Transcript: Austin Hill – Press Conference – 02.19.24

HE MODERATOR: We are joined by the winner of the season opening NASCAR Xfinity Series race, the driver of the No. 21, and that is Austin Hill. We’ll get right to questions.

Q. I heard a few people say this week in the garage area, death, taxes, and you winning in February at Daytona. What is it about this place to start the year that you guys have figured out because the summer race here has not treated you well?

AUSTIN HILL: Yeah, man, I really don’t know what it is. I feel like really all the superspeedways that we go to, we do basically the same things that we always do. We bring really fast Bennett Chevrolets to the racetrack. We have some really fast ECR engines, and I always think that for the most part that we make the right moves a lot of the time.

There’s plenty of times throughout the race that I don’t make the right move, but I kind of put that in my memory bank and I learn going into later in the race.

The other races, a little bit of luck is involved with these superspeedways. You got to be in the right place, right time. There were plenty of times that I could have gotten taken out, and I luckily kind of squeaked by there. I did get in a wreck early in the race, but fortunately it wasn’t too much damage.

I mean, it’s just the first race of the season has treated me well. Everyone in the off-season is bringing their best stuff to the first race at Daytona. To win here the first race out says a lot, and to do a three-peat like we did, I don’t think a lot of people understand how hard that is to do here at Daytona. It is hard to win one race at Daytona, much less three in a row like we did for the season opener.

I’m cherishing every moment of it, but then come tomorrow, Wednesday, we’re going to be getting ready for Atlanta, to go see if we can go back-to-back to start the season.

Q. I know it’s special with that one on your knee, too.

AUSTIN HILL: Oh, yeah, no, for sure. It’s always special to come down to Daytona. First race of the season I always have my family here. Some of my family members had to go back. They couldn’t stay for Monday.

But I did have my two daughters, my little one Barrett here, and then my wife, mom, dad, grandparents. We do still have a lot of them still left over that stayed. It’s always fun when they can be here to celebrate. It makes the party a little bit more special.

Q. You referenced the damage real quick. Take us through how the car felt after the right front damage, and then what I’m curious most about is what you felt that you knew to come to pit road with that left going flat because that ultimately is what saved you.

AUSTIN HILL: Yeah, so when the wreck happened, I knew that I had gotten pretty substantial right front damage. Even my steering wheel was a little off. I kind of — when I put the steering wheel on to start the race I was like at 11:00 with it with my tape, and it got knocked to 12:00, so I knew it was a little off there.

And then whenever I saw that they were dropping the jack and they were trying to bend the splitter up, I’m like, oh, that’s not good. I don’t know what’s going to happen here when I drive off into Turn 1 when it’s loaded and we’re in the draft.

And when I drove off into Turn and I realized that I wasn’t hitting the splitter really hard, I’m like, oh, maybe it’s not too bad. I went to work from there. Didn’t think about it really after the first five laps after the wreck, and after the damage repair that we made.

Then with the left rear, I’m like under caution and I’m kind of like working my tires back and forth a little bit just trying to keep a little bit of heat in them and I felt feeling like the rear of the car was kind of sloshing. I didn’t know if it was the tire or something in the rear end that’s came loose because we were hitting the racetrack really, really hard all night.

My spotter Derek had been giving me a play-by-play, like, hey, it’s hitting really hard that lap. So I didn’t know if something grinded off, truck arm was bent, something was into the tire. I didn’t know what was going on, but I knew something didn’t feel right.

They kind of left it up to me if you want to pit, and I did not want to pit at all.

Andy kind of ultimately was like, hey, we don’t need to have any issues. We’ve still got a little bit of time here. Anything can happen. So we came down pit road. Sure enough, left rear tire was flat.

When we start the restart with like 12 or 13 to go, I didn’t think that — I’m not going to say I didn’t think we had the time to get back up there — I’m not going to say I didn’t think we had the time to get back up there, but I knew it was going to be an uphill battle.

I think we were coming off of Turn 4, and my spotter, Derek is like, hey, we’ve just got to make some stuff happen. We’ve got to make some moves go.

