Austin Hill scores dramatic Xfinity Series victory at Las Vegas

From trailing rookie Chandler Smith by nearly three seconds with 25 laps remaining to narrowing the deficit and overtaking him prior to the final lap, Austin Hill cashed in with his second NASCAR Xfinity Series victory of the season in the Alsco Uniforms 300 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Saturday, March 4.

The 28-year-old Hill from Winston, Georgia, led three times for 19 of 200-scheduled laps, including the final two, as he overtook Smith for the lead prior to the final lap. Smith, who led a race-high 118 laps but had an advantage of nearly three seconds erased in the closing laps, was then overtaken by Justin Allgaier for the runner-up spot as Allgaier, who had been penalized earlier for a restart violation, tried to steal the victory away on the final lap. Time, however, fell in the favor of Hill as he held off a hard-charging Allgaier to steal the spotlight with his second victory through the series’ first three events of the season.

With on-track qualifying that determined the starting lineup occurring on Friday, rookie Chandler Smith notched his first Xfinity career pole after posting a pole-winning lap at 183.119 mph in 29.489 seconds. Joining him on the front row was veteran Justin Allgaier, who clocked in the second-best qualifying lap at 182.778 mph in 29.544 seconds.

Prior to the event, the following names that included Cole Custer, Sheldon Creed, Gray Gaulding, Josh Berry, Brandon Jones and Kyle Busch dropped to the rear of the field in backup cars. Brennan Poole, Ryan Ellis, Alex Labbe and Garrett Smithley also dropped to the rear of the field due to unapproved adjustments made to their respective cars along with Patrick Emerling, who replaced CJ McLaughlin in the No. 53 Emerling-Gas Motorsports entry.

When the green flag waved and the race commenced, Chandler Smith peeked ahead with the lead on the outside lane followed by Brett Moffitt while John Hunter Nemechek and Austin Hill fanned out entering the first turn. With a three-wide action occurring through the first two turns between Nemechek, Hill and Parker Kligerman for spots in the top five, Smith cleared the field to assume the lead followed by a side-by-side battle for the runner-up spot involving Justin Allgaier and Brett Moffitt.

As the field returned to the frontstretch, Chandler Smith led the first lap ahead of Moffitt and Allgaier while the field behind continued to fan out and jostle for positions early. Then during the following lap, the first caution flew when Kligerman, who was locked in a battle with Daniel Hemric for fifth place, got loose and slightly tapped by Nemechek as he spun in Turn 2, though he did not make any contact to his No. 48 Big Machine Racing entry as he pitted for fresh tires.

When the race restarted under green on the sixth lap, Chandler Smith and Allgaier dueled for the lead for nearly a lap until Smith managed to pull ahead on the outside lane to retain the lead. As the field behind fanned out, Austin Hill made his way into third place followed by Nemechek, Brett Moffitt and Daniel Hemric.

Through the first 10 scheduled laps, Chandler Smith was leading by two-tenths of a second over Allgaier followed by Nemechek, Hill and Hemric while rookie Sammy Smith, Herbst, Sam Mayer, Berry and Moffitt were running in the top 10. Tyler Reddick was in 11th ahead of Rajah Caruth, Anthony Alfredo, Kyle Sieg and Jeb Burton while Kyle Busch methodically worked his way up to 16th from the rear of the field.

Three laps later, Allgaier muscled his No. 7 Brandt Chevrolet Camaro past Chandler Smith for the lead as Nemechek started to gain ground on the two leaders. Another four laps later, Nemechek assumed the runner-up spot over Smith while Hill and Hemric remained in the top five. It would not be until Lap 22, however, when Nemechek cycled his No. 20 Mobil 1 Toyota Supra into the lead over Allgaier.

Through the first 30 scheduled laps, Nemechek was leading by four-tenths of a second over Allgaier followed by Hill, Hemric and Chandler Smith while Herbst, Sammy Smith, Berry, Mayer and Kyle Busch were battling in the top 10. Behind, Moffitt was in 11th ahead of Creed, Reddick, Jeb Burton and Kligerman while Brandon Jones, Alfredo, Custer, Ryan Sieg and Kyle Sieg occupied the top 20.

When the first stage concluded on Lap 45, Nemechek, winner of last weekend’s Xfinity event at Auto Club Speedway, captured his first stage victory of the 2023 Xfinity season. Allgaier trailed in the runner-up spot by more than a second while Hill, Chandler Smith, Herbst, Hemric, Kyle Busch, Sammy Smith, Creed and Berry were scored in the top 10.

