Austin Hill survives wild finish for second consecutive Xfinity victory at Atlanta

Austin Hill flexed his superspeedway muscles and defended his home turf amid a late challenge from Parker Kligerman and the field during a two-lap shootout to win the RAPTOR King of Tough 250 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Saturday, March 18.

The 28-year-old Hill from Winston, Georgia, led three times for a race-high 103 of 163-scheduled laps, including the final 64, as he survived the track’s record 12 caution periods and on-track carnages from start to finish. Then during a two-lap shootout, Hill, who was being intimidated by Kligerman’s last-lap effort, avoided chaos himself by keeping his No. 21 Richard Childress Racing entry straight as Kligerman got bumped and was wrecking toward the finish while rubbing fenders with Hill for the win, which enabled the Georgian to capture a second consecutive Xfinity victory at his home track.

With on-track qualifying that was scheduled to occur on Friday canceled due to persistent rain, the starting lineup for Saturday’s main event was determined through a performance metric system. Based on the system, rookie Sammy Smith, winner of last weekend’s Xfinity event at Phoenix Raceway, started on pole position and was joined on the front row by teammate John Hunter Nemechek.

Prior to the event, Kyle Sieg and Joe Graf Jr. dropped to the rear of the field due to unapproved adjustments made to their respective entries.

When the green flag waved and the race commenced, teammates Sammy Smith and Nemechek dueled dead even for the lead amid two tight-packed lanes through the first two turns until Nemechek peaked ahead on the inside lane. Then through the frontstretch, Nemechek pulled his No. 20 Mobil 1 Toyota Supra in front of Smith’s No. 18 Pilot Flying J Toyota Supra as he led the first lap while teammate Ryan Truex battled Hill for third. During the second lap, the first caution of the event flew due to a two-car wreck involving Joey Gase and Caesar Bacarella on the frontstretch.

With the event proceeding under green on the seventh lap, Nemechek received a push from teammate Smith to pull ahead of Austin Hill and retain the lead through the first two turns and the backstretch. Through Turns 3 and 4, however, Hill carved his way into second place before being locked into a battle with Sammy Smith and Chandler Smith for the spot. Amid the battles, Nemechek retained the lead in front of the pack.

Through the first 10 scheduled laps, Nemechek was leading by a hair over Austin Hill, rookie Chandler, Sheldon Creed and Sammy Smith while Ryan Truex, Ryan Sieg, Cole Custer, Daniel Hemric and Riley Herbst were in the top 10. Shortly after, Hill muscled his No. 21 Bennett Transportation Chevrolet Camaro into the lead after overtaking Nemechek.

Then on the 11th lap and with Hill leading ahead of teammate Creed and Nemechek, the second caution flew following a vicious three-car wreck that involved Jeffrey Earnhardt, Kaz Grala and Garrett Smithley in Turn 3.

Following an extensive caution period and a restart on Lap 24, Hill and Nemechek dueled for the lead until Hill pulled ahead entering Turns 3 and 4. In the process, Creed followed suit in second along with Chandler Smith and Custer while Nemechek fell back to fifth. He then continued to lose spots on the inside lane as Ryan Sieg, Brett Moffitt, Parker Kligerman and Ryan Truex streaked by him on the outside lane. It would not be until Lap 26 that the caution returned due to another multi-car wreck that struck in Turn 1 when Kyle Weatherman got loose and hit the outside wall with Josh Williams and Jeb Burton also sustaining damage to avoid Weatherman. During the caution period, some like Sammy Smith, Justin Haley, Sam Mayer, Gray Gaulding, Joe Graf Jr. and Blaine Perkins pitted while the ret led by Hill remained on the track.

With nine laps remaining in the first stage, the race restarted under green. At the start, Hill received a push from teammate Creed on the outside lane to retain the lead ahead of Custer, who had drafting help from Ryan Sieg on the inside lane. Nearly a lap later, the caution flew for the fifth time due to debris on the frontstretch. By then, Hill managed to remain ahead of Custer with the top spot. During the caution period, some like Ryan Truex, Josh Berry, Justin Allgaier and Sage Karam pitted while the rest led by Hill remained on the track. Amid the pit stops, Josh Williams parked his car on the frontstretch and walked away from his car to the infield after being ordered by NASCAR officials.

