Hill wins Xfinity Series season opener at Daytona, my top 3 takeaways

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – After Sam Mayer spun on the roof of his Chevrolet on the backstretch at Daytona International Speedway, trailing a shower of sparks, Austin Hill, Justin Allgaier and John Hunter Nemechek sat in their cars and waited.

And after what must have seemed an eternity to the drivers, NASCAR reviewed video of the final lap of overtime and declared Hill the winner of his second straight season opener at the World Center of Racing in front of the largest crowd to witness an Xfinity Series race at Daytona since the $400-million renovation of the facility in 2016.

A consummate superspeedway racer, Hill led a race-high 38 laps in Saturday’s Beef. It’s What’s for Dinner. 300 and was narrowly ahead of surging John Hunter Nemechek when the sanctioning body called the caution for Mayer’s spectacular accident on Lap 125—five circuits beyond the scheduled distance.

“As soon as the caution lights came on, I thought I had it, but it was so close,” Hill said. “To get back-to-back here at Daytona, it’s really special. That’s three wins for me now, two in the Xfinity, one in the truck here. We came from the back two different times.

“I hope everyone enjoyed it. It was such a blast. I had so much fun. We won at Daytona! Let’s go!”

Hill’s first thought, however, was for Mayer. Contact between Hill’s No. 21 Camaro and Mayer’s No. 1 Chevrolet sent Mayer spinning and then flipping upside down until his car hit the infield grass and landed upright.

Mayer was treated and released from the infield care center. 

“When I saw the 1 (Mayer) and the 7 (Allgaier) get together, I just went to go squeeze them, and the 1 came down, he started getting loose, and then you can’t lift—it’s last lap,” Hill said. “I hope Sam is OK, man. That was a heck of a flip there.”

Allgaier, who was credited with a third-place finish, had another close call in the race that has eluded him.

“I’ve been short my whole life, so I guess it’s just fitting,” quipped the 5-foot-6-inch driver. “But really proud of everybody at JR Motorsports. Our Chevy Camaros tonight were absolutely blazing fast.

“Obviously, I’m glad Sam is OK. He had a heck of a run there at the end.”

Rookie Parker Retzlaff finished a career-best fourth, followed by Myatt Snider. Riley Herbst, Joe Graf Jr., Ryan Sieg, Cole Custer and Justin Haley completed the top 10. 

Hill won the first stage, but only through Allgaier’s benevolence. On the final lap of the stage, Hill steered down the track to block Allgaier’s Chevrolet. Allgaier backed out of the throttle to give Hill room, as the rear bumper of Hill’s Camaro slid uncomfortably close to the nose of Allgaier’s car.

“If I don’t lift, I wreck the whole field,” Allgaier said on his radio. “It’s stupid racing.”

“Justin really cut me a break,” Hill acknowledged. “I really appreciate that from him.”

Allgaier must have gotten some karmic benefit from his magnanimity. When Parker Kligerman turned Sheldon Creed’s Chevrolet while bump-drafting near the entrance to Turn 1 on Lap 40, Allgaier’s Chevrolet spun sideways onto the apron behind the initial wreck.

After a tape job to the left rear of his car, Allgaier returned to the track, started at the rear of the field and quickly charged back into the lead on Lap 54. Allgaier went on to win the second stage, with Mayer close behind him.

“To go to the back and have that spin and just battle our way through, it’s crazy how fast our car was tonight and how good we were in traffic,” Allgaier said.

Unfortunately for the veteran driver, speed, maneuverability and good karma could carry him only so far.

Hill Turning Into A Speedway Ace

Austin Hill has quickly become one of the best racers in the Xfinity Series in regards to superspeedway’s. Saturday evening was Hill’s second straight Speedweeks win in NASCAR’s version of AAA. Furthermore, Hill has notched 3 wins and a runner-up in 6 superspeedway starts between last season and Saturday.

“I think you’re always learning,” Hill said of this success on these tracks. “I think it doesn’t matter who you are. Denny Hamlin, doesn’t matter. Denny Hamlin is really good. He’s won a lot of Daytona 500s and stuff. Other drivers that have won the 500, I feel like they’re always learning. I feel like every superspeedway race that you run races a little differently than the next.

“I think a lot of it depends on the way the wind is, the way the air temp is, that type of thing. It just sets yourself up differently on how the draft is going to work that night.