Under the stage break, the field led by Nemechek pitted for service and Hill was the first competitor to exit pit road first followed by Nemechek, Allgaier, Busch, Hemric and Chandler Smith. During the pit stops, Alex Labbe was penalized after a tire rolled out of his pit stall and toward the track. Josh Bilicki was also penalized for speeding on pit road.

The second stage started on Lap 53 as Hill and Nemechek occupied the front row. At the start, Hill and Nemechek dueled for the lead as the field behind fanned and jostled for spots. Entering the backstretch, Nemechek cleared Hill for the lead while Chandler Smith, Kyle Busch and Allgaier engaged in a three-wide battle for third place. A few laps later, Allgaier launched a bid for the lead to the outside of Nemechek, but Nemechek managed to pull ahead on the inside lane as Chandler Smith and Hill joined the battle. The battle for spots towards the top five proceeded as Sammy Smith and Kyle Busch crept into the picture at the front while Allgaier managed to pull ahead in front of Chandler Smith and Hill for the runner-up spot. Amid the battles, Nemechek checked out with a decent advantage while Hill and Kyle Busch duked for fourth place in front of Sammy Smith.

Through the first 60 scheduled laps, Nemechek was leading by two-tenths of a second over Allgaier, who had Chandler Smith closing in for the spot, while Kyle Busch and Sammy Smith were in the top five. Meanwhile, Hill fell back to sixth ahead of Mayer, Herbst, Hemric and Kligerman while Brandon Jones, Creed, Berry, Custer and Moffitt were mired in the top 15.

Ten laps later, Nemechek continued to lead by two-tenths of a second over the new runner-up competitor Chandler Smith, who overtook Allgaier for the spot nearly 10 laps earlier, while Allgaier, Kyle Busch and Mayer were running in the top five. In the midst of the battles, Hill was back in sixth ahead of Sammy Smith, Kligerman, Brandon Jones and Herbst while Hemric was back in 11th.

Then after Chandler Smith reassumed the lead on Lap 72 followed by Allgaier, the caution flew a lap later when Josh Berry, who was battling Herbst for 10th place, got loose entering Turn 4 and spun his No. 8 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet Camaro across the grass without sustaining any damage. By then, Nemechek had fallen back to third in front of his former boss Kyle Busch. During the caution period, Berry pitted along with Nemechek, who radioed a possible vibration and loose wheel throughout the second stage, while the rest led by Chandler Smith on the track.

When the race proceeded under green on Lap 78, Chandler Smith and Allgaier battled for the lead for nearly a lap until Allgaier managed to pull ahead on the inside lane to take over the lead. In the midst of the battles, Hill was in third place followed by Kyle Busch while Brandon Jones emerged in the top five in fifth over Sammy Smith.

Five laps later, however, Allgaier surrendered the lead and was forced to serve a pass-through penalty down pit road after being assessed a restart violation for diving his car below the inside line prior to the start/finish line. With Allgaier plummeting to 26th place and as the last competitor on the lead lap, Chandler Smith reassumed the lead followed by Hill and Kyle Busch while Brandon Jones and Sammy Smith were in the top five. Then with four laps remaining in the second stage, Hill overtook Chandler Smith for the lead as Kyle Busch and Jones closed in on the two leaders.

With two laps remaining in the second stage, the caution flew when Rajah Caruth spun towards the apron in Turn 2. Caruth’s spin was enough for the second stage scheduled on Lap 90 to conclude under caution as Hill captured his second stage victory of the 2023 Xfinity season. Brandon Jones settled in second in front of a hard-charging Kyle Busch while Mayer, Sammy Smith, Chandler Smith, Herbst, Custer, Moffitt and Creed were scored in the top 10.

Under the stage break, the leaders led by Hill returned to pit road for service and Hill retained the lead after exiting pit road first. Kyle Busch exited second followed by Berry, who only opted for fuel for his service, while Herbst, Brandon Jones and Chandler Smith exited in fourth through sixth, respectively. Following the pit stops, Ryan Sieg and Jeremy Clements were penalized for speeding on pit road.

With 103 laps remaining, the final stage started under green as Hill and Kyle Busch occupied the front row. At the start, Hill and Busch duked for the lead through the first two turns as the field behind fanned out. As the field returned to the frontstretch, Busch peaked ahead with the lead and started to maintain control of the field in his No. 10 LA Golf Chevrolet Camaro while teammate Chandler Smith battled Hill for second place.

