NASCAR’s Next Generation: Q&A with Austin Hill

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Austin Hill doesn’t tweet that often, but his tweet on Nov. 16 was kind of a big deal for the 21-year-old driver.

It announced the birth of his and his wife’s first child, Lynnlee Ann Hill.

The announcement came months after a faulty test almost led them to believe they were not pregnant.

“We ended up getting a test because she thought she was,” Hill told NASCAR Talk in a phone interview. “She looked at it and said ‘Well, it’s negative.’ I was like, ‘alright.’ She walks out and I get to looking at it and I noticed that there was another line that looked a little faint and a little dull. I said ‘Ashlyn, you might want to look at this.’ We looked at it and that’s basically how we found out …We had a double take on it. ‘Oh, we’re having a baby.'”

Lynnlee’s father is a five-time winner in the K&N Pro Series East and a two-time member of NASCAR Next, a program that spotlights the sport’s emerging stars.

Hill, whose father owns a steel fabrication company called Division Five, is a first generation driver who has spent the last two years in the KNPSE racing for Bryan Hill but is hoping to continue his NASCAR dream in the Camping World Truck Series in 2016.

The following Q&A has been edited and condensed.

NASCAR Talk: What has it meant to you to be part of NASCAR Next for two years in a row?

Austin Hill: It’s been really good. It seems like it’s helped me out a lot, getting to know people and when we go to the tracks or different places and been able to do events, talk to the fans and stuff like that, it seems like it gets your name out there a little bit better then if I was just trying to do it on my own. It helped me out a lot and then we’ve done a lot of media stuff and other types of stuff like that, talking to the owners. We got to meet a couple of the Sprint Cup drivers.

NT: You finished third in the points this year, up from fifth last year. How impressed are you by how well you’ve been doing able to perform that last two years?

Hill: Last year was kind of a learning year a little bit for us. Since we do things on our own and don’t run for a team and it’s family operated, last year me and the team were kind of getting acquainted to each other. Then this year we feel like we had a really good season. We’re almost like family, me and my guys that work on the car and the crew chief and everything. It seems like we know exactly what each other is trying to say when we’re at the race track. If I’m trying to tell him an area the car might be tight or loose in, the crew chief kind of knows basically in my tone of voice how much change I need to go faster. That’s been a real improvement for this year and we’ve had a couple of misfortunes.

NT: You will be back in the K&N Series next year?

Hill: No, we actually sold our K&N cars and I think next year, it’s not set in stone or anything, everything is kind of up in the air, but we’re trying to run 10 Truck races possibly. That’s kind of on our mind but we don’t know if we’re going to do it ourselves or if we’re going to do it for somebody else. We’re trying to find the sponsorship so we can go racing in the truck series for 10 race or possibly, hopefully more.

NT: What’s your learning experience been like in the six Truck races you’ve been in?

Hill: I think the biggest thing as getting used to the radial tire versus the bias ply you have in the K&N car. Once I got used to that I was pretty comfortable in the truck and knew what changes I needed and wanted to be done to make the truck better. We’re definitely looking forward to next year, trying to get with a little bit better team. We were with a mediocre team and are trying to get either with a better one or do it ourselves and see if the outcomes come a little bit better because we had some misfortunes on pit road … Just as a group, when you’re renting a ride for one-off races, it makes it hard to just go in there and run good when you don’t know the crew chief really well and you don’t know the team really well. So hopefully we can keep our team together for next year and do something together.

NT: Of your five K&N wins, which one are you most proud of?

Hill: That year that we won that first Dover race we were only running five races and it was just the five big races … We ran five races total that year, and really weren’t even looking for a win, we were just looking for experience and just hopefully get a top 10, top-5 finish and we had a good seventh-place coming at Richmond and I was pretty happy about that. Then going into Dover, I really had no intention of winning that race because that was my first time ever at that track. It was the biggest track I’d ever been to. A 1-mile track, banked and it’s super fast. When we got out on the track it seemed like I just caught on really fast. When I caught on, we had a really good car and I was able to go out there and pick up the win.

RICHMOND, VA - SEPTEMBER 10: Austin Hill, driver of the #20 A&D Welding/Don Rich Ford, practices for the K&N Pro Series East UNOH 100 at Richmond International Raceway on September 10, 2015 in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)
Austin Hill practices for the K&N Pro Series East UNOH 100 at Richmond International Raceway on September 10, 2015. (Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)

NT: Do you come from a family of racers?

Hill: No, actually my dad has always liked to watch racing and his favorite driver is Jeff Gordon as well. He kind of got me watching it on the TV and we would watch the Sunday races together when I was little and it escalated from there. Got a quarter midget. Got into the Bandolero and Legends cars series and then ran some Late Models and then got into K&N. Now we’re just trying to get into the Truck and see how many races we can do next year.

NT: What’s on your bucket list that’s not related to racing?

