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Austin Hill Pursues Xfinity Series Regular Season Championship

(Photo: Wayne Riegle | The Podium Finish)

Austin Hill has become no stranger to victory lane in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.

In his second season with Richard Childress Racing, the 29-year-old from Winston, Georgia has won four times, including on July 22 at Pocono Raceway. He leads points by 14 over John Hunter Nemechek with six races remaining in the regular season. Hill has 12 top fives in 20 races, already surpassing last year’s total of 11, and has 16 top 10s. He has an average finish of 7.5 and is second in the series with an average running position of 9.1.

Last season, Hill finished sixth in points after narrowly missing a spot in the Championship 4. Before then, he ran four seasons in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series and won eight times, but never managed to make the championship race.

Before winning at Pocono, Hill sat down with The Podium Finish to discuss his pursuit of the regular season championship and an Xfinity Series title.

(Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited for clarity)

SOLOMON: Overall, how would you evaluate the 2023 season to this point?

HILL: Well, we started off the year with a bang with three wins in the first five, and then we had a little bit of a slow going for the next few [races], nothing really to are doing just got caught up in wrecks and things like that. We still had pretty good speed in our car. Then we got on a good streak of top fives, top 10s. Seems like we’ve been running inside the top five a lot. One area that we’re still really trying to figure out and focus on really hard is our short-track program. At New Hampshire, we were probably about an eighth to 10th place car. With just attrition and wrecks and things like that, we were able to come home with a third place. We’re still doing everything we need to do on the racetrack, trying to get track position when it matters and trying to stay up front, especially at the end of these races when it matters. We’ve kind of lost a few points to the 20 (John Hunter Nemechek), so we got to kind of get that back going forward. They’ve been really well all season. We’ve been good, but they’ve been probably great. We need to get more on the side of being great instead of good. I think we can run with them each and every week, we’re just missing these little minor details here and there in our Chevy Camaros.

SOLOMON: How important was winning three of the first five races to get momentum on your side early?

HILL: It definitely got the momentum rolling, for sure. I think the biggest thing that kind of got our momentum [going] more than anything was winning at Las Vegas just because other races we had won our superspeedway-style, drafting tracks. To win on a mile and a half, it just showed that we have the capability of doing it and that we have the cars to do it. We’ve been really close all year this year on getting [another] win. But at the very end of these races, we’re just missing that little bit extra, that last adjustment we need just to be a little bit better to have a shot at these wins. We’ve been running solidly inside the top five or so a lot of the time, but when it comes to the end of these things, we seem to fall off just a little bit toward the very end. We still have a ton of momentum on our side, we have a lot of confidence. This whole organization, everybody at RCR and this 21 bunch has a lot of confidence in each other, and I think that’s one reason why you see us — if we aren’t running great at the start of the race, we make it better and we get better throughout the race. We just need that one extra little adjustment. We’re kind of one adjustment away from getting back into victory lane I feel like.

(Photo: Wayne Riegle | The Podium Finish)

SOLOMON: What’s been the key to the consistency for the No. 21 team this year? Has it just been limiting mistakes?

HILL: We say it every week on the radio before we go green. It’s one thing that I always kind of keen on is when I key up, I’m like, ‘Hey, let’s have a great day today. Everybody do their job in the pits, let’s have great pitstops and minimize mistakes all day and be there at the end.’ That’s kind of my motto I kind of go with each and every race. The pit crew has been on it all year. Even if we aren’t having the best weekend, perhaps, and say we’re running 10th, they normally pick me up three or four spots and that just helps the whole situation. It’s a whole team effort. Everybody at RCR pit crew, ECR engines and minimizing mistakes. When [other teams] do make mistakes, pouncing on their mistakes they make and salvaging finishes that we might not have gotten. But we’re there at the end when it matters.

SOLOMON: You’ve thrived at superspeedway racing in the Xfinity Series and I know that’s not always your favorite style of racing. How do you view it now, and how meaningful has it been to find success this season on other types of tracks?

