank, I’m putting that in the memory bank to remember for late in the race.
“We timed it perfectly. Obviously that caution came out but we had a heck of a run, so who knows what would have happened there.
“I was able to drag back, 98 gave me a heck of a push, we were able to get by him, and this is so crazy. I won it back in 2019 with a new team, now we’re with RCR, first race with them. We were able to get the job done. Our Bennett United Rentals Chevrolet was just as fast as Xfinity internet.
“Man, I’m speechless. Andy Street, Richard Childress, just all these guys back at RCR for believing in me. It’s been a fun off-season, and now we get to go race for a championship.”
It was the second time in the last three years this race ended under caution as well as the third time in the last four years that we saw a last lap pass for the win.
“We were just in the right position at the right time,” Hill said. “I was trying to plan my move when I needed to, and it just all worked out.
“It was one of those things that was kind of the perfect storm happened. I kind of planned my move down off of Turn 2 and down the backstretch and got a really good run from the 98, was able to cross over the 16 and then the wreck happened, and we were just enough ahead.
“It was just one of those things that just happened in the right place, right time, and yeah, it’s hard to put it into words what this means to me. It’s been something that’s been in the works for some years now, and to finally have this happen, I expect big things to come going ahead into the deep part of the season and especially into the playoffs.”
Team owner Richard Childress agreed.
“Well, that’s the reason we brought Austin over,” he said. “We knew he could win. I’ve been watching his talent for several years in the trucks, and even watching him in some of the Xfinity races, and I knew that he has the talent to win. This won’t be the last one; I’ll predict that.”
Hill said that he’s already halfway to the goal set out for him this season.
“I know RC, he made the comment in a meeting that we had before the season, he wanted me to win two races. Well, we got one under the book, and I expect a lot more than two to come, that’s for sure. He also owes me a little elk hunt. He told me if I won a race this year we’d go elk hunting, so I’m going to keep beating him up on that offer now.”
Allmendinger, settled for second in his No. 16 Chevrolet for his second straight top three finish here on the 2.5-mile Florida superspeedway.
Gragson, was third in his No. 9 Chevrolet for his third top seven in his last five Daytona tries while Riley Herbst and Justin Allgaier rounded out the top five.
Defending Champion, Hemric, Sweeps Stages Bud Bad Luck In The End
Daniel Hemric had the car to beat on Saturday. The defending NASCAR Xfinity Series champion swapped teams this offseason in going from Joe Gibbs Racing to Kaulig to take over in the No. 11 Chevrolet.
Hemric, won the pole earlier this morning and backed that up with sweeping both stages in the race itself too. Unfortunately for him, some damage from contact with Austin Hill as well as fear from flat spotting his tires on his previous stop forced him down pit road on the Lap 83 caution period for debris.
That’s where Hemric’s race completely turned on its head.
On the restart, there was a big crash near midpack and Hemric, as a result of pitting and then speeding while on pit road, was behind it. He didn’t make it through unscathed.
His rear end was now damaged and essentially took his chances of winning away. He’d finish 28th.
Early Race Drama
Drew Dollar hasn’t been around the NASCAR Xfinity Series much. In fact, he’s more of an ARCA driver still, but here he was in Saturday’s season opener in the No. 18 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing. Unfortunately for him, he crashed early in the day – Lap 13 to be exact.
That drew the ire of veteran Jeremy Clements who was collected in Dollar’s crash on the backstretch.
Nice Comeback By Anthony Alfredo
A year ago, Anthony Alfredo was going to bed with nerves of his first career NASCAR Cup Series start in the 2021 Daytona 500. After a ho-hum rookie season, he moves back to the NASCAR Xfinity Series with the expanded Our Motorsports race team.
Unfortunately, Alfredo’s team had a rough start to their season. His window flew out and he was black flagged as a result. The team didn’t have a spare window in the pits, so they lost multiple laps while they went to not only find one, but put one in also.
He’d not get the free pass in any of the first four cautions. Finally, on the Lap 90 caution, he did.
Now, he was back in the fight. Alfredo, drove his No. 23 Chevrolet up to the top 10 with a seventh place result in just his fourth ever Daytona start.
