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

0 Comments

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.

Previous NASCAR Next Q&A’s:

Trackhouse Racing picks up additional sponsorship from Kubota

0 Comments

Trackhouse Racing announced Friday that it has picked up additional sponsorship for drivers Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez from Kubota Tractor Corp. for the 2023 season.

Kubota sponsored Chastain’s No. 1 Chevrolet last October at Homestead-Miami Speedway. It is expanding its sponsorship to six races for the new season.

Chastain will race with Kubota sponsorship at Auto Club Speedway, Phoenix Raceway, New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Kansas Speedway and Homestead-Miami. Suarez’s Chevrolet will carry Kubota livery at Texas Motor Speedway.

MORE: Friday 5: Legacy seeks breakout year in 2023

The team also announced that a $10,000 donation will be made to Farmer Veteran Coalition for each Kubota-sponsored race in which Chastain finishes in the top 10. The FVC assists military veterans and current armed services members who have an interest in farming.

“The sponsorship from Kubota is especially meaningful to me because it allows me to use my platform to shine a bright light on agriculture and on the men and women who work so hard to feed all of us,” said Chastain, whose family owns a Florida watermelon farm.

 

Friday 5: Legacy MC seeks to stand out as Trackhouse did in ’22

0 Comments

While the celebration continued after Erik Jones’ Southern 500 victory last September, executives of what is now Legacy MC already were looking ahead.

“(September) and October, decisions we make on people are going to affect how we race next (February), March and April,” Mike Beam, team president, told NBC Sports that night.

Noah Gragson had been announced as the team’s second driver for 2023 less than a month before Jones’ win. 

But bigger news was to come. 

The team announced Nov. 4 that Jimmie Johnson would become a co-owner, lifting the profile of a team that carries Richard Petty’s No. 43 on Jones’ cars.

As February approaches and racing resumes, a question this season is how far can Legacy MC climb. Can this team mimic the breakout season Trackhouse Racing had last year?

“I think everybody looks for Trackhouse for … maybe the way of doing things a bit different,” Jones told NBC Sports. “Obviously, starting with the name. We’ve kind of gone that same direction with Legacy MC and then on down from there, kind of how a program can be built and run in a short amount of time.

“There’s some growth in the back end that we still have to do to probably be totally to that level, but our goal is definitely to be on that same trajectory that Trackhouse was over the last two seasons.”

Trackhouse Racing debuted in 2021 with Daniel Suarez. He finished 25th in the points. The organization added Ross Chastain and several team members from Chip Ganassi Racing to form a two-car team last year. Chastain won two races and finished second in the points, while Suarez won once and was 10th in the standings. 

Legacy MC co-owner Maury Gallagher purchased a majority interest in Richard Petty Motorsports in December 2021 and merged the two teams. Jones won one race and placed 18th in points last year. Ty Dillon was winless, finishing 29th in points and was replaced by Gragson after the season. 

“Legitimately, we were a pretty new team last year coming in,” Jones said. “There were a handful of Richard Petty Motorsports guys who came over, but, for the most part, it was a brand new team.

“I think what we built in one year and done is similar to Trackhouse in their first year. I think maybe even we were a step ahead of where they were in their first year.”

Legacy MC looks for more with Jones, Gragson and Johnson, who will run a limited schedule this year. Johnson will seek to make the Daytona 500 field.

Jones said Johnson has infused the team with energy. Gragson has been trying to soak up as much as he can from Johnson.

Gragson told NBC Sports that having Johnson as a teammate is “going to be an incredible opportunity for a young guy like myself, first year in the Cup series, a rookie, to be able to lean on a seven-time champion.

“Incredible person, friend, mentor that Jimmie has become for myself. He’s probably going to be pretty over me by the time we get to the Daytona 500 because I just keep wearing him out with questions and trying … pick his brain.”

2. Kyle Busch’s impact

Car owner Richard Childress says that Kyle Busch already is making an impact at RCR.

Busch joins the organization after having spent the past 15 seasons driving for Joe Gibbs Racing. Busch will pilot the No. 8 Chevrolet for RCR this year.

He took part in a World Racing League endurance race at Circuit of the Americas in December with Austin Dillon and Sheldon Creed. The trio won one of those races.

