Race Weekend Central

Xfinity Breakdown: Austin Hill Continues Superspeedway Prowess at Daytona

New year, same result for Richard Childress Racing driver Austin Hill.

After rain caused the NASCAR Xfinity Series’ United Rentals 300 to run on Monday (Feb. 19) night, Hill found himself in victory lane at Daytona International Speedway once again after a late restart with three laps to go.

Jordan Anderson and Chandler Smith restarted out front with three laps left in the race. Drivers jockeyed for the top spot, as Smith, Anderson and Hill all dueled for the lead in the final few laps.

Hill was able to get to the lead over Anderson with just over two laps to go and held strong over other cars’ surges. With a push from Brandon Jones, Sheldon Creed made his way up to second place behind his former teammate.

Then, as Ryan Sieg got turned around in the pack on the backstretch, Hill was much too far out front for Creed to try to battle. The race finished under green, and Hill started off the year with a win at Daytona for the third straight year.

Creed was second, followed by Parker Retzlaff in third, Anderson in fourth and Chandler Smith rounding out the top five.

See also
Austin Hill Wins Xfinity Opener for 3rd Daytona Win

Winners

Anyone who says superspeedway racing isn’t a skill has never met Austin Hill. After pushing Richard Childress Racing teammate Jesse Love to the lead for much of stage one, he finished the opening stage in second. Then he slid through his pit stall and restarted stage two in the middle of the pack, where he got hit and went for a slide on the backstretch shortly after the restart.

Hill’s team repaired the right front enough for him to find his way back to the front and take the stage two win.

A long green-flag run came after lap 67 and stretched through to lap 97 when the caution flew. While under yellow-flag conditions, Hill had to pit for a flat tire with about 20 laps to go. Yet somehow the No. 21 avoided the rest of the carnage to take his third-straight win in the season-opening event at Daytona and seventh in his Xfinity career.

Hill’s former RCR teammate Creed also had a good run with his third straight second-place finish dating back to Martinsville Speedway last year. The California native has seemingly become the new Daniel Hemric of the Xfinity Series, as Monday night’s result was his eighth-career runner-up. Could Creed break through for the championship like Hemric did in 2021?

And shoutout to Jordan Anderson Racing teammates Retzlaff and Anderson, who took positions three and four at Daytona. Retzlaff had one of his best qualifying runs in ninth and came home with his second career top five. Anderson also earned his second top five in just his 21st start in Xfinity.

John Hunter Nemechek’s seventh-place run did not reflect the story of his night. Pulling double duty in both Xfinity and the NASCAR Cup Series’ Daytona 500, Nemechek was involved in multiple incidents throughout the night. Yet the nine-time Xfinity winner found a way to secure a good finish. Similarly, veteran JR Motorsports driver Justin Allgaier was also caught up in a couple of accidents but came home just behind Nemechek in eighth place.

Riley Herbst overcame a restart violation in which he had to drop to the back on the following restart to finish in sixth.

Some other young drivers that deserve recognition are Natalie Decker, who drove from 30th to 18th, and Xfinity rookie Love, who placed 20th in his series debut. Decker led seven laps during a long green-flag run, while 2023 ARCA Menards Series champion Love was out front for 34 laps in the beginning of the race.

Losers

It was a rough night for Cup driver Daniel Suarez, as he was caught up in accidents in both the Daytona 500 and the Xfinity race. Around lap 23, he let off the gas, was turned down the track and clipped Sam Mayer, who shot up the track head-on and hard into the outside wall. Hailie Deegan, who was driving up against the wall, ran into the back of Suarez when he slid back up the racetrack. Kyle Weatherman also received damage in the incident.

After getting out of the infield care center, Mayer was frustrated with the “type of racing” where “everyone decided to run the wall.

“I understand it, but we’re all in a spot where we can get stage points, and no one wanted to do it.”

AM Racing rookie Deegan continued her “bad relationship with Daytona,” but one superspeedway race shouldn’t define her Xfinity career.

Frankie Muniz and Josh Williams crashed out in the Big One around lap 37 when Love had a bump from Nemechek and turned in the middle of the pack. Muniz’s series debut and Williams’ Kaulig Racing debut ended prematurely through no fault of their own.

Muniz will return to the Xfinity Series at Phoenix Raceway, he revealed to Frontstretch.

A couple other drivers who had underwhelming finishes were Big Machine Racing’s Parker Kligerman and JAR’s Jeb Burton, who finished 25th and 26th, respectively. Kligerman finished fourth at Daytona last summer and third at Talladega Superspeedway in the spring — two of his eight top fives last season — so it feels like a huge missed opportunity.

Burton, meanwhile, was running in the top 10 when he spun around on lap 97. A two-time Talladega winner, Burton earned top-15 results in each Daytona race in 2023, so a 26th was not where he wanted to start the 2024 season.

See also
Jordan Anderson Nabs 4th at Daytona as JAR Makes Statement to Open 2024

Fuel for Thought

Some years ago, one wouldn’t think that NASCAR could postpone the Xfinity race to a different day as early as it did this past weekend. Something seemed to change for this year that actually began with the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum. After seeing the weather forecast for the area, NASCAR decided to move the Clash up a day to Saturday night (Feb. 3). Had the officials not done that, the Clash might not have been run, as rain was expected to persist over the following days.

Fast forward to this weekend, and Mother Nature again forced NASCAR’s hand. This time, the Xfinity race was moved to Monday, initially set to run at 11 a.m. ET before the Daytona 500. Then on Monday morning, series officials decided to postpone the Xfinity event to after the 500, at about 9 p.m. ET due to more rain.

It was seemingly unheard of for NASCAR to make these advanced calls, but I believe they were the right ones logistically and safety-wise. It allows fans to plan their days accordingly, rather than waiting all day Saturday to just get told they would have to come on Monday.

Monday was also a holiday, President’s Day, so that could’ve played a factor in NASCAR’s decisions to move the races. The rest of the year will be on my radar to see what NASCAR decides to do if the weather forecast looks bleak in the future.

Where to Next

Up next, the Xfinity Series heads to the Peach State for some more pack racing at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Hill is the defending winner of this race, while Nemechek won last July.

Qualifying for the race is set to run on Friday, Feb. 23, at 4:35 p.m. ET. Then, the RAPTOR King of Tough 250 airs Feb. 24 at 5 p.m. ET. Both events will air on FOX Sports 1.

About the author

Joy joined Frontstretch in 2019 as a NASCAR DraftKings writer, expanding to news and iRacing coverage in 2020. She's currently an assistant editor and involved with photos, social media and news editing. A California native, Joy was raised as a motorsports fan and started watching NASCAR extensively in 2001. She earned her B.A. degree in Liberal Studies at California State University Bakersfield in 2010.

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