And sure enough, the middle lane just opened up for me where everyone is fighting for the bottom, everyone is fighting for the top, and the middle lane kind of opened up, and when it did, I just kind of shot out of a rocket it felt like, drove all the way to the 32 car, pushed him up to the lead eventually and then the caution came out from behind us.

I haven’t seen the replay yet. I just know that it felt like he was very close to hitting me in the right rear. That was one of those lucky kind of situations where I was just in the right place, right time, missed the wreck and was able to go on and get the win when it mattered.

Q. You have damage, you have a safety violation, you keep having to come from the back, and it doesn’t seem like you needed a push from anybody. How come? Seems like your car can do things that the others can’t.

AUSTIN HILL: Yeah, you know, our car is obviously really fast. It shows in qualifying.

But when you look at it, we’re only winning the pole by half a tenth, maybe a tenth. It’s not like we’re winning the pole by half a second where we have substantial amount of speed on the whole entire field.

But I just think it’s the minor details. I think it’s just those little details that end up mattering, that RCR, ECR and everybody back at the shop do a really good job of is they just have those little minor little details that a lot of teams might be like, oh, that doesn’t matter, that’s a 32th of an inch or an eighth of an inch.

Well, at RCR it matters, and when you bring a car to the racetrack, they just want it a certain way. When they come to these superspeedways they want it to unloaded a certain way, they want it to drive a certain way.

Like you said, there was a lot of adversity tonight. I didn’t do my job on pit road. I almost slid through the box during the first stop. Second stop I left it in third gear coming to pit road. I have no idea why. I guess I was mentally thinking of what I was going to do for the restart and sped on pit road, then slid through my box, about ran my guys over.

I kind of had to mentally reset right there. When i pulled off pit road and they told me I had the penalty, and we came back down took four tires, I just kind of mentally reset there. Like look, this is a new race. I’m going to get this all behind me and we’re going to go to work.

We had that adversity with the left rear tire but it didn’t slow us down. I think some of it, too, is guys know that the 21 car is making the right moves at the right time a lot of the time, so they want to kind of work with you, whereas they might be skeptical on working with somebody else.

I had really good luck with actually guys working with me tonight. I don’t know if it was just a product of them seeing me making certain moves and they wanted to go where I was going, but I know some of the JRM cars, especially the 8 car, he seemed to be tied to my rear bumper a lot of the night.

So I want to thank him for that, for sticking with me as long as he did. The 5 car did as well. And then when I lost my wingman, Jesse, early in the race it was a little bit of a bummer because I knew he had a car that was capable of winning. When it came down to the end of the race, you had a couple Chevys but then you had the Toyotas, the Fords, all that, so I knew it was going to get spread out and spaced out and a lot of people were going to be jockeying for position.

My No. 1 goal was just to get to the lead and try to control it from there, and luckily enough it all worked out.

Q. It’s often said that drivers will trade anything to win here at Daytona. Given your experience here and perspective, why is that?

AUSTIN HILL: I know this is crazy me saying this because I’ve done it three times in a row now to start the season, but it is extremely hard to win here. It’s not easy. There’s so many different variables that happen. There’s a lot of wrecks that happen throughout the race that might not be your doing. I was in one today. Luckily I just had some minor damage, obviously.

So there’s so much stuff that’s out of your control, and even if you put together the perfect race, you do everything right, you do all your pit stops on pit road, you get back out and in the lead, it still all has to come together, and you have to really trust the guy out back that’s pushing you and the guys around you that are racing side by side with you to keep it together.

Daytona is just the start of the season. It’s kind of — in the Xfinity Series it’s kind of like our Daytona 500 in a sense just because it is the start of the season, we’re getting going, you’re racing the same weekend as the Daytona 500, so the extra hype is there, a lot more viewers normally is there.

Everyone wants to win at Daytona and everyone wants to win to start off the season because then it starts your playoffs, everything like that. You’re already locked in for the playoffs later in the season, and you can go ahead and go to work for that to get ready for the end of the year.

Q. What’s this day been like for you because you were supposed to go at 11:00 a.m., then you fire off at 9:00 p.m., run the Daytona 500 in between those. What have you done all day?