Hill: I honestly hadn’t thought about that a whole lot cause we’ve always been travelling and racing every year and stuff like that. I probably have to say maybe climbing Mount Everest or something like that. Doing something daredevilish like jumping out of an airplane and skydiving. I’ve never really had fear in me so I’d like to do something crazy like that one day, that’s for sure.

NT: You don’t have fear in you?

Hill: I’ve never really seemed like it. Especially when it comes to racing. The speed of it doesn’t ever bother me, it never really has. From the first time I jumped in a quarter midget to the first time I jumped in Late Model or K&N car, it’s just like a different car, a bigger car. You just get out there and go and push it to the limit. It just seems like anything else that we do I don’t really ever any fear of it. The only thing I’m afraid of is snakes and spiders. That’s about it.

NT: Did you have a bad experience with a snake as a kid?

Hill: I do a lot of hunting nowadays, like in our offseason I hunt a lot. Sometimes I’ll go into the woods and walk up on a snake. One time I almost stepped on one and it about bit me. Ever since that day if I see one, I try and stay as far away as I can. Spiders, I just don’t like how spider look. They just look really nasty to me. I don’t want what it is about spiders. When I see a spider I want to stay away from them or kill it.

NT: What was the last song you got stuck in your head?

Hill: Probably “Hey Ya’ll” by Cole Swindell. I don’t know what it is about that song that gets me all pumped up about my day. It seems like I’m listening to that song more than any other song lately. I just like the beat of it. The lyrics to it. I like that song a lot.

NT: What phone app that’s not related to social media do you use the most?

Hill: Amazon. It seems like I’m buying stuff off of Amazon almost every day. I don’t know why. I might not even need it. I’ll start looking on Amazon and I’m like ‘I’m going to buy this.’

NT: What was the last thing you bought on Amazon?

Hill: I want to say some bottles for Lynnlee.

NT: I’m guessing you’ve been buying a lot of baby stuff off of Amazon.

Hill: I’ve been buying a lot of baby stuff. Sometimes I buy my Christmas stuff off of there. I hadn’t done that this year.

NT: Best Christmas gift you’ve ever received?

Hill: When I was a little younger, I always wanted a four-wheeler because I like stuff with speed. I ended up getting a 350 Grizzly four-wheeler for Christmas one day. that day, on Christmas, it was snowing. I was out running around on the four-wheeler. Me and my buddies were actually running on the four-wheelers together and one of my buddies wanted to drive it. I said, ‘alright, that’s fine.’ He was driving it and he ended up running it into a tree and ever since that day we hadn’t got it fixed. It still drives but the fender on it is all busted up. It’s still drivable and I left it down in Georgia for my family to use since I can’t really use it up here. But when I go down to Georgia I drive it through our woods and acres that we have.

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NASCAR America at 6 p.m. ET: Las Vegas recap

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 6-7 p.m. ET on NBCSN and will look back at the weekend’s racing at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Steve Letarte will be joined by Kyle Petty and Nate Ryan.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 6 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

After Las Vegas incidents, Kurt Busch, Kyle Larson look for Richmond rebound

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Sunday’s NASCAR Cup playoff opener at Las Vegas leaves Chip Ganassi Racing with a mixed bag of potential strategies to develop heading into the next race, this Saturday night at Richmond Raceway.

Kurt Busch, the first NASCAR playoff champion in 2004, was involved in a wreck at Vegas with eventual race winner Martin Truex Jr. on Lap 189 that knocked him out of the event, ending with a last-place finish of 39th.

We were trying to go for the same spot in the middle, it wound up four-wide, got a fender rub and our day’s done,” Busch told NBCSN after he left the medical center. “It just happened that fast. Everyone wants to try to get to the middle and that’s where you make up the most spots and Truex and I were going for the same piece of real estate.”

As a result of the poor finish, Busch finds himself in 14th place among the 16 playoff contenders, a distant 63 points behind points leader Truex Jr.

How Busch rebounds at Richmond will go a long way toward determining whether he will advance to the Round of 12 following the Roval elimination race at Charlotte in two weeks. Busch is currently 14 points behind 12th-ranked Aric Almirola, but he is also only 12 points ahead of 16th-ranked Erik Jones.

There’s no question Busch is in need of a big comeback at Richmond, a track that he has had decent success at, including two wins (last time was in spring 2015), seven top five and 15 top-10 finishes in 37 career Cup starts there.

A win would immediately wipe out the Las Vegas nightmare and push Busch into Round 2.

And then there’s teammate Kyle Larson, who had a car that looked like it could challenge for the win at Vegas. But a costly pit road penalty — a behind-the-wall crew member trying to grab tires back over the wall slipped, touching the ground on pit road — pushed Larson back and he wound up playing catch-up the rest of the race. He settled for an eighth-place finish that potentially could have been a top five showing had it not been for the penalty.