With three laps remaining in the first stage, the race restarted under green. At the start, Hill retained the lead ahead of teammate Creed with drafting help from Custer. With Hill remaining out in front and transitioning from the outside to the inside lane for the following lap, Chandler Smith challenged Creed for the runner-up spot. Then on the final lap of the first stage, Creed launched his bid for the lead on teammate Hill after receiving a push from Nemechek through the backstretch and entering Turn 3. Then the first stage scheduled on Lap 40 concluded under caution when Chad Chastain and Patrick Emerling wrecked in Turn 4. Amid a duel between two Richard Childress Racing teammates, Hill was awarded the first Xfinity stage. Teammate Creed settled in second while Chandler Smith, Nemchek, Herbst, Moffitt, Ryan Sieg, Custer, Hemric and Kligerman were scored in the top 10.

Under the stage break, some of the drivers, led by Creed, pitted while the rest, led by Justin Haley and Brandon Jones, remained on the track.

The second stage started on Lap 47 as Haley and Anthony Alfredo occupied the front row. At the start, Haley and Alfredo battled for the lead in front of the pack while Nemechek launched a three-wide bid just outside of the top 10 entering Turn 1. With the field fanning out to three lanes entering the frontstretch, Alfredo made his way into the lead over Haley while Ryan Truex battled for third over Brandon Jones.

At the Lap 55 mark, the caution returned for a spin involving Chad Chastain in Turn 3. By then, Alfredo was leading over Haley, Jones, Ryan Sieg and Connor Mosack while Kligerman, Parker Retzlaff, Berry, Joe Graf Jr. and Ryan Truex were running in the top 10.

With the event restarting under green on Lap 60, Alfredo and Jones dueled for the lead with Ryan Sieg, Haley and the field following suit. As the battle for the lead ensued, the caution returned a lap later when Parker Retzlaff blew a right-front tire and slapped the Turn 1 outside wall.

During the following restart on Lap 66, Alfredo and Jones battled for the lead until Jones muscled into the lead on the inside lane while Alfredo lost the lead and lost a handful of spots on the outside lane. Behind, Kligerman launched his attack on Ryan Sieg for second as Jones remained as the leader. A few laps later, the eighth caution of the event flew amid a two-car wreck involving Connor Mosack and Hemric in Turn 4 after Mosack got loose. With the caution flying, names like Haley, Jeb Burton, Sammy Smith, Chandler Smith and Hemric pitted while the rest led by Jones remained on the track.

As the field restarted with five laps remaining in the second stage, Jones and Kligerman battled for the lead ahead of two tight-packed lanes until Jones peaked ahead through Turns 3 and 4. During the following lap, however, the ninth caution flew when Berry made contact and turned teammate Allgaier head-on into the outside wall on the backstretch, with Jeremy Clements sustaining damage while trying to dodge Allgaier’s damaged No. 7 RAPTOR Chevrolet Camaro. The multi-car wreck was enough for the second stage scheduled on Lap 80 to conclude under caution as Kligerman captured his first Xfinity stage victory of the 2023 season. Herbst settled in second followed by Brandon Jones, Creed, and Alfredo while Ryan Sieg, Berry, Hill, Custer and Joe Graf Jr. were scored in the top 10.

Under the stage break, names like Gray Gaulding, Patrick Emerling and Chad Chastain remained on the track while the rest led by Kligerman pitted for service. During the pit stops, Alfredo was penalized for having a crew member jump over the pit wall too soon.

With 77 laps remaining, the final stage started as Herbst and Kligerman occupied the front row. At the start, both of the front-runners dueled for the lead in front of two packs of cars, but Herbst kept his No. 98 Monster Energy Ford Mustang up front with Moffitt running towards the front. As the field fanned out to multiple lanes in the following laps, Herbst continued to lead ahead of Moffitt, Kligerman, Hemric and Brandon Jones while Creed was in sixth.

Down to the final 70 laps of the event, Hill muscled and carved his way back to the lead as the field towards the front continued to jostle for the lead. In the process, Nemechek carved his way back into the top five in fourth and Chandler Smith was in fifth while Herbst and Creed were in second and third. Six laps later, Herbst reassumed the lead from Hill while Kligerman, who fell back to sixth earlier, moved up to fourth.

With 50 laps remaining, Hill was out in front of a long line of competitors running towards the outside lane as Kligerman was in second followed by Moffitt, Chandler Smith and Ryan Truex. Behind, Hemric, Haley, Clements, Ryan Sieg and Herbst were in the top 10. Creed, meanwhile, fell off the pace from 10th place after suffering a right-front tire.

Following the event’s 10th caution period with 47 laps remaining amid a two-car wreck involving Patrick Emerling and Kyle Sieg in Turn 1, some that included Hill, Herbst, Truex, Jones, Gray Gaulding and Ryan Ellis remained on the track while the rest of the front-runners pitted.