HILL: So, the superspeedway stuff, when I first started running, I despised running the superspeedways because I felt like a lot of it was just being in the right place, right time and a little bit of luck on your side and just missing the big one when it happens. Hopefully, you get there to the end and you have a shot at it. But over the last few years, my mindset has changed a little bit. I go into the weekend with a lot better mindset that we feel like we’re the ones to beat and that we have a really fast No. 21 Chevrolet Camaro and we’re the only ones that can beat ourselves. It’s shown throughout the year this year. Talladega, we had a really good car and got caught up in a wreck, unfortunately, and that kind of ended our day and then the same thing in Atlanta. We had a really good car at Atlanta, just didn’t have anybody working with me which was a little frustrating, but we were still gonna have a shot out there at the end and then got turned. When we get to the sushi days, my confidence level is already really high. It gets notched up just that extra little bit only because I know how fast we are.

Going to that mile and a half at Las Vegas and getting the win boosted my confidence, personally, just knowing that I can win on other tracks other than superspeedways, which I always knew I could. I mean, I’ve won on the truck series, I won a lot of different racetracks, road courses, short tracks, mile and a halves, superspeedways, dirt — all that. I knew I could do and I knew I could win on a lot of different various racetracks. Just going out there and doing on the Xfinity level and getting it on the mile and a half meant a lot to me. So going forward, our next goal and our next task at hand is trying to get a short-track win.

(Photo: Sam Draiss | The Podium Finish)

SOLOMON: How important would winning the regular-season championship be?

HILL: It’s huge because it’s 15 extra bonus points that you can take into the playoffs and it allows you to be 15 bonus points ahead of the rest of your competition when you start at zero again. That’s been one of my biggest concerns throughout the season — trying to get the regular season championship and trying to get stage wins when we can because all those points add up. Obviously, winning the race, you get five extra bonus points. We’re trying to rack up as many stage points as we can, as many wins as we can, trying to get the regular season [championship] because we know that if we have a little issue, say, in the Round of 12 or the Round of 8, we have some points to fall back on. Whereas last year, we didn’t have as many points to fall on. That’s kind of where our heads at right now.

SOLOMON: How do you view the race for the regular-season championship with John Hunter Nemechek after he won consecutive races at Atlanta and New Hampshire?

HILL: I just kind of focus on myself, we’re kind of focused on our own race. We’re doing the best we can each and every stage trying to run up front. Now, don’t get me wrong, t the end of a stage if I see that we finished fifth and I don’t see him on the list, I’m like ‘alright, well, that’s five more points that I got for us and that he didn’t get.’ It’s not like I don’t look at it when the stage ends, but when we’re in the moment and we’re racing, I’m not sitting there like ‘Ah, the 20 is in the lead and I’m reading fifth. I need to do XYZ to try to get up there and get by him.’ I think you can overdo it and you can try too hard, and then you end up making mistakes, whereas earlier, I was talking about minimizing mistakes. You just got to stay focused on your own team, focused on what you’re doing and hopefully, it pans out. But the Joe Gibbs Racing cars have just been really good this year.

SOLOMON: How do you manage and calculate risks as you battle Nemechek?

HILL: That’s a really good question. It’s kind of like Pocono — a lot of people will flip stages and things like that. If we’re in a spot where we can get a stage win, we’re gonna have to try to go get a stage win just because that stage win can help us when we get in the playoffs. When we come in and pit and we go back out, we might restart 20th and we got to drive back up through the field and Stage 2 might not go the way we want it. But hopefully, we can kind of get back on the swing of things in Stage 3 and still have a shot at winning. There’s a lot that goes into it, a lot of different strategies that come into play that my crew chief and I talk about. At the end of the day, he’s the one that’s making the ultimate decision in the call. I feel like we’ve done pretty well on strategy throughout the year, but there are some areas that we can work on to do a little bit better to try to maximize our stage points, get the stage wins and things like that. That’ll help us kind of [stay ahead] of the 20.

(Photo: Maddie Skidan | The Podium Finish)

SOLOMON: This is your second year with Andy Street as your crew chief. How has your relationship with him evolved from last year to this year?

