When the dust settled over the Gander Outdoors Truck Series season-opener at Daytona International Speedway, just nine trucks were running. Meanwhile, Austin Hill emerged victorious for the first time in his career in his debut race with Hattori Racing Enterprises.
— Gander Outdoors TR (@NASCAR_Trucks) February 16, 2019
That’s right, last year’s championship team that dropped its driver due to a lack of funding has already found Victory Lane with its newest driver. For Hill, it was a busy offseason, as he made the move from Young’s Motorsports. But, unfortunately, not everyone looked toward the 2019 season with the same optimism of the driver headed into his second full-time campaign in top-notch equipment.
Nothing shows how driver talent matters less than financial backing than Hattori Racing’s announcement that Brett Moffitt has been replaced by Austin Hill.
— Nick Bromberg (@NickBromberg) January 8, 2019
The perception is simple: Hill bought his ride. It’s easy to see where some would assume that’s the case. After all, you have the defending series champion Brett Moffitt who won six races suddenly released from his team because funding wasn’t available to keep him for the next year. Compare that to Hill, who had a single top-five finish in his first full-time season, and the numbers simply don’t add up.
But in reality, the climate that NASCAR, as a whole, faces these days revolves around funding, Most of the time, it’s the drivers that need to do the legwork, especially in the lower series. Keep in mind that Moffitt’s championship campaign was in danger of not running to completion with several unsold races.
That’s not to say that Hill didn’t earn his shot with HRE. Remember that Young’s Motorsports isn’t exactly a top-tier team by any stretch. In fact, Hill scored a career-best finish for himself and the organization with a fifth-place run at Texas Motor Speedway last fall, and that race was fresh off of qualifying seventh and finishing 20th at Martinsville Speedway the week before.
“Man, I just can’t tell you how proud I am our team,” Tyler Young, general manager of Young’s Motorsports, said at the time. “We had three trucks in the race, and I’m proud of our Young’s Motorsports team for being able to put competitive equipment out every race. Austin has been on a roll the last month or so and I think everyone has seen how our team’s dedication and commitment is really starting to pay off.
“It takes a lot of people to make this deal work, and without them, none of this would be possible. We’ll keep focused and keep making gains forward.”
Fast forward to Daytona ,and Hill was among the final nine trucks running on the track. Sure, he was fortunate to have avoided the massive amount of carnage that had sidelined more than two-thirds of the field and that contributed to the trip to Victory Lane. But even before a large majority of the trucks were loaded up in pieces, Hill ran right around the top five and top 10 for much of the race.
Beyond that, Grant Enfinger did not go down without a fight and forced Hill to block high and low as the field worked its way toward the checkered flag.
But when the race was over? He was just a normal dad and a family man.
Disney world with the kids today! Thank you everyone for all the kind messages. I will try my best to get back to you guys soon! This has been such an incredible day with my family celebrating our big win at @DISupdates !! 🏁
— Austin Hill (@_AustinHill) February 16, 2019
It remains to be seen what Hill and HRE will manage to do with the remainder of the schedule, but barring a major disaster, it’s likely the organization is headed to its second playoff berth in as many seasons. And it’s completely realistic to expect to see that No. 16 Toyota in Victory Lane a few more times before the year is up.
“The number one goal is to win the championship, so we’re locked in now. Kind of takes a weight off of your shoulders going into Atlanta,” Hill said. “We get to go have fun now.
“We’re not chasing points. We’re not chasing anything but wins. That’s going to be really cool. It’s going to be a lot more relaxed, I think, going forward. It comes down to going to try to win some more races, get as much bonus points as we can.”
In this case, perception isn’t reality. Even though Hill brought the funding with him to race with a championship organization, his reality is that he is a talented competitor who has previously outperformed the equipment he was in. Now, Hill has that opportunity to shine and show the NASCAR world what kind of driver he really is.