Austin Hill survives dramatic finish for second Xfinity win at Daytona

From starting at the rear of the field to claiming the lead at the moment of caution, Austin Hill commenced a new season of NASCAR Xfinity Series competition on a thrilling note by winning the Beef. It’s What’s For Dinner. 300 at Daytona International Speedway on Saturday, February 18.

The 28-year-old Hill from Winston, Georgia, led four times for a race-high 39 of 125 over-scheduled laps in a season opener that started off on a rough note, when Hill was forced to surrender his pole-winning spot to resolve radio issues to his No. 21 Bennett Transportation Chevrolet Camaro. Starting at the rear of the field, he managed to methodically carve his way to the front and claim the first stage victory. He then spent the majority of the event running within the lead pack and managed to withstand the field during an overtime attempt to emerge victorious under caution amid a multi-car wreck on the final lap and win the opener at Daytona for a second consecutive season.

With on-track qualifying that determined the starting lineup occurring on Saturday, Austin Hill, the reigning Xfinity rookie of the year and the reigning Daytona opener winner, started on pole position after posting a pole-winning lap at 182.563 mph in 49.298 seconds. Joining him on the front row was Parker Kligerman, who posted the second-best qualifying lap at 182.441 mph in 49.331 seconds.

Prior to the event, the following names that included Blaine Perkins, Gray Gaulding, Kyle Sieg and Joey Gase dropped to the rear of the field due to unapproved adjustments made to their respective cars. Ryan Ellis also dropped to the rear of the field due to an engine change while Stefan Parsons also fell back to the rear after replacing an ill Caesar Bacarella in the No. 45 Alpha Prime Racing entry. Jeb Burton would also start at the rear of the field after making a pit stop to replace a battery to his No. 27 Jordan Anderson Racing entry.

Then, just as the start of the event was approaching, Hill peeled off the track and pitted after dealing with radio issues to his No. 21 Richard Childress Racing entry. With Hill having to drop to the rear of the field, this allowed the third-place starter Cole Custer to start alongside Kligerman on the front row.

When the green flag waved and the race commenced, Kligerman, the new full-time driver of Big Machine Racing’s No. 48 entry, shot out with an early advantage on the outside lane by Sheldon Creed through the first two turns. Kligerman continued to lead through the backstretch until Custer fought back on the inside lane followed by Justin Allgaier and John Hunter Nemechek. Maintaining both lanes to his control, Custer proceeded to lead the first lap in his No. 00 Has Ford Mustang before Allgaier launched his bid for the lead on the inside lane. Through the backstretch, Allgaier was able to break away from the pack and move up the outside lane with drafting help from Nemechek as he went on to lead the second lap followed by Nemechek and Riley Herbst while Brandon Jones served as the lead competitor on the inside lane.

Through the first five scheduled laps and as the field fanned out to three tight-packed lanes, Allgaier was leading by a hair over Nemechek followed by Brandon Jones, Herbst and Daniel Hemric while Custer, Kligerman, Justin Haley, Sam Mayer and Creed were in the top 10. By then, rookie Chandler Smith was in 11th followed by Anthony Alfredo, Hill, Jade Buford and Josh Berry while Jeb Burton, Sammy Smith, Ryan Sieg, Brett Moffitt and Myatt Snider were running inside the top 20.

Two laps later, the first caution of the event flew when smoke billowed out of the No. 4 JD Motorsports entry piloted by Bayley Currey past the frontstretch. During the caution period, a multitude of names that included Herbst, Custer, Mayer, Berry, Burton, Snider, Parker Retzlaff, Jeremy Clements, Brennan Poole, Kyle Sieg, Kaz Grala, Ryan Ellis and Sammy Smith pitted while the rest led by new leader Nemechek remained on the track.

When the race restarted under green on Lap 11, Nemechek received a push from Kligerman to shoot to an early lead until Allgaier fought back on the inside lane through the first two lanes and the backstretch. As the field fanned out to three lanes, Nemechek and Allgaier continued to duel for the lead in front of Haley and Hill.

By Lap 15, Nemechek and Allgaier remained dead even in a tight battle for the lead and in front of a tight pack of cars, with Nemechek running the outside lane in front of Hemric while Allgaier remained on the inside lane in front of Haley.

