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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Matt Tifft, Front Row Motorsports part ways so Tifft can ‘focus on my health’

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Front Row Motorsports and driver Matt Tifft announced Wednesday they have decided to end their agreement so that Tifft can focus on his health.

Tifft, a rookie in the Cup Series, said he can’t commit to racing in 2020 following his seizure at Martinsville Speedway on Oct. 26.

Tifft has been replaced by John Hunter Nemechek in the No. 36 Ford for the last two races and this weekend’s season finale in Miami.

Tifft, 23, had surgery to remove a tumor in his brain on July 21, 2016. Tifft said on Nov. 3 at Texas Motor Speedway that scans of the area where the tumor was located looked good. Tifft has shared his process since the seizure on social media.

Jeff Dennison, senior director of sales and marketing for Front Row Motorsports, said then Tifft had a two-year agreement with the team and it planned to honor that.

Statement from Matt Tifft:

“I’ve made the decision to focus on my health and there is no rush or timetable to get back behind the wheel. Because of that, I can’t commit to racing full-time in 2020. I can’t say when I’ll be ready to race again, but I believe I will come back. I love this sport, the people, and I would like to be a part of it next year in some capacity.

“I want to thank Bob Jenkins, Jerry Freeze and the entire Front Row Motorsports organization for allowing me to live my dream of racing in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. They are great people and it’s been awesome to race there. I look forward to what’s next in racing when the time is right.”

Statement from Bob Jenkins, Owner, Front Row Motorsports:

“Matt has always shown us a lot of determination and courage. He’s a fighter and I believe, like him, that he’ll return to driving. For now, we support Matt and his need to focus on his health and his family. Racing will be there when it’s time. We want to thank Matt and his family for being a part of Front Row Motorsports and helping us continue to grow.”

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Who is the championship favorite by the numbers? Miami’s tale of the tape

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The odds for the four championship contenders in NASCAR’s premier series have Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. virtually listed as co-favorites.

The statistics indicate why.

Across a bevy of numerical criteria, there isn’t much separation among the drivers in the championship round of the 2019 playoffs.

The staff at Racing Insights, which provides in-depth statistical analysis of NASCAR for NBC Sports and other media outlets, ranked the drivers 1-4 in 16 categories and listed Harvick as its favorite by the numbers, just ahead of Truex, Busch and Hamlin.

Courtesy of research compiled by Racing Insights, here’s the tale of the tape for Sunday’s championship battle on the 1.5-mile oval of Homestead-Miami Speedway.


CAREER STATISTICS:

Driver                Age       Starts    Poles     Wins     Top 5     Top 10   Laps led  Avg. finish


Kyle Busch          34          533        31          55          199        295       17,311         13.65

Denny Hamlin      38          505        33          37          161        258       10,143         13.65

Kevin Harvick       43          681        31          49          205        361       13,993         13.01

Martin Truex Jr.    39          512        19          26          101        204         8,803         15.76


HEAD TO HEAD IN 2019:

Truex was the highest finisher of the four drivers in 12 of the past 35 races (including four of the past 10 races). Busch was the highest finisher 10 times (none in the past 11), Hamlin seven times (four of the past six) and Harvick six (once in the past seven).


CHAMPIONSHIP EXPERIENCE:

Harvick (2014, ’15, ’17, ’18, ’19) and Busch (’15-19) each have reached the final round at Miami in five of the six years since this structure began in 2014. This is the fourth appearance for Truex (’15, ’17, ’18, ’19) and second for Hamlin (’14, ’19).


BEST CAREER ON 1.5-MILE TRACKS:

Harvick has the most victories (16) and pole positions (13) and best average finish (12.28), beating out Busch (13 wins, nine poles, 13.47), Truex (12 wins, seven poles, 13.39) and Hamlin (nine wins, six poles, 14.09)


BEST ON 1.5-MILE TRACKS IN 2019:

Truex and Hamlin have two wins apiece, but Truex gets the nod on average finish (8.3 to Hamlin’s 11.9). Harvick (one win) is second in average finish (8.7) ahead of Busch (10.5), the only contender without a win on 1.5-mile tracks this season.


