In a race that started in chaos and ended in bedlam on the last lap, Austin Hill won his third NASCAR Xfinity Series race of the season, beating Daniel Hemric to the checkered flag in Saturday’s RAPTOR King of the Tough 250 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
With his family in attendance, the Winston, Ga., native, led three times for a race-high 103 laps and dominated an event that featured a record 12 cautions for 68 laps.
NASCAR called the final yellow on the last lap, after a multicar wreck erupted as Hill and Hemric approached the finish line.
Parker Kligerman made a race of it until the cars entered the frontstretch dogleg on the last lap. At the end of a two-lap dash to the finish, Kligerman’s Chevrolet turned sideways across the front bumper of Hemric’s car and hit the right rear of Hill’s No. 21 Richard Childress Racing Chevy.
Hill maintained control and took the checkered flag with Hemric trailing by .085 seconds. Kligerman slid backwards across the finish line in fourth, as Ryan Truex edged him for the third spot by .001 seconds.
“They knew we were here,” Kligerman radioed to his Big Machine Racing team.
The defending race winner, Hill came to Atlanta with victories at Daytona and Las Vegas and, understandably, the Xfinity Series lead. The win was Hill’s second at Atlanta and the fifth of his career.
The only thing that shook Hill all night was the contact with the right rear of his car in the final 100 yards.
“I have no idea how I saved it coming to the line,” Hill said, after his young daughter ran out to greet him at the finish line. “What a start to the season. Everybody at Richard Childress Racing, ECR engines—we’ve just had such a fast start with Chevrolet. This has been special, for sure.”
Riley Herbst finished fifth, followed by Brett Moffitt, Josh Berry, John Hunter Nemechek, Sam Mayer and Justin Haley.
Hill won the first stage, and Kligerman gave Big Machine its first-ever stage victory in the second.
In the first two stages combined, the race featured more caution laps than green-flag laps—49 to 31, to be exact—the result of nine yellow flags.
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. He’s scored 5 career wins but 4 of which have occurred either in Daytona or Atlanta. In fact, in three career NXS starts in his homestate of Georgia, Hill has two wins and a runner-up finish.
For Daytona, he’s won the Speedweeks race there in two straight years. Between his 7 superspeedway starts in general in the series, he has 4 wins and a runner-up finish.
Much Needed Finish For Hemric
The 2021 NASCAR Xfinity Series champion struggled a year ago. In what was his first season with Kaulig, Hemric went winless and was eliminated in the opening round of the playoffs. This year, he was off to another slower start. He was 36th in Daytona, 12th in Fontana and a pair of 10th placed finishes the last two weeks of the west coast swing in Las Vegas and Phoenix respectively. Now however, he scored a runner-up finish in his No. 11 Chevrolet and is starting to gain his confidence back.
Hemric rebounded on the day after being collected in the Lap 70 crash in Turn 4 too.
Rough Start For Championship Favorites
There’s no doubt about it, most figured that Brandon Jones and Cole Custer would be among the Xfinity Series championship favorites for the 2023 season. Jones made a move from Joe Gibbs Racing to JR Motorsports and was taking over a car that won three championships (2014, 2017-18) and tallied 23 of the company’s 73 overall victories since 2014.
For Custer, he was moving back down to the Xfinity Series and driving for the team that he had 9 wins in 104 career starts with them including 7 of the 9 wins in his last full-time season in this ride. Now that he had Cup experience and a second foray into it, undoubtedly, Custer was the favorite.
Instead, both are off to slow starts.
Jones was 14th in Daytona, 33rd in Fontana, 21st in Las Vegas, 23rd in Phoenix and now 19th in Atlanta.
Custer was 9th, 27th, 12th, 12th and 12th respectively in his five starts to the ’23 season. Both have some work to do in order to regain their strength again.
Ryan Truex Making The Most Of His Opportunity
Ryan Truex is betting on himself. He’s taking his backing to race for Joe Gibbs Racing in six races this season. He ran five races for JGR a season ago, finishing in the top five three times in those five starts.
So far this year, he’s off to a better start. Truex was runner-up last week in Phoenix to teammate Sammy Smith and now third a week later in Atlanta. He was also third in the summer race here last July too.
Can he continue this into his next opportunity this year and pick up a win, eventually?
Truex is winless in 84 career NXS starts with 7 career top five finishes. He’s also 0-for-73 in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series and 0-for-26 in Cup. Until he landed with JGR, he’s never really had good equipment in this sport and these last two weeks he’s showing what he can do if given the opportunity in it.
Rough Day In Atlanta
The drivers were staunchly against this move that SMI made for Atlanta. The old worn out racing surface was going to get repaved and the track itself a face lift. Among the moves, increasing the banking and making the track a drafting destination. The aim was to make this a mini Daytona and Talladega.
Unfortunately, that move has been a risky one. While the finishes have been nice, the overall racing product has been anything but.
The Truck Series race saw 11 cautions for 58 laps. The thing is, when there’s only 137 laps of racing, with 58 of those 137 laps (42.3%) that’s never a good thing. Especially when there’s two races in one day and the second race was just as bad, if not worse, than the first one.
In 163 laps of racing in the Xfinity Series race, 68 of the laps were under caution leaving just 95 laps of green flag action. That equated out to 41.7% of the race behind the pace car including 9 cautions in the first 79 laps of the race.
