Austin Hill’s deep run into his NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series playoffs debut came to an end with a 13th-place finish on Friday night at ISM Raceway. The driver of the No. 16 Toyota Tundra and the AISIN Group team put up a valiant effort to continue their championship run, including posting the fast time in qualifying, but came up six points shy to advance.
Hill led the field to green from the inside of the front row after earning his third pole award of the season but was put back to third as the second-place starter jumped the green flag. Subsequent cautions trapped Hill in the ill-preferred inside line on restarts on laps seven and 29 and held him back from challenging at the front. Despite losing track position, Hill was able to maintain position in the top-10 and ran seventh to collect four points at the end of Stage 1 on lap 45.
Crew chief Scott Zipadelli brought Hill to pit road under the caution for four tires, fuel, and air pressure changes to aid a free condition at the start of the run. In Stage 2, Hill began to battle a tire chatter in the center of both corners but managed to collect five points in the sixth position on lap 90. Hill came to the attention of the AISIN Group team for the final time under the stage break for four tires, fuel, and a track bar adjustment to improve the handling condition.
A variety of strategies played out on pit road, but quick work from the HRE team lined Hill up in eighth position for the lap 107 restart. The Georgian native was in position to advance to his first championship finale until the second-place truck spun its tires on the restart, causing Hill and others in the outside lane to lose significant momentum. The stack up cost Hill numerous positions and was not able to catch another caution for the rest of the 44-lap run to the finish. Hill took the checkered flag to finish 13th and can finish as high as fifth in the championship standings after next week’s finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Austin Hill Quote:“We just didn’t have any short run speed. I hate it for my guys. I just couldn’t do anything on the restarts. The front end would slide, the rear would slide and during that last long green flag run, it was terrible. I was sliding the front end really bad and just couldn’t put the throttle down and really had to wait on it a lot. I hate that we finished where we did, especially after qualifying from the pole. I definitely had high hopes for the race after qualifying on the pole and showing speed in second practice. We’ll move on to Homestead and regroup for next year…I definitely felt like I made somewhat of a statement, but I really wanted to bring back a championship back-to-back for these guys. That’s the only thing that’s really frustrating about it is I feel like I didn’t achieve that this year.”