DAYTONA, Fla.—Despite failing to qualify for the Great American Race, Austin Hill came back with a vengeance in the Xfinity Series on Saturday.
Hill, who missed qualifying for the Daytona 500 was determined to redeem himself—and did just that with back-to-back wins in the season-opening NASCAR Xfinity race.
After winning the pole, the 28-year-old from Winston, Ga., led a race-high 39 laps and held off the field in overtime for his third career win.
“As soon as the caution lights came on, I thought I had it, but it was so close,” said Hill, who held off John Hunter Nemechek by inches for the win. “To get back-to-back here at Daytona, it's really special. That's three wins for me now, two in the Xfinity, one in the truck here, and I can't thank everyone at RCR, our Bennett Chevrolet was so good, and it was as fast as Xfinity 10G tonight for sure.
Justin Allgaier finished third followed by Parker Retzlaff, Myatt Snider, Riley Herbst, Joe Graf Jr., Ryan Sieg, Cole Custer and Justin Haley.
“I thought we were ahead,” Nemechek said. “The 31 (Retzlaff) gave the 21 (Hill) a good push on the outside but can’t thank everyone on this Mobil 1 GR Supra for Joe Gibbs Racing. Just proud of the effort. It’s been a long off season waiting to get to Daytona and just to be that close.
“Great points day, but our car was fast. Looking forward to moving on to Fontana and I’m glad that we got the year kicked off this way and hopefully we can go chase some more wins, I feel like there are some here in our future. Need to get our speedway program just a little bit better.”
Hill won the first stage with Chandler Smith, Allgaier, Haley, Jeb Burton, Sheldon Creed, Josh Berry, Parker Kligerman, Nemechek and Snider. The stage was slowed by one incident on Lap 20 when Blaine Perkins made contact with Daniel Hemric and Sam Mayer on the fronstretch. Hemric sustained major right-front damage to the car and was forced to the garage. Mayer continued on.
On Lap 41, Kligerman made contact with Creed on the fronstretch to trigger the fourth caution. Allgaier, who was coming through the pack was collected along with Hill and Haley. By Lap 54, Allgaier had cycled to the lead. He held serve through Sammy Smith’s spin on lap 62 and for the Stage 2 win.
Allgaier, who led 36 laps, continued at the point until Lap 74 when the JR Motorsports Chevys elected to pit. Kligerman spun coming to pit road. The Fords and Toyotas followed suit on the next lap.
When the field cycled out on Lap 79, Berry took the lead with Allgaier in tow. CJ McLaughlin spun on Lap 90 to ignite the sixth caution. The race returned to green on Lap 94 and Hill passed Berry for the lead two laps later.
The field adopted a single-file formation over the next 20 laps. The only disruption came when Kligerman slid up into Jeffrey Earnhardt on Lap 109 and knocked the No. 44 Chevy out of 10th place.
Despite changing teams this season, Brandon Jones' luck didn’t improve with his new teammates. Berry tagged Jones entering the backstretch and sent the No. 9 Chevy spinning and sent the race into overtime. Jones finished 14th in his JRM debut.
Before the race restarted on Lap 122, Berry was forced to pit from third for fuel. With Hill in the lead and Allgaier alongside, the drivers jockeyed for position. Mayer mounted a run on Allgaier, who was late with the block. As the No. 1 Chevy challenged Hill for the lead, the No. 21 clipped the back of Mayer’s car and he flipped on the backstretch.
“I've been short my whole life, so I guess it's just fitting,” Allgaier said. “But really proud of everybody at JR Motorsports. Our Chevy Camaros tonight were absolutely blazing fast.
“Obviously, I'm glad Sam is okay. He had a heck of a run there at the end, and I hated that Josh ran out of gas.”
NASCAR called the eighth and final caution on Lap 125. The cars returned to pit road where Hill was determined the winner.
“When I chose the outside line, I just -- I didn't feel like the inside line was that great all day for most of the day,” Hill said. “I just wanted to choose the top. I knew the 78 (Anthony Alfredo) would stay with me. He was pretty committed. When I saw the 1 and the 7 get together, I just went to go squeeze them, and the 1 (Mayer) came down, he started getting loose, and then you can’t lift. It's last lap.
“I hope Sam is okay, man. That was a heck of a flip there.”
Mayer was seen and released from the infield care center. The NASCAR Xfinity Series returns next weekend at Auto Club Speedway.