Austin Hill broke through for his first victory of the 2021 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season in dramatic fashion at Knoxville Raceway on Friday night. The driver of the No. 16 Tochigi / Fukishima Toyota, United Rentals Toyota Tundra delivered a relentless drive from 21st to take the lead on an overtime restart to score his first-career victory on dirt on Knoxville’s storied half mile at the Marion County Fairgrounds. Hill’s seventh Camping World Trucks victory comes a week after clinching a spot in the playoffs and is his first win on a track smaller than 1.5-miles.
Hill lined up 13th on the starting grid after finishing fourth in his qualifying heat race on Friday evening. From the drop of the green flag, Hill showed plenty of muscle in his Toyota Tundra by immediately charging forward. Hill climbed inside the top 10 in the first 10 laps by using multiple lines. The Winston, Ga. native used the top of the racing surface, which began the race with abundant moisture, to advance as high as eighth before being pushed out of the groove and back to 13th. Despite the physical racing, Hill regrouped and drove back to 10th to earn one point at the end of Stage 1 on lap 40.
Crew chief Scott Zipadelli and the Tochigi / Fukishima Toyota, United Rentals team gave Hill four tires, fuel, and slight air pressure changes during the stage break. Hill knew he needed forward drive off both corners, and that’s exactly what he displayed for the majority of Stage 2. After restarting 11th on lap 42, Hill blitzed into the top five and began to challenge for the lead by lap 60. A caution on lap 66 relegated Hill to restart in the significantly handicapped outside lane. Hill learned a valuable lesson on the lap 73 restart when the loose “crumbs” and lack of traction in the second lane sent Hill back to 13th at the end of Stage 2 on lap 90.
Another set of tires and round of adjustments were the exact right call to doctor up Hill’s run to the checkers in the final stage. After restarting 15th, the level of physicality on track ratcheted up. Hill was bounced back as far as 21st on lap 92, but his relentless attitude took over. He took full advantage of the inside lane on multiple restarts and rejoined the top-10 by lap 115. On lap 136, Hill delivered one of several clutch restarts in the waning laps and moved from ninth to fifth. After taking the fourth spot, Hill restarted in the outside lane in row two and masterfully got down to the bottom groove to make a three-wide pass for second on lap 146. Numerous multi-truck accidents set up three overtime restarts, the second of which saw Hill edge ahead of the leader when a caution occurred to give him the race lead. On the final overtime restart on lap 178, Hill drove away from the field to notch his first-career win on a dirt track, and his first of the 2021 season.
Austin Hill Quote:“I didn’t think it (a win) was coming at Knoxville. I didn’t think it was coming at any dirt racetrack. I don’t have a dirt background. I’ve ran some dirt races for when we went to Bristol and then come here. It seemed like it helped me a little bit. The thing that helped me the most at this racetrack is, you got to keep the rear tires in it and I’ve always been a guy that’s really good saving tires. That’s always my M.O. Any time we go to a track that’s really slick, your ‘Atlantas’, your ‘Homesteads’, those types of racetracks where you got to save tires, I feel like I’m pretty good there. This track kind of was the same way. After that second run, our right rear tire was basically just slick. When we started that last run, I just kind of went in riding mode for a while, let guys slip up off the bottom. I just kept running the bottom, running the bottom, and my truck just got better and better throughout the race. This is unbelievable. I can’t thank Tochigi / Fukishima Toyota, Toyota Mobility Parts, United Rentals enough for being on this truck today. I thought it was a cool scheme, and everybody at HRE.”