Luckily it calmed down in the final stage because in 80 laps of the first two stages, the longest green flag run was only nine laps.
On a day that saw 42%( 126-for-300 laps) of both races combined running under yellow and each struggling to gain any momentum, that’s not necessariliy the product you want either.
The old package on this old track was among the best you’d get. It was pure racing. Tire fall off, drivers searching for grip and running multiple lanes. Unfortunately, NASCAR feels like race fans don’t want that and instead would rather watch no separation throughout the field and a flat out pack racing by you for hours upon hours.
I question on how many people truly like this type of racing.
I get the other races would get drawn out with minimal stoppages, but this was too far the other extreme. There’s got to be a happy medium here.
Part of the reason is this track lacked grip but no one could separate from one another. At least in Daytona and Talladega, these are tracks that are longer and wider in length to give enough space to race on. Here, Atlanta is a full mile shorter than Daytona and Talladega and gives you really no time to breathe. There’s not much straightaway racing to separate a bit which in turn makes this racing rougher.
Josh Williams’ No. 92 Chevrolet sustained damage in a Lap 27 accident with the No. 02 Chevy of Kyle Weatherman, and when Williams dropped debris on the frontstretch to cause the fourth caution moments after the subsequent Lap 32 restart, NASCAR parked him under the Damaged Vehicle Policy.
Instead of driving his car to the garage, however, a frustrated Williams parked it at the start/finish line. NASCAR ordered Williams to the hauler for a discussion of the incident, after he was released from the infield care center.
NASCAR Xfinity Series Race – RAPTOR King of Tough 250
Atlanta Motor Speedway
Saturday, March 18, 2023
- (3) Austin Hill, Chevrolet, 163.
- (11) Daniel Hemric, Chevrolet, 163.
- (4) Ryan Truex, Toyota, 163.
- (13) Parker Kligerman, Chevrolet, 163.
- (5) Riley Herbst, Ford, 163.
- (12) Brett Moffitt, Ford, 163.
- (9) Josh Berry, Chevrolet, 163.
- (2) John Hunter Nemechek, Toyota, 163.
- (10) Sam Mayer, Chevrolet, 163.
- (18) Justin Haley(i), Chevrolet, 163.
- (14) Ryan Sieg, Ford, 163.
- (8) Cole Custer, Ford, 163.
- (29) Brennan Poole, Chevrolet, 163.
- (15) Anthony Alfredo, Chevrolet, 163.
- (23) Jeremy Clements, Chevrolet, 163.
- (16) Jeb Burton, Chevrolet, 163.
- (1) Sammy Smith #, Toyota, 163.
- (32) Patrick Emerling, Ford, 163.
- (21) Brandon Jones, Chevrolet, 163.
- (35) Gray Gaulding, Chevrolet, 163.
- (7) Sheldon Creed, Chevrolet, 163.
- (36) Blaine Perkins #, Chevrolet, 163.
- (24) Ryan Ellis, Chevrolet, 163.
- (37) Chad Chastain, Chevrolet, 163.
- (27) Joe Graf Jr., Ford, 163.
- (26) Kyle Sieg, Ford, 161.
- (17) Parker Retzlaff #, Chevrolet, Accident, 154.
- (6) Chandler Smith #, Chevrolet, Rear Gear, 127.
- (19) Justin Allgaier, Chevrolet, Accident, 77.
- (25) Connor Mosack, Toyota, Accident, 69.
- (30) Sage Karam, Chevrolet, Radiator, 43.
- (22) Josh Williams, Chevrolet, Accident, 33.
- (20) Kyle Weatherman, Chevrolet, Accident, 26.
- (31) Jeffrey Earnhardt, Chevrolet, Accident, 11.
- (28) Kaz Grala, Toyota, Accident, 11.
- (34) Garrett Smithley, Chevrolet, Accident, 11.
- (33) Joey Gase, Chevrolet, Accident, 1.
- (38) Caesar Bacarella, Chevrolet, Accident, 1.
Average Speed of Race Winner: 91.382 mph.
Time of Race: 2 Hrs, 44 Mins, 49 Secs. Margin of Victory: 0.085 Seconds.
Caution Flags: 12 for 68 laps.
Lead Changes: 13 among 8 drivers.
Lap Leaders: S. Smith # 0;J. Nemechek 1-10;A. Hill 11-43;J. Haley(i) 44-46;A. Alfredo 47;J. Haley(i) 48-49;A. Alfredo 50-66;B. Jones 67-76;P. Kligerman 77-81;G. Gaulding 82;R. Herbst 83-92;A. Hill 93-98;R. Herbst 99;A. Hill 100-163.
Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): Austin Hill 3 times for 103 laps; Anthony Alfredo 2 times for 18 laps; Riley Herbst 2 times for 11 laps; John Hunter Nemechek 1 time for 10 laps; Brandon Jones 1 time for 10 laps; Parker Kligerman 1 time for 5 laps; Justin Haley(i) 2 times for 5 laps; Gray Gaulding 1 time for 1 lap.
Stage #1 Top Ten: 21,2,20,16,98,25,11,39,00,10
Stage #2 Top Ten: 48,98,9,2,78,39,8,21,00,51