At the Lap 20 mark, the caution returned when Mayer made contact with Blaine Perkins by turning Perkins into Hemric as Perkins proceeded to spin and hit the inside wall towards the pit wall entrance while Hemric limped his No. 11 Cirkul Chevrolet Camaro back to pit road with extensive right-front damage. The incident on the frontstretch was one that ended Hemric and Perkin’s run early. During the caution period, a multitude of names that included Buford, Creed, Kligerman, Moffitt, Custer, Herbst, Ryan Sieg, Clements, Grala, Brandon Jones, Mayer, Snider and Retzlaff pitted while the rest led by Allgaier remained on the track.

With the event restarting under green on Lap 25, Allgaier and Haley dueled for the lead until Haley was drafted into the lead on the outside lane following a push from Hill. During the following lap, Hill made his move beneath Haley to contend for the lead as he received drafting help from Allgaier on the inside lane. He would then prevail entering the frontstretch and proceed to fend off challenges coming through both lanes.

Then on the final lap of the first stage, Chandler Smith launched a final corner attack to Hill’s outside as the field jostled and scrambled for positions towards the front. Hill, however, was able to pull ahead on the inside lane through the frontstretch as he claimed the first stage victory on Lap 30. Smith settled in second while Allgaier, Haley, Burton, Creed, Berry, Kligerman, Nemechek and Snider were scored in the top 10 as all received the first wave of stage points of the season. Under the stage break, some led by Hill pitted while the rest led by Creed remained on the track.

The second stage started on Lap 36 as Creed and Mayer occupied the front row. At the start, Creed received a push from Kligerman to maintain a slight advantage through the backstretch before Mayer fought back after receiving a draft from Herbst’s No. 98 Monster Energy Ford Mustang. As the rest of the field caught up to the two leaders, Creed and Mayer continued to duel for the lead before Herbst drew himself alongside Mayer to ignite his bid for the lead. By Lap 39, however, Mayer managed to pull away with a slight advantage over Creed and Kligerman.

Then on Lap 40 and as the field fanned out to three tight-packed lanes through the frontstretch, the caution returned when Creed, who was getting bumped by Kligerman, got loose as he barely hit Hill before veering into the outside wall just past the frontstretch and with damage to his No. 2 Whelen Chevrolet Camaro. As the field scrambled to avoid the incident, Allgaier got loose as he also spun his No. 7 BRANDT Chevrolet Camaro from the bottom to the inside lane and just in front of Haley’s nose. Stefan Parsons also spun in the middle of the pack as he limped his car back to pit road with flat tires. During the caution period, some like Haley pitted while the rest led by Mayer remained on the track.

At the start of the following restart on Lap 45, Mayer prevailed on the outside lane with drafting help from Brandon Jones and in front of two tight-packed lanes. Kligerman would soon challenge Mayer on the inside lane as both engaged in a tight side-by-side battle for the lead. By the Lap 50 mark, however, Hill reclaimed the lead.

With five laps remaining in the second stage, Allgaier, who methodically carved his way back to the front following his spin, was scored as the leader followed by teammate Mayer, Moffitt, Hill and Jeb Burton.

When the second stage concluded at the halfway mark on Lap 60, Allgaier fended off teammate Mayer to claim the second stage victory on Lap 60. Mayer settled in second followed by Hill, Jones, Moffitt, Berry, Herbst, Nemechek, Custer, and Sammy Smith, who spun past the frontstretch after he got by Burton, who originally got bumped and turned by Alfredo.

Under the stage break, a majority of the field led by Allgaier pitted while some that included Gray Gaulding, Poole, Joey Gase, CJ McLaughlin and Kyle Sieg remained on the track. All five competitors would eventually pit as Allgaier cycled his way back into the lead.

With 54 laps remaining, the final stage started as Allgaier and Hill occupied the front row. At the start, Allgaier and Hill dueled for the lead through the first two turns and they continued to battle dead even for the lead entering the frontstretch until Allgaier pulled ahead by a hair on the outside lane. He continued to lead the field as the event reached its final 50-lap mark.

Then with 45 laps remaining, a wave of competitors led by Allgaier pitted under green while the rest led by Nemechek remained on the track. During the pit stops, Kligerman spun, but he managed to straighten his car without hitting the wall. Another lap later, another wave of competitors led by Nemechek pitted under green as Gaulding assumed the lead. Once the final wave of competitors led by Gaulding pitted with nearly 40 laps remaining, Josh Berry cycled his way into the lead followed by Hill, Allgaier, Mayer and Herbst while Jones, Custer, Moffitt, Nemechek and Snider were in the top 10. By then, Allgaier was back in 11th while Kligerman plummeted to 30th.

Down to the final 35 laps of the event, Berry was leading a 15-car breakaway ahead of Hill, Allgaier, Mayer, Herbst, Jones, Custer, Haley, Buford and Chandler Smith while Alfredo, Burton, Moffitt, Nemechek and Snider.