He was 21st in the Xfinity Series in Aug. 2020 and 32nd and 26th respectively in the Cup Series last year.
Much Better Start For JR Motorsports This Year
JRM entered the 2021 Speedweeks of winners in each of the last three years in this February race. They’ve also won four of the last six overall. Chase Elliott (2016), Tyler Reddick (2018), Michael Annett (2019) and Noah Gragson (2020) have all been victorious. What’s remarkable is, all these streaks have been with different drivers.
They’ve now been shutout in each of the last two years, but on Saturday night, it was vastly better than 2021.
In last year’s race, they had good race cars and had a legitimate shot of putting one of their four drivers back in victory lane for the fourth consecutive season. But, the two big ones hurt those chances.
It all started on Lap 74.
Some of the Chevy leaders up front were going to hit pit lane to short pit the final stint. Unfortunately, some drivers behind didn’t get the memo. Chad Finchum plowed into the back of Michael Annett sparking a nine car melee in the tri-oval.
2019 winner Annett was done for the night then. So was 2020 winner Noah Gragson. That left only Justin Allgaier and Josh Berry for the final 40+ laps as half of their fleet were taken out in that one incident.
The other two were taken out in the Lap 104 “big one” when Ty Dillon and Daniel Hemric sparked a huge melee in Turn 3. Both Allgaier and Berry were collected to end JRM’s day with four crashed race cars.
This year, they put two cars in the top five and three of their four go back to the haulers without damage.
Gragson, picked up his second top five in nine Daytona starts while Allgaier scored his second straight top three here.
Stealing Wins: Late race passes happen at Daytona
Unpredictability. That’s what comes to mind when you think of the finishes at Daytona International Speedway, especially as of late in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. Last-lap passes for the win have happened in the closing laps of the last eight season-opening races at Daytona; including three on the last lap:
2014: Regan Smith passed Brad Keselowski on the last lap to win by just 0.013 second.
2015: Ryan Reed passed Brad Keselowski on the last lap to win by just 0.089 second.
2016: Chase Elliott passed Joey Logano and led the last 14 laps to win by a scant 0.043 second.
2017: Ryan Reed passed Brad Keselowski with two laps to go to take the checkered flag and the victory by a mere 0.218 second.
2018: Tyler Reddick took the lead with what turned out to be 11 laps to go in NASCAR Overtime and then held off the field for two more overtime restarts (for five total overtime restarts in the race) to win the closest race in NASCAR history (0.0004 second).
2019: Michael Annett took the lead on the final restart with 45 laps to go and held off several hard chargers to win his first NASCAR Xfinity Series career race by 0.116 seconds over Justin Allgaier.
2020: Noah Gragson passed Chase Briscoe on Lap 118 of the 120 Lap event to win his first career NASCAR Xfinity Series race. There was a big crash on the backstretch of the final lap which froze the field and didn’t allow for a race to the checkered.
2021: Team Penske had zero NASCAR Xfinity Series wins on the Daytona International Speedway oval before last February. In fact, six times had they been passed on the last lap here. Not last year. Austin Cindric had a great restart in overtime and bested Brett Moffitt by just .104-seconds in his No. 22 Ford.
2022: Hill passes Allmendinger just before we went caution to signify the end.
- 35 different drivers have won at Daytona International Speedway in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, led by Dale Earnhardt and Tony Stewart with seven wins each.
- Since 2012, we’ve had 10 different winners in the last 11 years of this event. Only Ryan Reed (2015, 2017) has reached Gatorade Victory Lane multiple times in that span.
- Also since 2012, five of the 10 years we’ve seen a first time winner in the series. James Buescher (2012), Reed (2015), Annett (2019), Gragson (2020) and Hill (2022) have each earned their first career NXS wins in this Daytona event. As you can see, it’s happened four of the last eight years including three of the last four in general.
- Only four drivers now have ever won their first career Daytona start.
- Toyota hasn’t won the season opening race since 2008 (Tony Stewart). They also haven’t won an NXS race at Daytona since Matt Kenseth (2013). Combined, Toyota has won just four times overall in NXS competition at Daytona.