With the event surpassing its halfway mark, Busch maintained a slight advantage over teammate Chandler Smith, with the latter launching his own challenge for the lead before reassuming it on Lap 102. Meanwhile, Hill fell back to third in front of Brandon Jones and Herbst while Berry was back in sixth over teammate Mayer, Sammy Smith, Custer and Hemric. By then, Allgaier was in 12th while Nemechek was in 15th.

Down to the final 90 laps of the event, Chandler Smith was leading by nine-tenths of a second over teammate Kyle Busch and a second-and-a-half over Hill while Bery and Mayer were in the top five. By then, Brandon Jones was in sixth ahead of Herbst and a hard-charging Allgaier while Sammy Smith and Hemric occupied the top 10. By then, Custer was back in 11th over Creed, Nemechek, Kligerman and Tyler Reddick while Moffitt, Kaz Grala, Ryan Sieg, Jeb Burton and Joe Graf Jr. were mired in the top 20.

Fifteen laps later, Chandler Smith continued to lead by six-tenths of a second over teammate Kyle Busch, who slowly began to decrease his deficit to his Kaulig Racing teammate, while Hill remained in third place and trailed by more than a second. Meanwhile, Allgaier charged his way back to fifth place following his restart violation penalty in the second stage as he tried to navigate his way around teammate Mayer for fourth place. Then with 69 laps remaining, Hill navigated his way around Busch for the runner-up spot as Allgaier started to close in on Busch for third place.

With nearly 60 laps remaining, Chandler Smith retained the lead by more than a second over the new runner-up competitor Allgaier while Hill, Mayer and Kyle Busch were scored in the top five. By then, Nemechek carved his way back to eighth behind Herbst and Berry while Hemric had fallen to 14th in between Custer and Moffitt.

Not long after, pit stops under green ensued as Kyle Busch pitted. Chandler Smith would pit his No. 16 Quick Tie Chevrolet Camaro a lap later along with Allgaier, Hill, Mayer and others. During the pit stops, Sammy Smith slid his No. 18 Pilot Flying J Toyota Supra sideways below the apron while trying to enter pit road. During his spin, he managed to come to a stop sideways in front of Josh Williams’ pit stall and avoid hitting Mayer, who was completing his service, as the race remained under green flag conditions. Amid his spin, Sammy Smith was penalized for speeding on pit road. Brandon Jones was also assessed a pass-through penalty for speeding on pit road, but his situation went from bad to worse when he received another speeding penalty when he sped while serving his first penalty.

With less than 55 laps remaining and with the series of green flag pit stops completed, Chandler Smith, who lost the lead to Hill following his pit stop under green before navigating his way back around Hill, cycled his way back to the lead followed by Hill, Kyle Busch, Allgaier and Mayer.

Under the final 40 laps of the event, Chandler Smith was leading by more than two seconds over Hill followed by Allgaier, who navigated his way around Kyle Busch for third place, while Mayer settled in fifth. By then, Berry occupied sixth in front of Herbst, Nemechek, Creed and Hemric while 13 of 38 starters were scored on the lead lap. Following his pair of pit road speeding penalties, Brandon Jones was relegated back to 28th.

With 25 laps remaining, Chandler Smith extended his advantage to nearly three seconds over Hill while Allgaier trailed by nearly four seconds in third place. Meanwhile, Kyle Busch was mired in fourth place, trailing by more than six seconds, while Mayer was back in fifth place and trailing by nearly 10 seconds.

Down to the final 10 laps of the event, Chandler Smith, who was mired behind lapped competitors a few laps earlier and had led by more than two seconds, continued to lead by over a second Hill despite being reported to save fuel. Hill remained in second followed by Allgaier, who closed in on Hill for the runner-up spot.

With five laps remaining, Chandler Smith retained the lead, but only by nearly half a second as Hill continued to cut Smith’s advantage in his final bid for the lead and the win. Then with two laps remaining, Hill, who managed to close the gap and get close to the rear bumper of Smith’s car through the first two turns and through the backstretch, made his move beneath Smith’s No. 16 entry as he assumed the lead entering the frontstretch.

When the white flag waved and the final lap started, Hill was out in front ahead of Smith as Allgaier drew himself alongside Smith for the runner-up spot. Through the backstretch, Allgaier overtook Smith as Hill remained as the leader. As Allgaier tried to close in to Hill’s rear bumper, Hill managed to methodically navigate his No. 21 Global Industrial Chevrolet Camaro through the final two turns out in front and beat Allgaier by two-tenths of a second to steal the show and grab the victory.

