Hill Is Good To The Last Drop In Atlanta Xfinity Run

Hill

Austin Hill celebrates with a burnout after winning Saturday at Atlanta Motor Speedway. (HHP/Andrew Coppley photo)

HAMPTON, Ga. – Austin Hill didn’t even lead in regulation during Saturday night’s Raptor King of Tough 250 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, but he was out front when it mattered most.

Taking the lead on an overtime restart, as his dominant Richard Childress Racing teammate Jesse Love’s fuel tank ran dry, Hill led only the final two circuits to notch his second straight NASCAR Xfinity Series victory to open the season.

It was also the third home-track win for Hill, who grew up just a half-hour west of AMS in Winston, Ga.

“That’s why you don’t give up!” exclaimed Hill as he climbed from his No. 21 Bennett Transportation Chevrolet. “My team are badasses. We worked through every hurdle thrown at us all night long. I was really thinking that we were down and out … the car sputtered coming to the start-finish line [for the final restart] when I shifted, and then when the [No.] 81 [Chandler Smith] hit me at that point, it got fuel in the pickup and got us going.

“I said to myself, ‘If I can’t win it, I want my teammate to go and win it,’ because he ran an awesome race; he did everything right all night,” Hill added. “He should be sitting here right now, but he ran out of fuel … and, thankfully, we were able to take advantage and still get an RCR Chevrolet into victory lane.”

Love started from the pole, swept the first two stages, and led six times for a race-high 157 laps.

Though pit strategy during the second stage break allowed A.J. Allmendinger to briefly get to the front of the field for a lap-88 restart, Love battled back during a four-lap sequence from laps 90 through 93 where he and Allmendinger traded the top spot each time by the flagstand.

On lap 94, Love charged the entry to turn one, cleared Allmendinger, and slid across the front bumper of the Kaulig Racing driver’s Chevrolet to retake control of the race – seemingly for good at that point.

In fact, Love led 74 consecutive laps from the time he passed Allmendinger for good until the final restart of the race, which was set up by the Fords of Cole Custer, Riley Herbst, and Ryan Sieg all running out of fuel inside of three laps to go.

Sieg’s Ford stalled on the apron of the racetrack, necessitating the last of four caution flags and pushing the race into overtime.

All but the top seven – Love, Ryan Truex, Parker Kligerman, Hill, Sam Mayer, Sammy Smith, and Justin Allgaier – came down for a splash of fuel to ensure they could make it to the checkered flag.

Mayer and Smith ended up running out of fuel under caution before the last restart, leading some to question if any of those who didn’t pit would be able to make it to the finish line under power.

Love and crew chief Danny Stockman, however, believed they could hold on out front – until the car sputtered and didn’t come up to speed when the green flag waved for the final time on lap 168.

From there, as Love fell back and the field scattered around him, Hill surged to the lead and never looked back en route to his eighth career Xfinity Series win, in front by .106 seconds at the checkered flag.

Hill is the first driver since Tony Stewart in 2008 to open the Xfinity Series season with back-to-back triumphs.

Chandler Smith came through the late shuffle to finish second in a Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, while New Zealand’s Shane van Gisbergen impressed by staying out of trouble all day, ultimately crossing the line third in a Kaulig Racing-prepared Chevrolet.

Sheldon Creed was fourth in a second JGR Toyota, and Parker Retzlaff earned his second top-five finish in a row for Jordan Anderson Racing by placing fifth.

Jeremy Clements, Anthony Alfredo, Jeffrey Earnhardt, Ryan Truex, and Sammy Smith closed the top 10.

Love got his car back going after the final restart and ended up 12th of the 14 cars that finished on the lead lap.

The race featured 11 lead changes among five different drivers and was completed in two hours and 18 seconds, for an average race pace of 135.474 miles per hour.

The NASCAR Xfinity Series season continues Saturday, March 2 at Las Vegas (Nev.) Motor Speedway with the running of the LiUNA 300. Hill is the defending winner of the spring Xfinity Series race in Sin City.

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About Jacob Seelman

Jacob Seelman is Motorsports Hotspot’s News Editor and Race Face Digital’s Director of Content, as well as a veteran of more than a decade in the racing industry as a professional, though he’s spent his entire life in the garage and pit area.