Austin Hill goes off strategy to finish sixth with ‘frustrating’ car, eyeing fun in Cup race

FORT WORTH, Texas — Austin Hill was both frustrated and pleased with a sixth-place finish in Saturday’s Andy’s Frozen Custard 300, with another 400 miles still on his weekend itinerary at Texas Motor Speedway.

Hill led 25 laps midway through the final stage of the NASCAR Xfinity Series race after moving to an alternate strategy in the No. 21 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing.

“After each stop, I don’t know what was going on —  if the adjustments just weren’t working the right way or what,” Hill said. “We just ended up getting extremely tight throughout the race. Rubber was getting laid down, so I’m sure that had something to do with it. All in all, I did not think we had a sixth-place car, so I’ll take finishing sixth with the day I thought we had going.”

Hill restarted in second place late in Stage 2 but faded to seventh, which was the same position he claimed in Stage 1.

He pitted under caution on Lap 104 of the 200-circuit event, making it possible to stay out when the leaders made their final green-flag pit stops with 50-60 to go.

Hill led Laps 146-170, and with 40 to go was leading a group of four cars that were still ahead of previous leader Justin Allgaier, who won the first two stages. Hill pitted with 31 laps remaining and nine cars on the lead lap. 

Three laps later, Allgaier was back in the lead and trying to hold off a hard-charging Riley Herbst. Allgaier made contact with Leland Honeyman, who hit the wall and brought out the caution flag.

“I guess I was hoping for a caution before we pitted, then we ended up taking rights to try to stop the bleeding as much as possible with the track position we had lost,” Hill said. “As soon as we took right sides there on the green-flag stop, the caution just fell in our lap, so that helped us a lot. If it wouldn’t have been for the caution, we wouldn’t have ended up finishing that great. Then we came in and took lefts, and that got us track position as well. On the restarts, I’m just extremely tight, just can’t turn the steering wheel enough without the front tires sliding.”

Hill was in 12th when the yellow came out but only took those left-side tires while most drivers changed all four. He restarted the race in third place before finishing just outside the top five.

“All day I could not fire off on restarts without being extremely tight, no matter if I was in clean air or dirty air,” Hill said. “So very, very frustrating day for us, but to finish P6 — come home with a decent points day — we’ve got to hold our heads up and go back to work on Monday and try to figure what these other guys are able to do to create a ton of grip on the short run, because we’re missing that right now.”

Hill will start 34th Sunday in the Cup Series race at TMS. It will be his seventh career Cup start, but his first on a 1 1/2-mile oval without a restricted engine package.

“Cup cars are so much different, obviously. They’re really bad in dirty air. Track position seems to be huge on the Cup side. I’m looking forward to it,” Hill said. “Just hoping to have a fun day, try to not be as stressed out as I was today. On this deal, obviously we’re going for the points, so it’s a little more stressful on the Xfinity side. On the Cup side I think I can go have some fun with it.”

Hill posted the 33rd-quickest practice lap Saturday in preparation for his Cup season debut, just behind RCR teammate Austin Dillon and just ahead of seven-time Fort Worth winner Jimmie Johnson, who will be making his second start of the season.

“It took me a little bit to get used to,” Hill said. “The Cup cars just have way more throttle time. Once I got up to speed, we were wide open in [Turns] 3 and 4. The Xfinity cars, you’re nowhere close to that; it’s honestly a little bit lame. I don’t understand why the Cup cars have so much grip and you have so much throttle time. It shows why the racing is the way it is and it’s hard to pass and stuff on the Cup side. It shows why everyone is so close.

“I don’t know how tomorrow is going to go, but I’m looking forward to it.”

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