HILL: It’s been good. It always seems like the first year with a new team, you’re trying to figure each other out, figure out what I need in the car. When I say I’m loose or say I’m tight, what does that mean on a number scale? Do I need to be freed up two rounds, or do I need to be freed up four rounds? Like what is that number? I think that’s one reason why we’ve run so much better and more consistently this year. We had that full year under our belt, now we’re going into Year 2. When I say certain things, he’s kind of understanding now what I mean by that. So there’s a lot of confidence within our whole group and both between me and him. There are a lot of things that we can bounce ideas off each other with and look at SMT and talk about this or that like ‘you’re getting beat here. Why is that? Like what’s the car doing that’s not allowing you to get in the corner as fast?’ That type of thing. So just our communication — everything’s kind of opened up throughout last year and this year, and I think it’s what’s made us run a lot more consistently this season.

SOLOMON: Where do you think this team and Chevrolet are at in terms of speed compared to last year?

HILL: I think we’re not at a terrible spot. For us, personally, we’re a little bit better this year on the short tracks than we were last year. Last year, we struggled a lot on short-track stuff, so I feel like this year, we’re a lot better off on our short-track package. Our superspeedways and mile and a halves as a whole, I think we have been pretty good for the most part. But the JGR cars are really good each and every week. They’re the ones that I think are top of the charts each and every week. The 00 (Cole Custer) is starting to come into play, and the 98 (Riley Herbst) has been really good this year, so you’ve got the Fords that are pretty good as well. I think we got a little bit of catching up to do, but I don’t think we’re as far off as maybe some people think.

(Photo: Mike Moore | The Podium Finish)

SOLOMON: Just a month and a half until the playoffs begin. Is there anything top of mind that the 21 team wants to clean up before then?

HILL: We’re doing really well on minimizing mistakes like we talked about. The pit crew has been excellent. The biggest thing we want to clean up on is our short-track package, just trying to get better with that. We know that we’re a little behind there, especially compared to the Gibbs cars or even the Stewart-Haas cars. We just think we’re a little off with what they have versus what we have, and they’re able to do different things with their cars than what we can do. We’re just kind of working through that right now. We’re trying to get the front ends working better, we’re trying to get the rear of the car in the race track a little bit better. There are different packages that we’ve been running each and every week to try to hone in on, but it’s starting to get to that point in the season where we’re gonna have to start figuring out do we want to go this direction with our package, or do we want to go that direction with our package? Once we kind of figure out which direction we want to go, we can really start honing in on what little adjustments we can make to be a little bit better on the short tracks because I think ultimately, that’s what’s going to separate winning the championship and not. It’s being really good on Martinsville [and] Phoenix, especially going into Phoenix. We got better this year, but we definitely need to step it up a little bit more to get ahead of those Gibbs cars.

SOLOMON: With a championship top of mind, what do you need to do, whether it be on the track or personally, to put yourself in a position to achieve that goal?

HILL: Well, it seems like each and every year, I always get through that first round OK with us having stage points and all that we normally have. Then I have some stuff to fall back on. It always seems like the first round with the tracks that are on the lineup always suit us pretty well. Then when we get into that Round of 8, the final three races before the cutoff, it always seems like we have like one bad race, whether it’s at Martinsville or wherever. We always seem to have one bad race that ends up separating us from making it or missing it by five or six points. I think that’s one area that we just got to be — when it’s game time and it’s time for these playoffs to start, we have to be ready to perform each and every race. We got to keep doing what we’re doing on the track where, even if we’re not running the best, we still get the finish there the end that we might not have deserved, but we just made it work and we figured it. We just got to do a little bit better on our stage point stuff, and I think that if we can do all those things, we’ll be a threat for sure.


Nathan Solomon serves as the managing editor of The Podium Finish. He has been part of the team since 2021 and is accredited by the National Motorsports Press Association. Solomon is a senior in the Jandoli School of Communication at St. Bonaventure University. Contact him at

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