Hill Makes It A Daytona Xfinity Three-Peat

Hill

Austin Hill celebrates winning Monday night's NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Daytona Int'l Speedway. (HHP/Chris Owens photo)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – If not for his Richard Childress Racing teammate Jesse Love, Austin Hill would have had a perfect Monday night at Daytona Int’l Speedway, in spite of a mid-race flat tire.

Hill finished second to Love in the first stage of the rain-postponed United Rentals 300, then swept the remaining two stages en route to his third straight season-opening win in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.

The driver of the No. 21 Chevrolet Camaro led just three times for nine laps, but he was out front when it mattered most, after passing Jordan Anderson for the win following the final restart with three to go.

Hill shoved Anderson so far out in front of the field going down the backstretch on lap 118 that he then gained a huge run of momentum in turns three and four, sailing past Anderson and never looking back.

From there, Hill held off the field over the final five miles, driving away from Sheldon Creed over the final half-lap after a crash involving Ryan Sieg, Ryan Truex, and Love split the lead pack up coming to the finish.

NASCAR officials didn’t throw the caution flag, and Hill was ultimately able to cruise home by .591 seconds for the seventh win of his Xfinity Series career.

“A win tonight tops everything off,” Hill said on the frontstretch after climbing from his Chevrolet. “A three-peat, are you kidding me? People don’t know how hard it is to win at Daytona, let alone three in a row like this!

“Despite everything that happened on pit road, my guys kept telling me to keep my foot in it, because we’re really good at these superspeedways,” added Hill. “I tried to mess it up … sped on pit road once, about slid through the box, but this Bennett Chevrolet was genuinely as fast as Xfinity 10G [internet].

“I know it’s past my bedtime, but we’re going to party tonight, I can tell you that!”

Monday’s final result extends a joking refrain in the Xfinity Series garage area that the three things inevitable in life are, “death, taxes, and Austin Hill in February at Daytona.”

“I’m not sure I’d go that far,” Hill laughed when reminded of that remark during his post-race media obligations.

A frenetic run to the checkered flag began after a caution with 23 laps left, when contact from New Zealand rookie Shane van Gisbergen sent Jeb Burton spinning off the fourth-turn banking.

Though Burton didn’t hit anything, the caution that his spin necessitated was a welcomed interruption for several drivers on an alternate fuel strategy – with Ryan Ellis, Garrett Smithley, and Natalie Decker running first through third when the yellow flag waved.

That trio pitted for fuel to make it to the finish, putting the field in the hands of journeyman Ryan Sieg for the ensuing restart with 18 laps left, but the field didn’t make it a full lap before contact between Parker Retzlaff and Jeremy Clements on the backstretch sent Clements into Leland Honeyman.

The field broke apart from there, leading to the eighth of nine yellow flags on the night.

It was at that point that Hill radioed to crew chief Andy Street that he “felt something wasn’t right,” and came down pit road. Upon the tires coming off the racecar, Hill’s intuition was spot on, because the left-rear tire was indeed going flat.

He restarted the race at the back of the field, but methodically worked his way back toward the front and found himself inside the top five when the night’s final yellow flag waved with nine to go when a five-car crash broke out on the backstretch that collected Cole Custer and Sage Karam, among others.

That allowed Hill to get in position behind Anderson, who was scored as the leader following a restart violation penalty assessed to Riley Herbst for “laying back” during the penultimate green flag at lap 110.

Hill then shoved Anderson clear when racing resumed for the final time with three to go, leading to his race-winning move at the World Center of Racing.

It was a victory that could just as easily have never had a chance, not only because of the flat tire late, but because Hill was involved in the biggest accident of the night – an 11-car melee on lap 37 of 120.

Hill suffered some right-front fender damage on his Bennett Transportation-sponsored machine, but his pit crew used bear bond repair tape to make the damaged fender aerodynamically stable and keep Hill in contention to pounce.

“When the wreck happened, I knew I had gotten some pretty substantial right-front damage, because even my steering wheel was somewhat off,” Hill told Motorsports Hotspot after the race. “And then when I saw the guys trying to bend the splitter up, I thought to myself, ‘Ooh, that’s not good.’ I wasn’t sure what would happen when I drove off into turn one … and when [the car] wasn’t hitting the track hard, I figured maybe we weren’t as bad off as I thought.

“I went to work from there,” Hill added. “With the left rear, I was working my tires back and forth … trying to keep some heat in them under caution … and I felt the rear sloshing, but I wasn’t sure why. … Finally, Andy said that we didn’t want to have any issues and we had some time left, so we came down pit road and sure enough, the left-rear tire was flat.

“When we restarted with 11 to go, I won’t say that I didn’t think we had the time to get back up there, but I knew that it was going to be an uphill battle. We had to make some stuff happen, and the middle lane opened up for me and somehow, it all worked out in the end.”

Creed crossed the finish line second in his first race with Joe Gibbs Racing, the eighth time in 71 Xfinity Series starts that he’s been the bridesmaid instead of the one celebrating in victory lane.

It’s also his third straight second-place finish dating back to Martinsville (Va.) Speedway last fall.

“It’s a great start,” Creed noted. “[To get] stage points and to start with a top-three finish gives a lot of momentum to our team … so I’m happy with that, but man … I just want to win one of these things.”

Parker Retzlaff earned a career-high third-place finish, followed closely by his team owner Anderson, who was piloting a third car for Jordan Anderson Racing in a one-off appearance at Daytona.

Chandler Smith was fifth in a second Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, ahead of Herbst, who rallied back in the final laps from his pass-through penalty for a sixth-place finish.

John Hunter Nemechek, Justin Allgaier, Brandon Jones, and A.J. Allmendinger closed the top 10.

After starting on the pole, winning the first stage, and leading a race-high 34 laps, Love limped home to a 20th-place finish after sustaining damage in the lap-37 melee that nearly ended Hill’s night as well.

Fourteen different drivers traded the lead 19 times over the 120-lap distance, with Hill winning the race at an average speed of 108.118 mph. Twenty-two drivers ended the night on the lead lap.

The NASCAR Xfinity Series season continues Feb. 24 at Atlanta (Ga.) Motor Speedway with the Raptor King of Tough 250. Hill won last year’s spring race at AMS, his third in five races to open the 2023 season.

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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.