Three laps later, the caution flew when CJ McLaughlin and Sammy Smith wrecked on the frontstretch. During the caution period, names like Alfredo, Clements, Retzlaff, Parsons, Josh Williams, Kligerman, Jesse Iwuji, David Starr and Smith pitted while the rest led by Berry remained on the track.

With 26 laps remaining, the race proceeded under green. At the start, Berry and Hill dueled for the lead until Hill peaked ahead through the first two turns. Berry, however, prevailed on the outside lane as he received a draft from all three of his JR Motorsports teammates to reassume the lead through the backstretch. Then during the following lap, Hill, who was being drafted by Herbst through the first two turns, managed to slide in front of Berry to control the field exiting the backstretch. Soon after, a multitude of competitors settled in a long single-file line on the outside lane as Hill retained the lead followed by Berry, Allgaier, Mayer and Jones while Nemechek, Snider, Ryan Sieg, Alfredo and Jeffrey Earnhardt were scored in the top 10.

Down to the final 20 laps of the event, the top-26 competitors were separated by two seconds while running in a long line on the outside lane and as Hill was leading Berry, Allgaier, Mayer, Jones, Nemechek, Snider, Ryan Sieg, Alfredo and Earnhardt while Kligerman, Herbst, Retzlaff, Joe Graf Jr. and Jade Buford, Gaulding, Parker Chase, Josh Williams, Chandler Smith and Haley occupied the top 20.

A few laps later, Moffitt dropped out of the 26-car train after scraping the wall and limping back to pit road with a flat tire. Despite the contact, the race remained under green flag conditions as Hill continued to lead the JR Motorsports’ quadruplet. Then with 12 laps remaining, Kligerman made a bold move to the inside lane and back up to the outside lane, where he forced Earnhardt into the outside wall in Turns 1 and 2 as Earnhardt fell off the pace with a flat tire.

With 10 laps remaining, Hill continued to lead a long line of competitors followed by Berry, Allgaier, Mayer and Jones while Nemechek, Snider, Ryan Sieg, Alfredo and Kligerman were scored in the top 10. By then, Parker Retzlaff was in 11th while Herbst, Graf Jr., Buford and Gaulding occupied the top 15.

Down to the final five laps of the event, Hill retained the lead ahead of the pack while the four JR Motorsports’ competitors remained in a single-file lane within the top five. Soon after, Kligerman, who was mired within the top 15, made the first move towards the inside lane as he tried to launch his bid to the front.

Three laps later, Allgaier initiated a move to the inside lane as he overtook Berry for the runner-up spot. Hill then moved back to the bottom of the track to block Allgaier as Jones opted to follow Allgaier. Then on the backstretch, Jones got turned by teammate Berry while running third as he spun his No. 9 Menards Chevrolet Camaro through the grass. The incident not only displayed the caution, but it also sent the field into overtime. Prior to overtime, however, Berry fell off the pace after his No. 8 Bass Pro Shops Club Chevrolet Camaro ran out of fuel. This allowed Alfredo and Nemechek to move up the leaderboard within the top five behind Hill, Allgaier and Mayer.

At the start of the first overtime attempt, Allgaier and Hill duked for the lead, with Hill receiving a draft from Alfredo while Allgaier battled back on the inside lane followed by teammate Mayer. Exiting the backstretch, Allgaier started to pull away on the inside lane as he placed a huge distance between himself and a side-by-side battle between Mayer and Hill.

When the white flag waved and the final lap started, Allgaier remained as the leader, but was far ahead of the pack that quickly caught back to him through the first two turns amid the draft. Through Turns 1 and 2, Mayer made a bold move to Allgaier’s outside to assume a brief advantage. Then entering the backstretch, he moved up in front of Hill’s front nose to block him while also bumping into Allgaier. This resulted with Mayer getting loose as Hill made contact and turned Mayer across the straightaway and into the outside wall. As a result, Mayer’s No. 1 Accelerate Pros Talent Chevrolet Camaro hit the wall and overturned on its roof as he slid upside down amid a shower of sparks throughout the backstretch before flipping back on all four wheels in the grass. While a majority of the field dodged the carnage, additional names that included Kligerman, Alfredo, Buford and David Starr also wrecked.

With the event concluding under caution, NASCAR was left to determine the winner between a tight three-wide battle between Hill, Nemechek and Allgaier. Following an extensive review, Hill was declared the official winner as he emerged out in front of both Nemechek and Allgaier when the caution was displayed.

