Austin Hill jump-started his 2021 season by delivering a third-place finish on Friday night at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (LVMS). The driver of the No. 16 Ibaraki Toyopet Toyota Tundra began his comeback by vaulting up 11 positions in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship standings to 12th after his first top-five result of the season.
By virtue of matrix qualifying, Hill began the evening buried deep in the field and took the green flag from 31st position. A steady march through the crux of the competition netted him the 18th position by the conclusion of Stage 1 on lap 30. Crew chief Scott Zipadelli and the HRE team gave Hill four tires and slight air pressure and chassis adjustments under the stage break to add rear security to his Tundra. The Ibaraki Toyopet team clicked off a lightning-quick pit stop to gain eight positions and enabled Hill to restart 10th on lap 37.
Hill took advantage of the improved track position to make calculated, aggressive moves over the 24-lap run in Stage 2 to collect five points in sixth position on lap 60. The HRE team armed Hill with another set of fresh tires and another batch of adjustments and vaulted him into the top-five with another round of efficient pit work under the stage caution. Over the ensuing 20 laps, a series of restarts saw Hill jockey for position inside the top-five until his final pit stop of the night under a lap 89 caution.
A bold three-wide move on a lap 96 restart came up just shy of the race lead but allowed Hill to claim the second position. A sequence of three caution periods in the final 37 laps set up a series of chaotic restarts in which Hill was one of the primary contenders for the lead and the all-important clean air. Hill restarted second on the final restart with six laps remaining on lap 129 but was lined up alongside teammates and fell into the third position. The Winston, Ga. kept the pressure on the top two trucks and took the checkered flag in third for his first podium of the season as Toyota Tundras swept the top-five finishing positions.
Austin Hill Quote:
“You can see right there, our left front (tire) is corded really bad. We had a good night. We finally got on the right track. Those first two races didn’t go the way we wanted them to so this is a good way to bounce back, but it always stings a little bit when you come to a place that you’ve had success at and you don’t get the job done. Scott (Zipadelli, crew chief) and everybody back at the shop, they did a really good job bringing a really fast Toyota Tundra. All in all, we just came up short tonight. We just got too tight when the tires started cording and started chattering the left front. Can’t thank everybody at Ibraraki Toyopet enough for coming on board. Everything that all these guys do in Japan for us is a really big deal with everything going on. It’s really cool to see that. We’ll bounce back and go to Atlanta, a place that we’ve had some good runs at as well and see if we can get the job done there as well.”