Race Weekend Central

Fire on Fridays: Is Austin Hill Just a Superspeedway Racer?

With the NASCAR Xfinity Series taking to the high banks of Talladega Superspeedway on Saturday, April 22, all eyes fall on to one driver who has performed stunningly well at superspeedways: Austin Hill.

Hill gained his first career NASCAR Xfinity Series win at Daytona International Speedway in 2022 and has been a household name when it comes to superspeedway threats. He won last summer at Atlanta Motor Speedway and has already won at both tracks again this season.

As he enters the second third of the season, is Hill just a superspeedway ace and nothing else?

When Hill won Daytona back in February, it seemed to be that way. However, a win at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, during which he passed Chandler Smith coming to the white flag, turned heads and changed people’s viewpoints.

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But since that Vegas win, he hasn’t been a threat other than winning Atlanta. Excluding Atlanta, Hill finished a distant seventh at Phoenix Raceway, a dismal 37th at Circuit of the Americas, ninth at Richmond Raceway, and most recently, 17th at Martinsville Speedway.

Because of this, opinions have returned to Hill being a superspeedway racer who just got lucky at Vegas. However, looking back on Hill’s NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series career, results show that he can win just about anywhere.

Driving for Hattori Racing Enterprises in the No. 16, Hill gained eight wins in various disciplines of tracks — he won at Daytona; 1.5-mile tracks Kansas Speedway, Homestead-Miami Speedway and Vegas; dirt track Knoxville Raceway; and road course Watkins Glen International.

So Hill has proven he can win anywhere, but he’s struggling to prove that in the Xfinity car. He was promoted to the Xfinity Series to drive the No. 21 for Richard Childress Racing in 2022 and finished a respectable sixth in the overall championship at season’s end. Hill had certainly been a contender at multiple tracks last season, as evidenced by his 11 top fives. He hasn’t had quite the same luck this season.

But it’s also no secret that RCR has been in a sort of rebuild mode since Kevin Harvick left the team way back in 2013. Its Xfinity program was arguably stronger than its Cup program, but there was still a lot left to be desired.

Hill’s signing seemed to mark the beginning of a change at RCR, as the Xfinity program began improving drastically with Hill behind the wheel. Then the big domino of 2023 came when RCR signed Kyle Busch, bringing his truck team, Kyle Busch Motorsports, with him. The addition of Busch has made the entire program better, and Busch now drops back down to the Xfinity Series at times to compete with Kaulig Racing.

The new pairing between Busch and RCR, combined with Busch’s cameo Xfinity appearances, allows Hill to have potential to be better at tracks that aren’t superspeedways, and in turn makes the program even better on top of that. He made his Cup debut with RCR last season, at the 2-mile Michigan circuit, but this season is replacing Noah Gragson in the No. 62 for Beard Motorsports, which mostly competes on superspeedways — furthering the idea that he is just a superspeedway racer.

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However, being a specialist at one kind of track isn’t always a bad thing.

AJ Allmendinger has spent most of his career labeled as a road course ace due to his open-wheel background, and he’s made the most of that label. Both of his Cup wins have come on road courses (Watkins Glen, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course) and the majority of his Xfinity victories have been the same.

Harvick is labeled the king of Phoenix Raceway because he has a staggering nine wins at the track. He’s still had a Hall of Fame-worthy career regardless of that label. Hill can become a great superspeedway ace and still be a driver who competes for the championship.

For now, Hill should definitely embrace the superspeedway ace label, as he’s got a race he’s extremely capable of winning coming up this weekend.

About the author

Frontstretch.com

Anthony Damcott joined Frontstretch in March 2022. Currently, he is an editor and co-authors Fire on Fridays (Fridays); he is also the primary Truck Series reporter/writer. A proud West Virginia Wesleyan College alum from Akron, Ohio, Anthony is now a grad student. He is a theatre actor and fight-choreographer-in-training in his free time. 

You can keep up with Anthony by following @AnthonyDamcott on Twitter.

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