_In a span of under two years, Timmy Hill went from an ARCA rookie to a Cup Series driver. But now as NASCAR 2012 hits the summer stretch, Hill is back in Nationwide racing, having seen firsthand just how challenging life at the top of stock car racing is. Back with the team and organization that he won the NNS Rookie of the Year title with a season ago, Hill spoke to Frontstretch at Kentucky about his whirlwind season, and career, looking ahead to the rest of the season._
Bryan Davis Keith, Frontstretch.com: *You’ve certainly had an interesting season. You started the year as a Cup driver, but now here you are back with the team you won Nationwide Rookie of the Year with last year. Take us through 2012 for Timmy Hill.*
Timmy Hill: Well, the original plan after winning Rookie of the Year last year was to come back and have a really successful season in Nationwide. It was real last minute, they put a deal together with Larry Gunselman and everyone came to an agreement to go and see if this Cup deal would work out. Obviously I was up for it, everyone wants to go run Cup. So my first opportunity was Phoenix. The original thought was I was going to run after the first five, try to have a veteran lock us in the first five races and get things more stable. I’ve never really had to do the go-or-go-home deal. That’s a lot of effort, and a fraction of a second, you’re in or out. I learned that quickly at Phoenix, ended up missing the show by two thousandths of a second. That was a big reality check, a big letdown for myself and the whole team.
So I told myself it’s not going to happen next week. We went to Vegas, and I knew what I was expecting. Went there, practiced well and made the race. We beat three go-or-go-homers, so we made it in solidly. I was really proud of that. In the race, we were going to ride around the first half and try to race a bit the second half, but only made it to around lap 40 before we blew a tire. That was our main good car. Our backup car wasn’t quite as good, and we missed the next two shows. From there, we decided to take a big step backward. We weren’t financially set up to do it, the sponsor wasn’t happy, it didn’t work out for us.
Coming back to Nationwide, we’ve swapped owner points, but for driver points we’re five races or so behind. So we’re mainly going for owner points to help Rick Ware out, find some good finishes. Having run the bit of Cup I did, I learned a lot that’s helped me in Nationwide. In a sense it feels like things happen slower here now. It’s pretty much easier. You can learn a lot quickly at the Cup level, trying to throw all those qualifying runs together to make races. Maybe next year we’ll try something again. But for now, it’s time to regroup and run full races.
Keith: *I remember barely two years ago watching you make your ARCA debut at Salem. Your career seems like it is moving at a million miles a minute. Pros and cons to that? Obviously, like you said, everyone wants to be a Cup driver, but you’ve had a very small window of development time as a driver…*
Hill: Fortunately for me, I’ve gotten good at quickly adjusting to tracks. Pretty much everything I’ve ever raced has been in a touring division, whereas a lot of these guys at the local level run one track every weekend. I got to tour tracks. Doing that, you learn tracks fast. Running the Allison Legacy cars all over, running some ARCA and K&N, from there the next step was Nationwide. The iRacing helps too with braking points, passing points, giving me an idea of what to expect. Now, having a full season of Nationwide under my belt, I’m getting to run the tracks twice. The second time back, with more experience, you’re going to run better, picking up right where you left off at.
I’m not going to lie, trying to move to Cup was a big step. But the reality is, we got our Cup cars two weeks before Daytona, while most of the other teams out there were preparing all winter. We were missing races by thousandths of a second. We were not out to lunch out there. Coming off rookie of the year, we had big plans, it just didn’t work out for us. Maybe we’ll try it next year or the year after. No matter, I’m looking forward to the future.
Keith: *As you mentioned earlier, you’re out of the driver points pretty much, you’re racing for owner points and keeping a top 30 slot. As a driver, how do you compensate motivationally for not having that points goal or rookie crown to run for, especially on a limited budget?*
Hill: It’s a known fact we’re a small independent team. We don’t have the budget to rent the FR9 engines, we run the old style stuff, old style cars. And to be realistic, we’re shooting for top-20 finishes. The guys in this garage know we don’t have the money to afford cars that will let us run up front and win races. But if we finish top 20, that’s like a win for us.
It may not show on the charts, but I’m getting a ton of experience out there, and I’m having fun with it. I’d rather be running 20th than not racing at all. And the guys on this team, they’re having fun with it too.
Keith: *Rick Ware Racing also runs a couple start-and-park entries in addition to your No. 41. What impact does having teammates, even if they’re not running full races, have on your team?*
Hill: It’s a big help. Between having guys like Blake Koch and Scott Riggs available, last year we had Carl Long and Johnny Chapman, you have experienced guys that you can chat with the car with. You’ve got other opinions, and sometimes with drivers that have been out there a long time. We’re not out there trying to make a profit off of it, we’re trying to fund our main car. We get help on that front as well. There’s no doubt that from a business perspective those cars help us run a better full-time car. But to answer your question, its always helpful to have other drivers to bounce ideas off of.
Keith: *Rick Ware Racing has been around this series for a very long time, playing the underdog role. You’ve been in this seat a while now, you can’t afford to approach a race like Joey Logano in a $500,000 race car. What changes for you as a driver, knowing the background you’re in.*
Hill: Every driver wants to win. I want to win every weekend. But a lot of guys will get out there and try too hard, to a point the car just won’t take it. With this team, we can’t afford to crash a car. You have to realize the car you’re driving is a 20th place car. If you finish 15th with it, you outdrove the car, and that’s a good thing. What we try to do is to circle a particular race, Daytona, Talladega, a road course, someplace where we’ve run well in the past and can do it again, we’ll find sponsorships for little things. Maybe throw a bit more brake in the car, or get a little bit better engine. That gives us opportunities to step up and say hey, we’re still here. But week to week, we just have to keep our cars in one piece. We can’t get new cars, but we can get the cars we do have faster. That’s the main thing.
Keith: *Asking around the garage, Daytona this coming week has a real big circle around it. Not just because it’s Daytona, but because it’s one of those opportunity races to snag a good finish, to race up front. How much does that enter your consciousness?*
Hill: It’s there. We finished seventh there at the start of the season, led some laps and realistically had a shot at winning before I got caught up in something, damaged the grill and started overheating at the end. That was unfortunate, but we had a real shot at a top 5. For a small team like us, if we had won that race, it would have been bedlam, and it would have been great. You have to put a big circle around that track on the schedule, we have to look forward to it.
Keith: *The other race getting some attention at this point in the summer is the trip to the Brickyard. You’re a race car driver, no one has to explain to you what the Indianapolis Motor Speedway means…*
Hill: It’s exciting to be going there, knowing the history of the track. But it’s also exciting to be going there because it’s a fast track. There’s some real speeds there. The other things is, except for the Cup guys there’s really nobody here that’s been there before. That may give an advantage to those of us that can get out there and learn fast. But for Nationwide to go there, it’s huge.
Keith: *For now, gaining seat time, experience, what constitutes a successful 2012?*
Hill: Each weekend, we’re shooting for top 20s. I’d like to get five top 10s this year, five more top 10s I guess. Montreal’s coming up, the road courses, Daytona is coming up. We play our cards right, we might be able to do that.