BEST AT MIAMI:

Hamlin has two wins while the other three also have one apiece. Harvick easily leads in average finish (6.56) with 16 top 10s and 10 top fives in 18 starts ahead of Hamlin (10.57 average finish and nine top 10s in 14 starts), Truex (10.79 average finish and nine top 10s in 14 starts) and Busch (17.43 average finish and seven top 10s in 14 starts).


BEST IN 2019 PLAYOFFS:

Based on wins, Truex has been tops by winning three of the first nine races for a 6.22 average finish that puts him ahead of Hamlin (two wins, 8.78 average finish) and Harvick (one win, 6.11 average finish). Busch is winless with a 12.11 average finish.


BEST IN 2019 SEASON:

Truex has the most wins (seven) over Hamlin (six). Busch (four wins) has the most top 10s (26) and best average finish (9.17), putting him ahead of Harvick, who also has four wins but does have the most poles (six, twice as many as Hamlin).


BEST DRIVER/CREW CHIEF PAIRING:

The combinations of Kyle Busch-Adam Stevens and Kevin Harvick-Rodney Childers each have 26 victories, but Busch and Stevens have a better winning percentage (16 percent in 163 starts vs. 13.3 percent for Harvick-Childers in 211 starts). Martin Truex Jr. and Cole Pearn have 24 wins in 178 starts (13.5 percent) while Chris Gabehart and Denny Hamlin have won six of their 36 starts together (35 this season; one in 2017).


FASTEST PIT CREW:

Kyle Busch’s No. 18 ranked first during the season (14.083 seconds per four-tire stop) and playoffs (13.718). Harvick had the sixth-fastest crew this season (14.39) and 10th in the playoffs (14.357), Truex’s was eighth in the season (14.606) and seventh in the playoffs (14.145), and Hamlin’s was 10th in the season (14.687) and ninth in the playoffs (14.336).


FEWEST MISTAKES BY PIT CREW:

Limiting errors to speeding, tire and safety violations and driving through too many stalls (and omitting penalties involving damaged cars), Harvick’s team had the least number of penalties for errors with five, followed by Truex (six), Busch (seven) and Hamlin (nine).

NBC Sports Power Rankings: Denny Hamlin leads the way to Miami

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With his win at Phoenix and advancing to the Championship 4 race in Miami, Denny Hamlin is once again back on top of this week’s NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings.

Not surprisingly, all four drivers who will battle for the championship are in the top four in this week’s rankings. Kyle Busch is second, last week’s No. 1, Kevin Harvick, drops to third, and Martin Truex Jr. is fourth, as voted on by NBC Sports’ NASCAR writers.

Hamlin made the biggest jump in the standings, going from No. 7 last week to the top of the heap this week.

Conversely, Joey Logano, who was No. 3 last week, suffers the biggest drop, down to No. 8 – and also misses on his bid to defend last year’s championship this Sunday at Miami (3 p.m. ET on NBC).

Here is this week’s Power Rankings:

1. Denny Hamlin (39 points): Entered ISM Raceway outside a transfer spot to the title race and now he might be the favorite to win it all. Or at least be co-favorite with teammate Martin Truex Jr. Last week: Seventh.

2. Kyle Busch (34 points): Could be the underdog at Miami. With everything on the line, is one of the best performers in pressure-packed situations – especially with a championship and snapping a 21-race winless streak on the line. Last week: Fourth.

3. Kevin Harvick (29 points): Lone wolf in the Joe Gibbs Racing party for the championship. But he may actually have the edge, as he has three teammates who can help him, while it’s every man for himself for the three JGR drivers. Last week: First.

4. Martin Truex Jr. (28 points): Has not finished worse than sixth in the last four races. Also has the most wins (seven) of the four championship drivers. Last week: Second.

5. Ryan Blaney (26 points): Finished fifth, eighth and third in the Round of 8 but it still wasn’t good enough to advance to the title race. Last week: Fifth.

