By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
Despite major damage from contact at the end of Stage 2, Austin Hill rebounded to finish third at Kansas Speedway.
As the second Stage of the Clean Harbors 200 came to a close, Hill had a spirited battle with fellow Toyota Racing driver Christian Eckes. The duo traded the fourth position back and forth around the track. For Hill, the position meant one extra point to help him make the Round of 4.
However, Hill didn’t finish the second Stage in fourth. As the duo battled off turn 4, Eckes made an evasive maneuver to avoid hitting a lapped truck with his No. 18 Safelite Auto Glass Toyota Tundra. When he did, he slammed into the left side of Hill’s No. 16 Toyota Tsusho Tundra. The NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series veteran showed his displeasure during the Stage break, weaving towards Eckes.
During the caution, Hill brought his wounded truck to the attention of his Hattori Racing Enterprises crew for repairs.
“The whole left side of the truck was just pancaked really bad,” described Hill. “I had a really bad tire rub. I’m not sure if we had something dented or not, but just something I the left front had a slight vibration the rest of the race. It didn’t drive the same at all after stage two, after that incident.
All of our guys just had to get to work. Had to work on it and we had to tune on it a lot to get it where we thought it was somewhat better. Very frustrating day for us. Felt like we had a truck that could have won. Our Toyota Tsusho Tundra was good all day, it just kind of sucks when something like that happens, especially with a Toyota teammate.”
After the contact, the balance on Hill’s truck shifted to the loose side. The Playoff driver still had speed and ran inside the top-10 through a round of green flag pit stops. A late caution allowed Hill another chance at the checkered flag.
In overtime, Hill moved forward. He battled Eckes, Chandler Smith, and Grant Enfinger for position. On the hectic restart, Hill swung by several of his competitors. However, as they went three-wide, both Brett Moffitt and Sheldon Creed pulled away. When the checkered flag waved, Hill found himself in third.
“It was a good run for us,” Hill admitted. “Our Toyota Tsusho Tundra was really good before we got damage at the end of stage two. I don’t know what happened, I haven’t seen the replay or anything like that. I know we were going around a lapped truck or whatever, but I think that was a little uncalled for. It seemed like he (Christian Eckes) just freaked out and turned right and doored me.
“I’ll remember that going forward, I guess. It’s good for us to rebound and get the position that we thought we should have gotten. We had a shot at winning today, but once we got the damage, our aero was just way too loose and it just changed the truck completely. All in all, a good day for us and we’ll go on to the next one.”
After his third-place finish, Hill sits second in the points standings, seven behind leader Creed. The Winston, GA native is 12-points ahead of the cutoff for the Round of 4, held by Zane Smith.
Photo by NKP / NKP Photo