Austin Hill failed to qualify for the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Daytona International Speedway, so the 2019 Indiana 250 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway was his series debut — and this time things went much better, as the driver of the No. 61 for Hattori Racing Enterprise/MBM Motorsports stayed out of trouble and finished ninth.
“It was good,” Hill said after the race. “Coming into the day, my goal was to get a top 15 and complete all 100 laps. I wanted to get some experience in the Xfinity Series. It was nice going out there and doing what we did. Some of the top guys fell out, so that helped us a bit. We restarted there with four to go in 15th. My mindset was to get to the top lane.”
Hill gained eight positions from his starting spot of 17th, which he attributed mainly to running the top lane around the track.
“It seemed like if you could get to the top lane you could really get some momentum down the backstretch,” he said. “That’s what I did. Once I got cleared, I was on the top and I was able to motor by some guys that were on the bottom. I cleared them by [turn] 3, so that was the biggest difference in finishing top 10 or not. I didn’t think we had a top 10 in us, but we brought it home top 10, so it was good.”
His debut wasn’t a walk in the park, though. As the second stage neared its end, Hill informed his crew that his car was beginning to overheat, and the engine — a leased engine from Joe Gibbs Racing — threatened to overheat for the rest of the race.
“We got a lot of grass and debris stuck on our grill,” he said. “I got up behind somebody and I got really tight. I swerved back and forth to touch their bumper at times, and it got most of the debris off. We ran a little warm all day, about 240 or 250 on the water temperature. We asked the Gibbs guys, and they said as long as it didn’t get above 250, you’re good. We decided to stay out and go from there. We were still about 250 at the end of the race, but it didn’t seem like it hurt our horsepower any.”
As the laps wound down in the race, Hill and MBM teammate Tommy Joe Martins both ran inside the top 20. Hill noted the improvement for MBM Motorsports.
“It definitely shows a lot that they’re working on their stuff, trying to get it better each and every week,” he said. “You saw today with me and Tommy Joe Martins what this team is really capable of. We’ll go back to the drawing board. Hopefully I get to run again in the Xfinity Series. I’ll debrief with them and tell them a few things that I saw that the bigger teams did which we weren’t able to do.
“The biggest difference was once we got singled out, you could tell our car dragged a little bit more than some of the top guys. That’s one of the things we’ll have to go back to the drawing board, and we’ll do a little better at a place like this. All in all, they’re doing a good job with what they have.”
Hill left the historic track grateful for the opportunity, and he rightly noted how he learned, but he enjoyed the perks of a good handling car.
“I give it all to the guys back at the shop that prepared this thing, for sure,” he said. “You’re basically running wide open at this track. It almost turns into a superspeedway. You got to be able to make the moves at the right time, but you need a good handling car. Our car handled pretty decent all day. I can’t thank them enough.
“It almost was like a [Gander Outdoors] Truck [Series] race today. After about 10 or 15 laps when everybody settled in a bit, I realized I needed to drive it like a Truck race. You had to go where the momentum was taking you and where the lines were moving. It seemed like the top lane was where to go, so the game I played all day was to not get stuck on that bottom lane.”
Hill doesn’t have anymore Xfinity Series starts planned this season. His attention now swings back to the Truck Series, where he is battling for a Round of 6 berth. The Round of 8 cut-off race is at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and Hill heads there with increased confidence.
“Anytime you can get into a car and make laps and then come home with a top 10 finish, it makes your confidence that much higher,” he said. “I’m really excited to get to Las Vegas. We have a really good shot of winning there. Hopefully, we can go out there and get all the stage points and come home with a victory. Then we’ll move onto the Round of 6.”
His mentality? Just replicate his performance from the race at Michigan International Speedway at which he won. After all, HRE is bringing his race-winning No. 16 Toyota to Vegas, so he carries some swagger.
“We’re bringing our Michigan truck, and it’s one-for-one,” he said. “I have all the confidence in the world in that truck which we just built. At Michigan, we had issues on pit road, we had to go to the back a few times. We just kept driving back up to the front like it was nothing. That truck that they built is a horse, it’s really fast.
“I’m stoked to get Las Vegas. I really feel like we can win. I always believe we can win any race at every track which we go to with Hattori. Especially with that new truck, I’m excited to go there.”