AUSTIN HILL: I actually went and bought a TV and put it in my motor home. My TV that I was actually using to watch the Daytona 500 kept flickering on me, and I’m like, man, we can’t have this. I’ve got to be able to see what’s going on at the Daytona 500. We ran over to Best Buy right across the street, put the TV together. We had to do a little work on the plate that we had to put on. We had to drill some new holes and get it all leveled. That was kind of my day. Then I watched the Daytona 500.

Other than that, really not a whole lot. Just going through my normal motion. I kind of have the same regimen of eating the same food on race day, that type of thing. Try to keep all that pretty much the same. But also try to stay moving a little bit. Like I didn’t want to just sit around and kind of get stiff and stale. When you’re sitting around in the motor home all day, it’s a little depressing. You want to go out and do something.

I just tried to stay moving all day, doing something. That way when it was time to go, I wasn’t just thinking about it all day long. I didn’t want to sit there and be like, man, I’m thinking about this race from 10:00 in the morning all the way until 9:00. I kind of wanted to get it off my mind, so we found some fun things to do.

Q. Kind of off of that, what did you do the last two days, Saturday and Sunday?

AUSTIN HILL: Well, yeah, so — what did we do? My days are running together. We went out to eat a few nights, a few days, went and did — what else did we do? We went to Bass Pro, bought some stuff there.

We had a good time. We stayed busy. We didn’t want to just sit in the motor home. It’s kind of easy to just get lazy sitting in there and you want to stay mobile and keep moving and doing stuff.

We found some things to do that kind of got us through the weekend. But I’m glad that it’s over. I can tell you that. It’s been a long Daytona weekend.

Q. Going down pit road, what exactly happened on that violation?

AUSTIN HILL: I just mentally — I don’t know why. I was really thinking about what was going to happen when I come down pit road. I knew I was going to lose some spots and that type of thing because of what we were going to do during our pit stop and all.

I left it in third gear, and we were running second gear, and I’m like trying to find my lights and I’m looking for my — so we ran two red lights on our dash, and I’m like looking for my two red and I look down and I’m like, man, I feel like I’m going really fast right now. I look in the mirror and I’ve like left everybody.

Then I’m coming up really fast on my box so I’m trying to get it slowed down. Then the next thing you know I slide through my box which I was having an issue with sliding into my box all day. It was real slick. ‘Bout ran the guys over and everything else.

Totally 100 percent on me, and right after that stop when we came back in we out four tires on it, that was like a full reset for me. I literally kind of like reset my brain. It was like a new race for me, and then we went back to work after that.

Q. I don’t have to tell you how much loyalty means to RC, and the fact that you had an opportunity potentially to go Cup racing last year but you decided to stick with him, said he wants to put you in a Cup car and he expects to have you in a Cup car relatively soon full time, what does it mean? Because we hear time and again that names are made here in the Xfinity Series, but you come here and you really establish yourself as somebody over and above the field. When you do get an opportunity like this down the road, what is that going to mean to you?

AUSTIN HILL: Yeah, it’s going to mean a lot. I’m very loyal to all the race teams that I’ve ever been with in the past. It’s always been a very strong topic, and it’s not something that’s easy to make a decision on if I was to jump to a different race team, different manufacturer, that type of thing.

There’s a lot that’s involved with my decision making, and just over the last two years going on three years now, just everything that Richard Childress stands for and the man that he is today and the way he has been through his entire career, his entire life, his values, all those things, they really line up with my values.

I just think it works. It clicks. Him and I get along really well even outside of racing. We go elk hunting together, that kind of thing.

Having that bond means more to me than just driving a race car. If the opportunity presents itself to go Cup racing one day, sure, I definitely want to do that, but I want to make sure I’m doing it with the right people. Racing with RCR has been great to me. They’ve all — everyone has been family oriented group. I’m very family oriented.

If the time ever came to where I could move up to Cup and I could run for RCR, I definitely would do it.

But I just want to make sure if I do make that jump, I don’t want to rush into it for one, and then two, I want to make sure it’s the right change that I’m making and that if I do go somewhere other than RCR it’s going to be the right fit for me.