Austin Hill entered Martinsville Speedway on Friday with one goal in mind: win and race for a championship next weekend at Phoenix Raceway. Instead, engine issues impacted Hill and the No. 16 AISIN Group Toyota.
Hill started Martinsville third and finished stage one in 18th. He went on to finish 29th in stage two just prior going to the garage.
The run to the front of the field began quickly as he sat third with nine laps complete. He then fought loose conditions for the remainder of stage one.
In stage two, as engine issues took hold, Hill and crew chief Scott Zipadelli believed that a tire was going down on the Toyota Tundra. On lap 74 of 200, Hill reported over the team radio that he may have developed an engine issue. It wasn’t long before the team came to pit road and went behind the wall as a result, ending their chances of racing for a championship next week with a 35th-place finish.
“We aren’t 100% sure what happened, but it was definitely blowing up on us. The first stage, I thought we had a tire going down maybe. We lost some track position and then got back to the lucky dog and then as soon as I got to the lucky dog, we started blowing up,” said a frustrated Austin Hill after getting knocked out of the race. “It started cutting in and out, so I guess it’s those really great built Ilmor engines. They like to breathe fire. It’s just frustrating to potentially end your season on an engine failure like that.”
Hill captured the regular season championship and led the series driver standings in the first 16 of 17 races. The Georgia native believes they should definitely be in the final four racing for a championship next week at Phoenix.
“Everybody at HRE (Hattori Racing Enterprises), all of our partners, everyone that makes this deal happen deserves a lot better. We should definitely be in this final four. It’s frustrating. I can’t even put it in to words what I’m feeling right now.”
The driver started on the pole and finished 13th last season at Phoenix. The very next week at Homestead, Hill ended 2019 with a victory, earning valuable momentum for 2020.