TALLADEGA, Ala. — In a rather unpredictable Xfinity Series season, one thing is for certain: Austin Hill is a force to be reckoned with on superspeedways. And even he’s not sure why.
In the past, Hill has been vocal about not fully embracing superspeedway racing. But his stat line would say otherwise.
“I’m starting to enjoy them a little bit more,” Hill said following Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at Talladega Superspeedway. “I wouldn’t say that I love them still, just because there’s so many unknowns and variables that can happen.”
Hill dominated Saturday’s Sparks 300 at Talladega, leading five times for a race-high 60 laps. The other 37 drivers in the field combined to lead 53 laps.
That’s typical of Hill’s performance on superspeedways in 2022. In the season opener at Daytona, the No. 21 car paced the field for 23 laps, second in class to Daniel Hemric’s 38 laps led. In the newly configured Atlanta Motor Speedway, the Georgia native was out front late, ending the night with a runner-up finish.
When the series visited Talladega for the first time this season, Hill started on the front row, led 67 of 124 laps and was wrecked out late while battling for the lead. His 27th-place finish in the record book is a little deceiving.
The second time around at Atlanta in July, no team had anything for Hill. There, he led a race-high 73 laps en route to his second checkered flag of the season. In August at Daytona, he was leading on a green-white-checkered when the No. 21 Chevrolet ran out of fuel.
“I put a lot of effort into these superspeedways,” Hill added. “I’ve just found something that works for me and figured out my gaps that I need.
“I don’t want to get too far out because then I’m going to get ran over. You want to keep a good bubble from the guy that’s behind me. It also helps having a fast racecar like RCR builds.”
Having a fast racecar continued this weekend at Talladega. On Friday, Hill won his first pole in the Xfinity Series. The No. 21 car dominated the first two stages, picking up two playoff points (Hill had one stage victory in the previous 27 races of the year).
Late in the race, Hill led a single-file parade around the bottom of the track. With a handful of laps remaining, the No. 21 car went up to block Noah Gragson, who had a run on the outside line. The loss of momentum dropped Hill outside of the top 10.
“I saw the second lane was coming and my spotter was like, ‘Hey, get up, the second lane is coming,'” Hill recalled. “I was fully committed to blocking [Gragson] and trying to keep him behind me. Right when I went to block [Gragson], he was moving up and saw that he was getting chucked out. I turned back down and got really loose with him on my bumper. We both got really loose and chucked out, went to the back.
“At that point, when you don’t have anybody working with you, it makes it tough to get back up there.”
Finishing 14th is a disappointment after dominating the race. But Hill enters the Round of 12 cutoff race at the Charlotte ROVAL 43 points above the cutline, making his job a bit easier.
“I feel pretty comfortable going to the ROVAL; anything can happen, it’s a road course,” he said. “We’ve been really fast on all the road courses we’ve been to. We’re going to be really aggressive like we were here today at Talladega and try to get as many stage points as we can in stage one and two and try to go for another win.”
When running a partial schedule, Hill does have two starts at the ROVAL, with a best finish of 18th in 2020.