Race Weekend Central

Shane van Gisbergen, Austin Hill Duke It Out Down the Stretch at COTA

In the closing laps of the Focused Health 250 at Circuit of the Americas, an unlikely tandem of drivers was battling for the lead before Kyle Larson swept the rug out from underneath the competition.

In an overtime restart, Austin Hill and Shane van Gisbergen found themselves leading the field to the choose marker in first and second. Hill took note of the strategy AJ Allmendinger employed the previous restart and tucked in behind van Gisbergen on the front row.

His decision set the stage for one of the better road course battles that the NASCAR Xfinity Series has seen in recent memory.

Through the twists and turns that mimic the hills in which the track was built, the drivers ebbed and flowed from racing line to racing line. Van Gisbergen waited until the prime opportunity presented itself, nudged Hill up the track for the pass and was undercut by Larson on fresh tires to seal the deal.

The battle marked van Gisbergen’s best Xfinity performance of his young NASCAR career and after the race the New Zealand native had plenty of notes for himself.

“My first stint I didn’t drive very well and AJ caught me and ran away,” van Gisbergen said. “Then we got the car better and my driving better and we were fast at the end, drove to the lead. It was a lot of fun. Got to learn how everyone races here. That’s how it is and I’ve got to fit in.”

See also
AJ Allmendinger’s Dominant Day Undone by Late Race Drama at COTA

Of the late-race heroics displayed by the trio, van Gisbergen mentioned that the only thing he needed differently than what he got was no green-white-checkers at the end.

Hill’s first stint didn’t go smoothly, either. He had to serve a pass through penalty early due to exceeding track limits, like many other drivers did on Saturday. Hill even started the first restart in the back half of the top 10, but perseverance paid itself off by the second overtime. Hill spoke on the battle off the final restart when the race had concluded.

“Obviously, everyone’s going for (the win),” Hill said. “I was mad, but who wouldn’t be, right? You’re going for the win. Getting into (turn) 1, where the start/finish line basically is, I got into his bumper and I hit him really hard. I don’t know if he semi-missed a shift or not, but I hit him. … I got off him when we got to the corner, and it looked like he was wheel hopping at that point.”

Larson spent most of the final laps watching the pair duke it out before he made his move, and even he was impressed with how the two were duking it out.

“(The finish) was crazy,” Larson said. “I restarted 20th two restarts before the end and knew there was going to be a caution, so I was just trying to pick my way through cleanly, so that if we did get a caution I could hopefully wind up around where we did.”

The finish was the end of a day filled with black flags and heated exchanges, some even between teammates, but the finish made up for the otherwise frustrating race. Make no mistake, though, it wasn’t Larson’s craziest win, at least not according to him.

“Trophy Cup 2015 comes to mind, but you guys will have to look that up,” joked Larson. You’re welcome.

About the author

Tanner Marlar is a staff writer for On3 Sports' Maroon and White Daily covering Mississippi State Athletics, an AP Wire reporter, an award-winning sports columnist and talk show host and master's student at Mississippi State University. Soon, Tanner will be pursuing a PhD. in Communicative Research.

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