With the victory, Hill claimed his third career win in the NASCAR Xfinity Series and his first since winning at Atlanta Motor Speedway in July 2022. He also became the first Xfinity competitor of this season to be guaranteed a spot for the 2023 Xfinity Playoffs while also recording the eighth Daytona Xfinity victory for Richard Childress Racing and the 50th overall for Chevrolet. By winning the opener at Daytona for a second consecutive year, he became the first competitor to win the opener at Daytona in consecutive seasons since Tony Stewart achieved four consecutive opener wins from 2008 to 2011.

“I have no idea [how I won],” Hill said on FS1. “I don’t know. I didn’t feel like the inside line was that great all day, for most of the day. I just wanted to choose the top [lane]. I knew [Alfredo] would stay with me. He was pretty committed. When I saw [Mayer] and [Allgaier] get together, I went to go squeeze him. [Mayer] came down. He started getting loose and then, you can’t lift. It’s the last lap. I hope Sam’s okay. That was a heck of flip there, but as soon as the caution lights came out, I thought I had it, but it’s so close. To get back to back [wins] here at Daytona, it’s really special. That’s three wins for me now [at Daytona]. I can’t thank everyone at [Richard Childress Racing]. Our Bennett Chevrolet was so good. We came from the back two different times. [I] Hoped everyone enjoyed [the race]. It was such a blast. I had so much. We won at Daytona! Let’s go!”

With Hill emerging as the winner, John Hunter Nemechek settled in second place followed by Allgaier, who led 36 laps before being overtaken on the final lap.

“[I’m] Really proud of everybody at JR Motorsports,” Allgaier said. “Our Chevy Camaros were absolutely blazing fast. This whole team’s worked their guts out. To have the adversity that we had tonight, to go to the back and have that spin, just battled our way through. It’s crazy how fast our car was tonight and how good we were in traffic. [I’m] Disappointed. I thought I could get enough of a draft off of [Berry] and maybe, they couldn’t catch me, but I just got too far out there. That was really all it came down to, but proud of our team. Really proud of the effort we put in. I think we got a lot to walk out of here with our confidence high. We’ll go on next week to California and I think we’ll be as equally fast.”

Rookie Parker Retzlaff and Myatt Snider finished in the top five while Herbst, Joe Graf Jr., Ryan Sieg, Custer and Haley came home in the top 10 in the final running order. Mayer, who ended up 27th following his final lap wreck, emerged uninjured.

There were 25 lead changes for 11 different leaders. The race featured eight cautions for 32 laps.

Following the first event of the 2023 Xfinity Series season, Austin Hill leads the regular-season standings by six points over Justin Allgaier, 18 over John Hunter Nemechek, 23 over Riley Herbst and 24 over Chandler Smith.

Results.

1. Austin Hill, 39 laps led, Stage 1 winner

2. John Hunter Nemechek, eight laps led

3. Justin Allgaier, 36 laps led, Stage 2 winner

4. Parker Retzlaff

5. Myatt Snider

6. Riley Herbst

7. Joe Graf Jr.

8. Ryan Sieg

9. Cole Custer, one lap led

10. Justin Haley, one lap led

11. Jeb Burton

12. Chandler Smith

13. Stefan Parsons

14. Brandon Jones

15. Josh Williams

16. Parker Chase

17. Jeremy Clements

18. Joey Gase

19. Sammy Smith

20. Gray Gaulding, one lap led

21. Kyle Sieg

22. David Starr, two laps led

23. Parker Kligerman, one lap led

24. Anthony Alfredo

25. Jade Buford

26. Josh Berry, 17 laps led

27. Sam Mayer – OUT, Accident, 14 laps led

28. Jeffrey Earnhardt, one lap down

29. Brett Moffitt, one lap down

30. Jesse Iwuji – OUT, Electrical

31. CJ McLaughlin – OUT, Accident

32. Kaz Grala – OUT, Engine

33. Brennan Poole – OUT, Engine

34. Sheldon Creed – OUT, Accident, five laps led

35. Ryan Ellis – OUT, Accident

36. Daniel Hemric – OUT, Accident

37. Blaine Perkins – OUT, Accident

38. Bayley Currey – OUT, Engine

With the 2023 NASCAR Xfinity Series season underway, the competitors and teams will be embarking on a three-race West Coast swing, beginning at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, which will mark the series’ final competition at the two-mile speedway venue. The event is scheduled to occur on Saturday, February 25, at 5 p.m. ET on FS1.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com

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