Our car was better than what I thought it was going to be,” Larson said. “We were able to battle up front there in the second stage. Then, we had the pit road penalty and had to come from the back.

The restarts were crazy and I was just being safe. It probably cost us a little bit, but we still got a top-10 out of the day and some decent stage points. So, all-in-all, it wasn’t a bad day.”

Busch has one win this season, while Larson is still looking for his first.

Our cars have definitely been good enough to win, we just have to put the whole races together at this point,” Larson said. “We want to win. We’ll keep working at it and hopefully we can knock one out before the season is over.”

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Best of the rest: How non-playoff drivers did in Las Vegas

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The Cup playoffs began Sunday night in Las Vegas, and the playoff drivers made their presence known by occupying every spot in the top 10.

But what about the rest?

The first 16 spots were not filled by the 16 playoff drivers. In fact, playoff drivers only made up 13 positions in the top 20.

Here’s a look at the top-finishing drivers who are not contending for the championship:

Jimmie Johnson – finished 11th

With him not participating in the playoffs for the first time in his career, the spotlight wasn’t focused on Johnson very often Sunday.

But the Hendrick Motorsports driver finally put together his first complete run six races into Cliff Daniels’ tenure as his crew chief.

It was their first race together to not be involved in some sort of incident and it saw Johnson earn his first top-15 finish with Daniels. It’s only his second top 15 in the last nine races.

Austin Dillon – Finished 12th

The Richard Childress Racing driver earned his second straight 12th-place finish and his third consecutive finish of 12th or better.

He’s earned a top-15 finish in four of the last five races. That’s after only having one in a 12-race stretch.

Dillon also finished sixth in Stage 1.

“When the caution came out on Lap 180, we pitted to take another swing at loosening up this Chevy,” Dillon said. “Unfortunately, we had an uncontrolled tire penalty but it did allow us to come back down pit road to top off with fuel and adjust on the car more. We got the car better and made a good strategy to stay out for track position during a late caution to pick up additional spots.”

Paul Menard – Finished 14th

Menard took part in his first race since announcing last week that he would retire from full-time competition after this season.

The Wood Brothers Racing driver kicked-off his final 10 races for the team with his sixth top-15 finish in the last nine races. He finished outside the top 15 just once in his last 11 starts at Las Vegas.

Ty Dillon – finished 16th

The Germain Racing driver earned his best finish at Las Vegas in five starts (previous was 24th).

Dillon has finished 20th or better in six of the last nine races.

Daniel Hemric – finished 17th

The rookie driver earned a top-20 finish after two straight DNFs for wrecks. He has only three top 20s in the last nine races.

“Our handling balance would swing a lot from being really tight and then halfway through the run it was like a light switch and I would get super, super loose,” Hemric said. “We got that better throughout the race and back to where I could run more throttle, which allowed us to move forward into the top 10 and be more aggressive on restarts and make some hay during those time. On that last green flag stop we just got a little too free to where I couldn’t make the most time coming off pit road and just struggled a bit on that last run.”

Chris Buescher – finished 18th

The JTG Daugherty Racing driver extended his streak of finishes inside the top 18 to 16 races. The streak began at Kansas Speedway on May 11.

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Brad Keselowski rebounds to ‘steal’ third-place finish in playoff opener

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Usually when you see a race car on pit road with its hood up in the middle of a race, it’s a sign that a team’s race is over or will be soon.

It’s not typically a prelude to a third-place finish.

But that’s what happened to Brad Keselowski in Sunday’s Cup playoff opener at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The adjustments made to his No. 2 Ford on pit road during the Stage 2 break, including adjustments to the front suspension, helped cure what was a “miserable” first 160 laps for Keselowski.

“Nothing I was doing was working,” Keselowski told NBCSN after his top-five finish. “We were losing spots to everybody out there.”

Keselowski, the race’s defending winner, qualified 18th. But while his Team Penske teammate Joey Logano went from 22nd to first in 34 laps, Keselowski was “just kind of bleeding positions.”

“I am disappointed we didn’t start the race any better than we did but very proud that we didn’t freak out and everyone kept their head on their shoulders,” Keselowski said.

After Stage 2, Keselowski pitted from 13th. He would pit twice under the caution before the start of the final stage.

“The team worked on it really hard there and got us back to a spot to where we could kind of almost steal a win,” Keselowski said. “I thought for a minute we might be able to.”

Keselowski thought if he had gained one or two spots on the final restart with 71 laps to go, he might have been the winner instead of Martin Truex Jr.

Instead, “we kind of stole a third place today,” Keselowski told NBCSN. “I guess I can’t complain. … Decent recovery, great fight. That’s kind of what these playoffs are about. Minimizing your bad days. That’s what we were able to do.”

Keselowski’s finish is his ninth straight top 10 at Las Vegas. He hasn’t finished worse than seventh on the 1.5-mile track since 2012.