“I think it changes throughout the race, as well. Those things that I learned throughout Stage 1 that I tried to apply in Stage 2 and they didn’t really work the same way, and then when I got into Stage 3, they kind of worked how Stage 1 was working. You’re just constantly learning each and every race.

“But I can sit here and say that I have a ton of confidence on these superspeedways. RCR builds such fast Bennett Chevrolets, and I can sit here and say that when we went in the race today, even though we had our radio issues, we had our issues we had at the start of the race, when we drove from the back to inside the top 10 within seven laps, I was like, man, this is our race to lose. We were so fast. I could make moves whenever I wanted to and do things that other guys couldn’t.

“It’s fun when you have a car like that.

“I think a lot of it is that I just react to what the lines are doing, how they’re generated, the energy in each line, how the air is working. There’s a lot that you can do with the air when you’re behind somebody versus when you’re in front of somebody, and I think a lot of guys in the truck level, Xfinity level, are still learning that, and I think that it’s just kind of came almost a little natural to me because it’s not like I’ve sat here and studied superspeedway races more than any other race that I do. I watched the race from last year one time before racing this weekend, and that was this morning over a cup of coffee.

“When I watched it, I’m like, oh, I didn’t take a whole lot away from it. I just have the understanding when I get in the race to make the aggressive moves when I have to and know when to not make the aggressive move and when to ride and when to stay in the lane and what line is moving. I just feel like I have a good understanding of that, and I don’t have no rhyme or reason why that is.”

NASCAR explains finish

Most wondered why NASCAR didn’t allow Austin Hill and John Hunter Nemechek to race to the finish. I get it, a crash on the backstretch would give drivers plenty of time to get to the start/finish line and get slowed down by time they returned to the crash site.

However, with a car upside down and safety at risk, people forget that NASCAR has to dispatch safety vehicles to get to the crash scene as soon as possible and it’s hard to do so with race cars still circling the track at speeds in excess of 180 mph.

As much as NASCAR wants to end the race under green, it’s sometimes not possible.

I applaud NASCAR for releasing this photo on Saturday night for further proof of their transparency.

Rough Ending For JRM Cars

In the closing laps of Saturday’s race, Austin Hill was leading, but all four JRM cars were right behind. Was he a lame duck?

“I actually thought that I was in a really good spot,” Hill admitted. “I actually thought that I was controlling the line the way that I needed to. I was making sure that I didn’t get too far out. If you get over that one car length out, they can really make a run on you and get by you.

“I was trying to just kind of manage that. My spotter Derek Kneeland did an awesome job just letting me know if they were half back, three quarter back, and then when they would get to that one back, I’d actually have to back up to them so they wouldn’t back up too much and get a run on me.

“I felt like I was doing a really good job of that. Not to say that the 8 and the 7 couldn’t have hooked up and got a huge run, and it might have been really hard to block, but I was actually feeling really good where I was at, and when the caution came out and we had the green-white-checkered, that’s when I got a little, I guess you’d say, nervous just because when I lined up on the top and I had the cars that I had behind me, I figured they would just bail right away and try to pass each other.

“I felt like I was going to be a sitting duck, and then it just all worked out. But man, it was such a crazy race.”

With five to go, it remained the same order. When would JRM strike?

Unfortunately, at the end of the race, only one car finished in the top five. The other three were 14th or worse.

Josh Berry and teammate Brandon Jones touched to bring out a late race caution. Berry, then subsequentially ran out of fuel under caution. Sam Mayer flipped while leading on the final lap with only Justin Allgiaer coming away with a decent finish in 3rd.

Jones rebounded to finish 14th while Berry was 26th and Mayer in 27th.

Top Stats

Since 2012, we’ve had 10 different winners in the last 12 years of this event. Only Ryan Reed (2015, 2017) and now Austin Hill (2022, 2023) have reached Gatorade Victory Lane multiple times in that span.

Only six races now in history have been won from the pole or first starting position (2002, 2003, 2008, 2009, 2021, Saturday).

  • Each of the last 13 races were won by a starter in the top 6 rows including 7 of which from a top 4 starting position.
  • 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.
  • This was the third time in the last four years of this race that it ended under caution.
  • 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.
  • 2023: Hill passed a wrecking Mayer on the last lap to win the race under caution.

