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Austin Hill Survives COTA for Runner-Up Finish

Austin Hill

Austin Hill after Saturday’s Focused Health 250 at COTA. (Photo: Cody Porter | The Podium Finish)

DEL VALLE, Texas — Austin Hill has been firing on all cylinders to start the 2024 NASCAR XFINITY Series season. He started the year with two wins and four top-five finishes in the first four races, arguably the best start of any driver across all three national series.

Circuit of the Americas was expected to be a new challenge for Hill, who was still in search of his first career Xfinity Series win on a road course. After missing the second round of qualifying on Friday by one position, Hill fired off from 11th in the Focused Health 250.

Due to a handful of cars having to drop to the rear of the field for unapproved adjustments, Hill found himself inside the top 10 when the race went green.

Hill had a very good opening lap, shuffling into fifth place, but had a close call in Turn 15, narrowly avoiding Chandler Smith spinning across the track. The spin resulted from Hill getting into the back of Sammy Smith, which pushed the No. 8 car into the back of Chandler Smith, sending him around.

Hill fell back to 10th after having to slow up to avoid the spinning Smith. After getting back up to speed, Hill began his march toward the front until he was assessed a pass-through penalty on Lap 11 for short-cutting Turn 3.

The penalty was not detrimental to Hill though, as Stage 1 was only 14 laps, so most of the leaders came down pit road before the end of the stage to gain track position for Stage 2. That strategy allowed Hill to remain inside the top 10 and finish the first stage in sixth place.

Austin Hill

Austin Hill racing at COTA. (Photo: Dylan Nadwodny | The Podium Finish)

On Lap 16, Hill along with the other drivers who stayed out for stage points in the first stage came down pit road for four tires and fuel.

The race went back green on Lap 18 to start Stage 2 with Hill restarting in 13th.

Hill got off to a bit of a slow start in Stage 2, but by Lap 22, he was up into the seventh position. Hill’s team decided to give up stage points this time around and flip the stage for better track position when the third and final stage went green. On Lap 27, Hill along with 14 other drivers came down for four tires and fuel. As a result, Hill finished Stage 2 in 12th.

The green flag waved at the start of Stage 3 on Lap 35, leaving just 12 laps remaining. Hill restarted in Row 3 in the sixth position.

Going into Turn 1, Hill was sandwiched between the Joe Gibbs Racing teammates of Ty Gibbs and Chandler Smith and made slight contact with both drivers. Once the field sorted itself out, Hill raced around Smith and found himself running in fifth.

Hill remained in fifth as the two front-running cars of Shane van Gisbergen and A.J. Allmendinger began to run away from the field. However, a caution spoiled the frontrunners’ lengthy lead on Lap 43 when Ed Jones was spun out by Kyle Weatherman and was unable to continue in the race.

This put the race into NASCAR overtime, placing Hill in the fifth position for the restart.

Once the race went back green, Hill punched it racing into Turn 1 from the inside lane, moving up to second after van Gisbergen ran both Allmendinger and Gibbs wide off the track. This allowed Hill to get to the back bumper of van Gisbergen for just a moment before SVG began to separate from Hill.

Austin Hill

Austin Hill racing during the Focused Health 250 at COTA. (Photo: Dylan Nadwodny | The Podium Finish)

Luckily for Hill, a caution came out soon after a big wreck involving former F1 driver Daniil Kvyat, Riley Herbst, Leland Honeyman and Ryan Ellis.

At the choose cone, both van Gisbergen and Hill chose the inside lane, allowing Sam Mayer to lead the outside lane at the restart.

Going into Turn 1 after the restart, Hill stayed in line behind van Gisbergen and got into the back of the No. 97 car, shoving van Gisbergen wide and opening the inside for Hill to make his move. Hill was able to take the lead and put some distance between himself and van Gisbergen as Sage Karam began battling SVG for second.

Hill took the white flag with van Gisbergen close behind. The big problem for both drivers was that Kyle Larson, driving a Hendrick Motorsports Xfinity car, had put fresh tires on after the Lap 43 caution and was gaining fast on both of them.

Hill was able to hold van Gisbergen off for the first 14 turns, but going into Turn 15, van Gisbergen remembered how Hill got around him going into Turn 1 on the lap prior and piled into Hill from behind. This pushed both Hill and van Gisbergen off the track, even destroying the nose of van Gisbergen’s car, allowing Kyle Larson to sneak by and seize the lead.

Austin Hill

Austin Hill racing at COTA. (Photo: Dylan Nadwodny | The Podium Finish)

Hill and van Gisbergen continued to battle for the final five turns around COTA, with van Gisbergen finishing ahead of Hill at the line. However, van Gisbergen was given a penalty for short-cutting on the final lap, giving him a 30-second penalty, which placed him down to 27th and moved Hill up into second behind the winner, Kyle Larson.

The second-place finish result extended Hill’s top-five streak to five races to start the 2024 campaign, but the way the race ended with van Gisbergen left Hill frustrated.

“Getting into 15 I was trying to protect, and felt like from my perspective, the 97 (van Gisbergen) just ran through us,” Hill said to reporters after the race. “His front end is caved in really bad. He didn’t even give us a chance.”

Hill also viewed his result as a statement, showing that he and his Richard Childress team could compete at any track in the series.

“Hopefully some people are opening their eyes up a little bit,” Hill said to Rob Tiongson after the race. “We’re a real threat no matter where we go on the racetrack.”

Hill and his No. 21 team look to keep their hot start to the year going next weekend at Richmond Raceway for race six of the 2024 NASCAR XFINITY Series season.

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