Hill validates charge to the front
Austin Hill proved, in many ways Saturday, why he is one of the best superspeedway racers in the NASCAR Xfinity Series and possibly NASCAR.
Hill came from the back to the front, quickly. Twice. Then, he held off four hungry JR Motorsports cars to claim his third win in the last seven Xfinity superspeedway starts.
The Richard Childress Racing driver qualified on pole position Saturday afternoon but didn’t get to reap the benefits. Radio issues put him to the rear of the 38-car field to start Saturday’s Beef. It’s What for Dinner 300 at Daytona.
However, he didn’t stay there for long.
Hill jumped from 38th to 25th by Lap 2, then to 18th by Lap 3, 13th by Lap 4 and finally 9th by the Lap 7 caution.
He wasn’t done, either.
Hill took the lead on Lap 27 for the first time and was challenged by Chandler Smith for the Stage 1 win. Smith was nipped by Hill by just 0.019 seconds to win the first stage of the season.
In Stage 2, on Lap 42, Hill faced near-calamity when teammate Sheldon Creed was bumped into him by Parker Kligerman.
Hill pitted and dropped to 30th again for the Lap 45 restart but, again, he jumped from 22nd to 16th within a lap, then 11th within two laps, 7th within three laps, 4th within four laps and then the lead within five laps.
Hill led 4 laps before Justin Allgaier led JR Motorsports’ challenge to the Richard Childress Racing driver.
Allgaier led 7 times for 36 laps, only topped by Hill leading 5 times for 40 laps. Allgaier commanded the lead from Laps 59 to 74 with teammate Josh Berry who then led from Laps 79 to 95. Teammate Sam Mayer also led for 14 laps.
JRM was in control until a caution on Lap 88 changed everything.
Hill took the lead on Lap 95, just after the subsequent restart, with the 4 JRM cars behind him. Berry was behind Hill and, on several occasions within the last 10 laps, backed up to Allgaier to prepare a move.
Then, Allgaier and Brandon Jones jumped the gun and hung out Berry with 4 to go.
Berry had to fight to get back to the front, come hell or high water or spinning a teammate. With two laps to go, Berry challenged Jones for third with a big run on the backstretch that Jones blocked too late. Jones spun and set up overtime.
Mayer pushed Allgaier to the lead during overtime, then Mayer tried to pull out in turn 2 on the final lap and forced Allgaier to move up. Mayer moved down to side-draft Allgaier but it may have inadvertently cost both of them the win.
Hill made contact with Mayer as he came down, causing Mayer to flip, Allgaier to lose his momentum and Hill to lead at the time of caution and win.
It’s the second straight win for Hill in the Daytona Xfinity opener and his third superspeedway win in his last seven starts. In all of those starts, he has led double-digit laps and the most laps in the two Talladega races in 2022 and Saturday night’s race.
Hill also boasts finishes of 2nd and 14th at Atlanta in March 2022 and Daytona in August 2022.
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