Austin Hill’s second-career NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series playoff quest got off to a challenging start with a 25th-place finish on Thursday night at Bristol Motor Speedway (BMS). The driver of the No. 16 United Rentals Toyota Tundra is still afloat in playoff contention despite the mayhem at BMS and holds a two-point advantage above the cut line with two events remaining in the first round.
Hill started the evening from the fifth position but was quickly met with adversity as contact from the No. 52 truck sent Hill’s No. 16 United Rentals Toyota Tundra into the outside wall in Turn 1 on lap six and caused significant damage. The Gander Trucks regular season titlist caught a caution on lap nine and pitted so the HRE team could assess the harm. Hill rode out the balance of Stage 1 with right rear damage and brake issues in 28thposition on lap 55, one lap down to the leader.
Crew chief Scott Zipadelli and company continued to make adjustments and repairs under the stage caution to keep Hill in the mix and gain as many points as possible. By lap 100, Hill had clawed his way back into 20th and ran in the 19th position at the end of Stage 2 on lap 110. The Winston, Ga. native had been fighting a severe brake issue, a soft pedal and a tight condition on corner entry during the first half of the event but continued to battle valiantly to return to the lead lap.
On the lap 120 restart, Hill posed a formidable challenge for the lucky dog position to regain his lap, but the brake issue relegated Hill to two laps down. On lap 156, he was inadvertently caught in an incident that caused additional left-front damage to his Tundra. Hill managed to reach the checkered flag in 26th position but would be credited with 25th following post-race inspection. Hill and the No. 16 team will head to Las Vegas Motor Speedway, one of their most successful venues, for the second event of the Gander Trucks playoffs in a transfer position, two points above the bubble.
“I think we could have run in the top-10 tonight with our United Rentals Toyota Tundra, but we had a brake issue all race long. We’re not sure if it was from the damage early in the race or if we had another issue. We’ll go back and evaluate what happened and be ready to try to get a win at Las Vegas. We have a good history at Vegas so I’m ready to get there and see if we can get to victory lane.”