“I was down there for that, just watching how (Busch) gets in there and works with everybody,” Childress said. “He’s a racer. He wants to win. That’s what I love about him.”

Childress sees the influence Busch can have on an organization that has won six Cup titles — but none since Dale Earnhardt’s last crown in 1994 — and 113 series races.

“He brings a lot of experience and knowledge,” Childress said of Busch. “I think he’ll help Austin a lot in his career. I think he can help our whole organization from a standpoint of what do we need … to go faster.

Dillon told NBC Sports that the team has changed some things it does in its meetings based on feedback from Busch. Dillon also said that he and Busch have similar driving styles — more similar than Dillon has had with past teammates. 

“I think as we go throughout the year and he gets to drive our race cars, he’ll have some new thoughts that he’ll bring,” Dillon said of Busch. “I think we’re already bringing some new thoughts to him, too.”

3. New role for Kevin Harvick

Kevin Harvick, entering his final Cup season, has joined the Drivers Advisory Council, a move Joey Logano said is important for the group.

“Kevin is necessary to the sport, even post-driving career,” Logano told NBC Sports. “He’s necessary for our sport’s success. Kevin sees it and does something about it. 

“He’s always been vocal, right? He’s always been very brash, and like, boom in your face. That’s what people love about Kevin Harvick. Something I like about him as well is that you know where you stand. You know where the weaknesses are. 

“He’s going to push until something happens. That’s great. There’s nothing wrong with that. Having him on the Advisory Council now for the drivers, his experience, but also his willingness to push, is important.”

Jeff Burton again will lead the group as Director of the Council. The Board of Directors is: Harvick, Logano, Kyle Petty, Austin Dillon, Daniel Suarez, Corey LaJoie, Kurt Busch and Tom Buis.

Logano, Petty, Dillon, Suarez, LaJoie and Busch all return. Buis, a board member of Growth Energy after having previously been the company’s CEO, joins the drivers group and provides a business background. 

4. Finding one’s voice

Chase Briscoe’s contract extension with Stewart-Haas Racing means he could be the longest tenured driver there in the near future.

The 28-year Briscoe enters his third Cup season at SHR, but the landscape is changing. This will be Kevin Harvick’s final season in Cup. Ryan Preece is in his first season driving in Cup for the team. Aric Almirola was supposed to have retired last year but came back. How long he remains is to be determined.

Those changes could soon leave Briscoe as the team’s senior driver.

“It’s a role that is crazy, truthfully, to think about because that could be me in the next year or two, being I wouldn’t say that flagship guy, but being a leader as far as the drivers go in an organization,” Briscoe said.

“Truthfully, I feel like that’s something I want to be. I’ve always enjoyed that kind of leader, team building type of stuff. So, yeah, if that role is kind of placed on me naturally, then that’s one that I would love to have and try to do it to the best of my ability. I feel like that’s a role that you don’t choose, it kind of chooses you.”

Briscoe, who won the spring Phoenix race and made the playoffs last year, said that he’s becoming more comfortable speaking up in team meetings. 

“I look back, especially on my rookie year, we’d go into our competition meeting on Tuesday and, truthfully, I wouldn’t really talk much,” he said. “I would say kind of what we thought for the weekend, but outside of that I would just kind of sit there and listen.  

“This past year, I definitely talked a lot more, and I’d bring up ideas and kind of say things I wanted to get off my chest, where in the past I wouldn’t have done that. I feel like as I’ve gotten more confident in myself and my position, I’ve gotten to the point where I speak my mind a little bit more and, I guess, be a little bit more of a leader.”

5. Busch Clash field

NASCAR released the preliminary entry list for the Feb. 5 Busch Clash. No surprise, the entry list features only the 36 charter teams. Those teams are required to be entered.

With 27 cars in the feature — which is expanded by four cars from last year’s race — there’s no guarantee a non-charter car could make the field. That’s a lot of money to go across country and face the chance of missing the main event.

The Daytona 500 field has four spots for non-charter cars. With that race’s payoff significantly more, it will attract at least five cars for those spots: Jimmie Johnson (Legacy MC), Zane Smith (Front Row Motorsports), Chandler Smith (Kaulig Racing), Austin Hill (Beard Motorsports) and Travis Pastrana (23XI Racing). Helio Castroneves confirmed Thursday that he will not enter the 500. He had been in talks with the team co-owned by boxer Floyd Mayweather.

