Hill Claims Regular Season Title at RichmondSeptember 11, 2020
Finish: 8th, Started: 1st, Laps Led: 65
Austin Hill captured the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series regular season title with an eighth-place finish on Thursday night at Richmond Raceway. The driver of the No. 16 United Rentals Toyota Tundra secured his first regular season crown by a 42-point margin courtesy of remarkable consistency through the first 16 races, which included one victory, eight top-five and 14 top-10 finishes. After the point reset and reseeding, Hill and the No. 16 team will begin round one of the playoffs at Bristol Motor Speedway third in the standings, four markers out of the lead.
Hill’s performance four days prior at Darlington Raceway netted him the pole position for the Gander Trucks’ return to Richmond and the Winston, Ga. native took full advantage when the green flag dropped. He dominated the first 55 laps, driving out to a nearly two-second lead before a caution flew on lap 55. The restart on lap 62 allowed trucks that restarted with fresh tires an opportunity to take over the race lead as Hill and crew chief Scott Zipadelli elected to save a set of tires. Hill managed to collect eight points by running third at the end of Stage 1 on lap 70.
Zipadelli and the United Rentals team gave Hill a small adjustment for a snug condition in the center of the corner, along with four tires and fuel under the stage caution. Stage 2 featured a 59-lap green flag run in which Hill restarted ninth behind several competitors that opted for an alternative tire strategy. In three laps, Hill returned to the top five and showcased the speed of his United Rentals Tundra by climbing to third on lap 117. He held that position for the remainder of Stage 2 at lap 140 to earn another eight points.
Hill restarted the event’s final stage on lap 153 in third after a four-tire pit stop with minimal adjustments to fine tune his balance. He immediately took the runner-up position and set his sights on the race lead until a caution flew on lap 175. The No. 16 team elected to stay out and save their final set of fresh tires for a late-race caution that is typically a common occurrence while a handful of trucks decided to use their final set. Unexpectedly, the race’s final 68 laps were run under green, which gave the advantage to the trucks that pitted for fresh tires. Hill maintained position inside the top-10 to finish eighth to secure HRE's first-career regular season title. Hill enters round one of the Gander Trucks playoffs third in the standings with three races to stay above the eighth-place cut line.
Austin Hill Quote:
“It (regular season title) definitely means a lot and that was our ultimate goal coming in here tonight. After as good as we were in stage one leading those laps, we thought we were going to win stage one until tires got put on and we fell a few positions back. All in all, it was a really good effort from everyone at HRE. Scott (Zipadelli) and all the guys, they worked really hard. Just kind of what we talked about earlier today was at the end of the race it just not falling our way. We really thought a caution was going to come out, we wanted to leave a set (of tires) laying just in case a caution came out with 30 or 40 (laps) to go. It went green the rest of the way and all those guys pitted. Our Tundra, we just started fighting really free entry and really loose off on the long run. Then I was just kind of holding on at that point. I was praying for a caution. I think we still had a shot at it if the caution could have come out. If we had 20 or so laps to go, we could have had a shot at the win still. All in all, we did our job today getting the 15 bonus points and the regular season championship, which is really nice to have those bonus points, but kind of stings a little bit because we definitely felt that we had a better truck tonight than an eighth place finish.”