6. Kyle Larson (22 points): Fourth-place finish was good effort but missed out on last chance to run for a championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway, one of his best tracks. Was Chevrolet’s last hope; the bow tie has not reached the Championship 4 for the last three years. Last week: Sixth.

7. Erik Jones (14 points): Has three top 10s in last four races. While showed some signs of promise during the playoffs, the fact remains he’s likely going to finish 16th (last) among all playoff qualifiers when everything is said and done after Miami. Last week: Unranked.

8. Joey Logano (9 points): So close, yet so far away. Will we ever learn what happened to his car in the final stage that cost him a chance to defend last year’s title at Miami? Last week: Third.

9. Justin Allgaier (6 points): Xfinity win at ISM Raceway was his career-best 16th consecutive top-10 finish. Could he steal the championship from the “Big Three?” Last week: Unranked.

10. Christopher Bell (4 points): With Xfinity Series-leading eight wins, enters title race as favorite. This will be his Xfinity swan song before moving to Cup next season. What better way to leave than to go out on top. Last week: Unranked.

Others receiving votes: Clint Bowyer (3 points), Brad Keselowski (2 points), Cole Custer (2 points), Stewart Friesen (1 point).

Nashville Fair Board votes to terminate contract with operator of Fairgrounds Speedway

Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway
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The Nashville Metro Fair Board voted Tuesday to terminate its contract with the operator of Fairgrounds Speedway, a track being eyed for a possible NASCAR race, according to The Tennessean.

Last December, Formosa Productions and Bristol Motor Speedway announced “an agreement to explore bringing major NASCAR racing events” back to the .596-mile track. The earliest Nashville could potentially be added to the schedule is 2021, though the schedule for that season is expected to be revealed in April.

Bristol Motor Speedway released a statement Tuesday night saying it is still interested in pursuing future involvement with the Fairgrounds Speedway.

“We appreciate all that Tony and Claire Formosa have done to sustain local racing in Nashville over the years,” said Jerry Caldwell, executive vice president and general manager for Bristol Motor Speedway. “Today’s news does not change our interest or belief that Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway can be returned to prominence to help create a true renovation of the Fairgrounds. There is huge local, regional and national interest in the future of the Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway. As Mayor (John) Cooper, the Fair Board and Council determine what’s next for the historic race track, we are ready to engage with them on the vision that we believe can deliver a bright future for the Fairgrounds.”

The vote to terminate the contract with Formosa Productions, operated by Tony and Claire Formosa, is in response to a claimed breach of contract, which was first raised by the city in April and includes unpaid concessions commissions and rent payments.

A fairgrounds spokesperson told The Tennessean that the Formosas would owe the city nearly $180,000 by the end of the year. The Tennessean reports the Formosas have 90 days to vacate the premises.

According to The Tennessean, Nashville Fairgrounds Director Laura Womack said she and another board member met Oct. 14 with the Formosas and asked that they provide specific contract changes and documents regarding attendance and revenue records from this year’s racing season.

A meeting where those documents were due to be delivered was rescheduled to Nov. 6 before it was canceled by the Formosas.

“This shows little to no faith that we will be paid by the end of the year,” said Fair Board member Caleb Hemmer, according to The Tennessean. “Which begs the issue that we need to start looking to the future and what we need to do as a board to ensure there’s racing next year if the (Formosas) can’t fulfill their obligations as put forth by (the contract).”

Jim Roberts, an attorney representing the Formosas, attended the meeting according to The Tennessean. Roberts believed the meeting, which was delayed two hours due to winter weather, was in violation of the opens meeting act due to it not being properly noticed.

The Formosas have operated the track since 2010 and entered into a five-year agreement in 2017 after the city chose its bid over one from Bristol Motor Speedway

The deal between Formosa Productions and Bristol Motor Speedway, which would need to be approved by the Fair Board, would focus “on a long-range plan of significant track improvements and high-profile race events that could include NASCAR events upon the facility meeting standards.”

In May, Bristol officials revealed a $60 million proposal to renovate the track.

The plan would increase seating capacity of the .596-mile short track from its current size of 15,000 to 30,000, as well as include an expanded concourse, premium seating, pedestrian tunnels and sound barriers.