With the victory, Hill, who won the season opener at Daytona International Speedway in February, notched his fourth career win in the Xfinity Series, his first in the series at Las Vegas and the 90th Xfinity victory overall for Richard Childress Racing.

“[While I was] Passing one of the lapped cars early in our run, when [Chandler Smith] got by me [after a restart on Lap 98], I got really, really loose on entry to [Turn] 3,” Hill said on FS1. “I thought I was gonna wreck it, saved it. [Smith] got really far out. I just knew I had to not abuse the tires and try to methodically just work my way through traffic. The track was really tough today. Had a really thin line between [Turns] 3 and 4. If you missed it by—it seemed like a half of an inch—you paid for it through the whole lap. That’s just really what I stuck to all race long, was just trying to be disciplined through 3 and 4…I saw [Smith] struggling in traffic and my spotter Derek [Kneeland] was like, ‘Come on, baby. You can get it!’ I saw him get tight off of [Turn] 4 there, and I knew I painted the line perfectly. I knew if I could clear him down the frontstretch, I felt like once we had clean air, we could hold him off. We still got some things to work on, but it feels good to win on a mile and a half, not just these superspeedways.”

As Hill celebrated the victory, Chandler Smith was left disappointed over falling short of his first Xfinity Series victory. The 20-year-old Smith from Talking Rock, Georgia, however, remained optimistic over his third-place finish and a strong run in his third career start with Kaulig Racing.

“Overall, I got a little tight there at the very end,” Smith said. “It is what it is. That’s a tough pill to swallow. There’s some things I could’ve done inside before we started getting tight. All in all, I can’t be too disappointed. It’s my sixth [Xfinity] start, third start with Kaulig Racing. We had a really fast Quick Tie Products Camaro, and I just really appreciate [owner] Matt Kaulig, [team president] Chris Rice, everybody at Kaulig Racing for bringing me on board, believing in me. We’re going to win a few races this year, for sure.”

Allgaier settled in second place while Kyle Busch, who was aiming for a triple weekend sweep at his home track, ended up in fourth place in his first start with Kaulig Racing and in his first of five Xfinity starts of the 2023 season. Berry rallied to finish fifth while Nemechek, Mayer, Herbst, Creed and Hemric completed the top 10.

There were 14 lead changes for eight different leaders. The race featured four cautions for 22 laps. Only 12 of 38 starters finished on the lead lap.

Following the third event of the 2023 Xfinity Series season, Austin Hill leads the regular-season standings by 21 points over Justin Allgaier, 24 over John Hunter Nemechek, 34 over Chandler Smith and 44 over Riley Herbst.

Results.

1. Austin Hill, 19 laps led, Stage 2 winner

2. Justin Allgaier, 10 laps led

3. Chandler Smith, 118 laps led

4. Kyle Busch, four laps led

5. Josh Berry, two laps led

6. John Hunter Nemechek, 45 laps led, Stage 1 winner

7. Sam Mayer, one lap led

8. Riley Herbst

9. Sheldon Creed

10. Daniel Hemric

11. Parker Kligerman

12. Cole Custer

13. Tyler Reddick, one lap down

14. Jeb Burton, one lap down

15. Joe Graf Jr., one lap down

16. Kyle Weatherman, one lap down

17. Sammy Smith, one lap down

18. Alex Labbe, one lap down

19. Anthony Alfredo, two laps down, one lap led

20. Kyle Sieg, two laps down

21. Brandon Jones, two laps down

22. Brett Moffitt, two laps down

23. Kaz Grala, two laps down

24. Ryan Sieg, three laps down

25. Jeremy Clements, three laps down

26. Rajah Caruth, three laps down

27. Ryan Ellis, three laps down

28. Bayley Currey, three laps down

29. Jeffrey Earnhardt, three laps down

30. Josh Williams, three laps down

31. Josh Bilicki, four laps down

32. Gray Gaulding, four laps down

33. Brennan Poole, four laps down

34. Patrick Emerling, six laps down

35. Blaine Perkins, eight laps down

36. Garrett Smithley, 13 laps down

37. Parker Retzlaff, 14 laps down

38. Joey Gase – OUT, Fuel Pump

Next on the 2023 NASCAR Xfinity Series schedule is Phoenix Raceway in Avondale, Arizona, for the series’ third and final stretch of a three-week West Coast swing. The event is scheduled to occur next Saturday, March 11, at 4:30 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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