NASCAR Xfinity Series Race – Beef. It’s What’s For Dinner. 300

Daytona International Speedway

Daytona Beach, Florida

Saturday, February 18, 2023

                1. (1)  Austin Hill, Chevrolet, 125.

                2. (7)  John Hunter Nemechek, Toyota, 125.

                3. (5)  Justin Allgaier, Chevrolet, 125.

                4. (16)  Parker Retzlaff #, Chevrolet, 125.

                5. (13)  Myatt Snider, Toyota, 125.

                6. (9)  Riley Herbst, Ford, 125.

                7. (29)  Joe Graf Jr, Ford, 125.

                8. (22)  Ryan Sieg, Ford, 125.

                9. (3)  Cole Custer, Ford, 125.

                10. (19)  Justin Haley(i), Chevrolet, 125.

                11. (20)  Jeb Burton, Chevrolet, 125.

                12. (8)  Chandler Smith #, Chevrolet, 125.

                13. (17)  Stefan Parsons, Chevrolet, 125.

                14. (11)  Brandon Jones, Chevrolet, 125.

                15. (25)  Josh Williams, Chevrolet, 125.

                16. (34)  Parker Chase, Toyota, 125.

                17. (38)  Jeremy Clements, Chevrolet, 125.

                18. (36)  Joey Gase, Ford, 125.

                19. (15)  Sammy Smith #, Toyota, 125.

                20. (23)  Gray Gaulding, Chevrolet, 125.

                21. (26)  Kyle Sieg, Ford, 125.

                22. (28)  David Starr, Chevrolet, 125.

                23. (2)  Parker Kligerman, Chevrolet, 125.

                24. (10)  Anthony Alfredo, Chevrolet, 125.

                25. (12)  Jade Buford, Chevrolet, 125.

                26. (18)  Josh Berry, Chevrolet, 125.

                27. (14)  Sam Mayer, Chevrolet, Accident, 124.

                28. (24)  Jeffrey Earnhardt, Chevrolet, 124.

                29. (32)  Brett Moffitt, Ford, 124.

                30. (37)  Jesse Iwuji, Chevrolet, Electrical, 110.

                31. (31)  CJ McLaughlin, Ford, Accident, 87.

                32. (33)  Kaz Grala, Toyota, Engine, 82.

                33. (21)  Brennan Poole, Chevrolet, Engine, 81.

                34. (4)  Sheldon Creed, Chevrolet, Accident, 41.

                35. (35)  Ryan Ellis, Chevrolet, Accident, 41.

                36. (6)  Daniel Hemric, Chevrolet, Accident, 20.

                37. (27)  Blaine Perkins #, Chevrolet, Accident, 19.

                38. (30)  Bayley Currey, Chevrolet, Engine, 8.

Average Speed of Race Winner:  132.524 mph.

Time of Race:  2 Hrs, 21 Mins, 30 Secs. Margin of Victory:  Caution Seconds.

Caution Flags:  8 for 32 laps.

Lead Changes:  25 among 11 drivers.

Lap Leaders:   C. Custer 1;J. Allgaier 2-5;J. Nemechek 6;J. Allgaier 7;J. Nemechek 8-12;J. Allgaier 13-14;J. Nemechek 15;J. Allgaier 16-25;J. Haley(i) 26;A. Hill 27-32;S. Creed 33-37;S. Mayer 38-45;P. Kligerman 46;S. Mayer 47-49;A. Hill 50-53;J. Allgaier 54-55;S. Mayer 56-58;J. Allgaier 59-74;J. Nemechek 75;G. Gaulding 76;D. Starr 77-78;J. Berry 79-95;A. Hill 96-123;J. Allgaier 124;A. Hill 125.

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led):  Austin Hill 4 times for 39 laps; Justin Allgaier 7 times for 36 laps; Josh Berry 1 time for 17 laps; Sam Mayer 3 times for 14 laps; John Hunter Nemechek 4 times for 8 laps; Sheldon Creed 1 time for 5 laps; David Starr 1 time for 2 laps; Gray Gaulding 1 time for 1 lap; Justin Haley(i) 1 time for 1 lap; Cole Custer 1 time for 1 lap; Parker Kligerman 1 time for 1 lap.

Stage #1 Top Ten: 21,16,7,10,27,2,8,48,20,19

Stage #2 Top Ten: 7,1,21,9,25,8,98,20,00,27

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