Helio Castroneves rules out Daytona 500

Helio Castroneves Daytona 500
Robert Scheer/Indy Star/USA TODAY NETWORK
0 Comments

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Helio Castroneves might be at the 2023 Daytona 500, but the four-time Indy 500 winner won’t be in a race car.

During a news conference Thursday at Daytona International Speedway, Castroneves confirmed in response to a question from NBC Sports that he essentially has ruled out attempting to make his NASCAR Cup Series debut in the Feb. 19 season opener.

As recently as last Thursday at Rolex 24 Media Day, Castroneves, 47, said he still was working on trying to piece together a deal.

The Brazilian had been negotiating with the Cup team co-owned by boxer Floyd Mayweather and would have been in an “open” entry that lacked guaranteed entry to the Great American Race. That potentially would leave him in the precarious position of needing to make the race on qualifying speed or a qualifying race finish (as action sports star Travis Pastrana likely might need in his Cup debut).

DETAILS FOR THE 61ST ROLEX 24How to watch, entry lists, schedules for the IMSA season opener

HELIO’S ‘DAYS OF THUNDER’ MOMENT: Recalling a memorable 2022 victory drive through the smoke

“Unfortunately for me, lack of experience, no testing,” Castroneves said. “A lot of things. I believe it would be a little bit tough throwing myself in such a short notice, and to go in a place that you’ve got to race yourself into it. So as of right now, yes, it’s not going to happen.

“But we did have an opportunity. We just got to elaborate a little bit more to give me a little more experience on that. So there is more things to come ahead of us, but as of right now, I want to focus on the IndyCar program as well and (the Rolex 24 at Daytona).”

Castroneves, who has a residence in Key Biscayne, said he still might attend the Daytona 500

“I might just come and see and watch it and continue to take a look and see what’s going to be in the future,” he said.

Castroneves enters Saturday’s Rolex 24 at Daytona having won the event the past two years. He made his signature fence-climb after winning last year with Meyer Shank Racing, which he will be driving for full time in the NTT IndyCar Series this year. He became the fourth four-time Indy 500 winner in history in his 2021 debut with Meyer Shank Racing.

The 2020 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar champion also has indicated an interest in Trackhouse Racing’s Project 91 car that aims to place international drivers in a Cup ride (such as Kimi Raikkonen at Watkins Glen International last year). Team co-owner Justin Marks recently tweeted Trackhouse wouldn’t field the Project 91 car at the Daytona 500.

After winning the 2022 Superstar Racing Experience opener, SRX CEO Don Hawk had promised he would help secure a Daytona 500 ride for Castroneves.

Castroneves has been angling for a NASCAR ride for years, dating to when he drove for Team Penske from 2000-20. After winning the Rolex 24 last year, he said he had been lobbying Ray Evernham and Tony Stewart for help with getting in a Cup car.

Though Castroneves is out, Sports Business Journal’s Adam Stern reported that Mayweather’s The Money Team Racing still is considering IndyCar driver Conor Daly for its seat.

Fire at Reaume Brothers Racing shop injures three

0 Comments

A Thursday fire at the Reaume Brothers Racing shop in Mooresville, North Carolina, injured three individuals, according to Mooresville (North Carolina) Fire-Rescue.

Firefighters were dispatched to the shop, which is scheduled to field entries for driver Mason Massey in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series this season, at about 11:30 a.m. Thursday.

The fire department extinguished the blaze quickly. The department stated on its Facebook page that one individual was transported to Lake Norman Regional hospital for smoke inhalation, and another was transported to Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem, N.C. with burn injuries. A third was treated and released.

The team stated Thursday night on social media that Taylor Collier and Devin Fokin had been treated and released. The team stated that Taylor was treated for smoke inhalation and Fokin was treated “for serious burns.”

The Mooresville Fire Marshall’s office is investigating the cause of the fire. The fire department said the shop sustained “significant fire damage.”

In a tweet, the team said it is determining the extent of damage to the building. “More importantly,” it said, “a few of our team members did sustain injuries during the fire and are being transported for medical treatment.”