Even though Austin Hill has already locked himself into the Gander Outdoors NASCAR Truck Series playoffs thanks to his season-opening win at Daytona, the 25-year-old knows he needs to have a good performance Friday at Dover.
Over the past three races, Hill has a 16th-place finish sandwiched around a pair of DNF’s. Since winning the opener and following that up with a seventh at Atlanta, he slipped from first in the standings to seventh, 49 points behind leader Stewart Friesen.
“We need to have a good race this weekend because the last three races have been so bad for us,” Hill told TRE on Friday. “We have to get all that behind us. We’ve had the speed. We’ve had top-five speed really everywhere we’ve been other than Martinsville. Everywhere else we’ve had top-five speed and now we need to make it to the end of the race.”
Fortunately for Hill, the need to perform comes at a place where he’s had success. Hill has two K&N Pro Series East wins at the Monster Mile in three starts (2013 and 2014). Hill’s 2013 K&N East win actually came in his first start at the track, and from that point on, the demanding concrete mile oval played to his liking.
“It almost feels like you’re on a roller coaster,” Hill said. “The landing and everything is so harsh. There’s a lot of G-Force that goes on your body when that frontend gets light and it lands really hard. Something about this racetrack I pick up and kind of stuck with it.
While his best finish in a truck at Dover is a measly 16th, Hill hasn’t had contending equipment over the years. This year with Hattori Enterprises, the team that fielded Brett Moffitt’s championship season last year, Hill feels he has top-five speed almost every week.
“This year with HRE, we’ve unloaded swinging,” said Hill, who was third in Practice 1 and 14th in Practice 2 on Thursday. The Hattori Racing Enterprises driver will start Friday’s JEGS 200 in 12th after laying down a lap of 158.221 MPH.
Hill has also tinkered with his gear and transmission ratio, particularly with second and third gears, working through the kinks and transition of one race team to another.
“I felt like we were losing a little bit when we were shifting from second to [third] gear,” Hill said. “It felt like it was just too long of a shift. We went from second to third, they would kind of gap us a bit. From third to fourth, we’d suck back up, but you don’t want to leave that gap.”
And though Hill knows he needs to perform for morale, he can go about his business with less apprehension, given he’s already locked in the playoffs.
“You can be a little more relaxed,” Hill said. “Yeah, having that win, you can take some chances and do some things on the racetrack. If you get down to the end of the race in a fuel mileage race or something, and we know we’re a lap or two short, we might just go for it and go for the win. And if we finish 18th, then who cares. We know we already have a win under our belt.”
But on Friday, an 18th won’t do Hill any good. A Miles the Monster in hand? That’s more like it.
“Every week we race we’re on kill mode,” Hill said. “We’re here to take home that Monster trophy.”