During the following restart with 40 laps remaining, Hill peeked ahead of Brandon Jones at the start until Jones received a push from Custer to assume the lead. Hill, however, fought back on the outside lane as he had drafting help from Herbst with the pack behind locked in deep between two tight lanes. Not long after, Hill gained the momentum on the outside lane to clear Jones and assume the lead to both lanes while Herbst battled Jones for second. In the process, Custer remained in fourth while battling Truex while Ryan Sieg and Hemric battled for sixth.

With less than 35 laps remaining, Hill led in front of Herbst, Truex, Hemric and Custer on the outside lane. By then, Chandler Smith, who was running towards the front earlier, took his car to the garage due to a gearing issue. Then with 29 laps remaining, Kligerman gained a huge run on the inside lane to move his No. 48 Big Machine Racing Chevrolet Camaro all the way up to third place independently as he tried to blend in within the top-five front-runners. In the process, Hill retained the lead in front of Herbst and Truex while a majority of the field opted to remain in a long single-file line on the outside lane.

Then with nearly 20 laps of the event remaining, the battle for the lead intensified as Kligerman tried to challenge Hill for the lead while running on the inside lane. Despite receiving help from Alfredo, Jeb Burton and Haley, Hill continued to lead while defending both lanes to his control and having the clean air to his advantage. Kligerman, however, kept himself within the hunt as he battled Herbst for second.

With 15 laps remaining, the field fanned out to two tight-packed lanes as Hill continued to lead while Kligerman and Herbst battled for second. Behind, Jeb Burton and Alfredo moved into the top five while Hemric, Haley, Moffitt, Custer and Clements were scored in the top 10. By then, the top-17 competitors were separated under a second.

Down to the final 10 laps of the event, Hill retained the lead despite having Kligerman close to Hill’s rear bumper. Herbst was in third followed by Hemric and Alfredo while the top-19 competitors were separated by less than two seconds. Two laps later, however, the event’s 11th caution flew when Parker Retzlaff wrecked in Turn 4.

As the field restarted with two laps remaining, Hill, who received drafting help from Kligerman on the outside lane, was drafted to the lead ahead of Hemric, who restarted on the inside lane. Hill then was left on his own to fend for his lead amid Kligerman while Hemric kept the two leaders close within his sight.

When the white flag waved and the final lap started, Hill remained as the leader in front of a hard-charging Kligerman and Hemric. Then through the backstretch and with Hemric trying to get to Hill’s rear bumper, Kligerman made his move to Hill’s outside as he tried to draw his No. 48 entry even to Hill’s No. 21 entry. Then entering Turn 4 and the frontstretch, contact from Hemric turned Kligerman into Hill, though both managed to keep their respective cars straight as they rubbed fenders and traded paint. With Hill managing to keep his car straight, Kligerman was then bumped and turned by Hemric again as he spun and ignited a multi-car wreck across the finish line while Hill managed to pull away and capture the victory by 0.085 seconds over Hemric.

With the victory, Hill became the first three-time winner of this year’s Xfinity Series season as he captured his fifth Xfinity career victory in his 53rd series start. In addition to collecting his second straight win at Atlanta, Hill has notched three consecutive top-two finishes in three Xfinity career starts at his home track.

“[This win] really does [matter],” Hill said on FS1. “Just having my whole family here, growing up in Georgia, an hour down the road and growing up racing here on this little quarter-mile racetrack. I knew it was gonna be tough today. It just seemed like guys could get really good runs, a lot different than last year’s race the way that it unfolded. [Spotter] Derek Kneeland did a hell of a job on top of the spotter’s stand. Everybody with [Richard Childress Racing] and ECR Engines did such a phenomenal job. Really good pit strategy. We were on it all night. Once I got into the lead, I knew it was wreckers or checkers. When [Kligerman] hit me in the right rear, I’m guessing he got hit or something, I thought I was heading into the outside wall but was able to gather it up, bring [the car] on home. This is so special. That was a tough one to win. I can’t wait to celebrate this with my family.”

Amid the wild two-lap shootout and the carnage at the conclusion’s event, Hemric came home in second followed by Ryan Truex while Kligerman slid backward across the finish line to grab fourth place. Herbst, who also wrecked as he hit Kligerman and slid his car toward the inside lane before clipping Haley, managed to finish fifth while Moffitt, Berry, Nemechek, Mayer and Haley finished in the top 10.

There were a record 12 cautions for 68 laps. The event featured 13 lead changes for eight different leaders.

Following the fifth event of the 2023 Xfinity Series season, race winner Austin Hill leads the regular-season standings by 46 over both John Hunter Nemechek and Riley Herbst with Chandler Smith trailing by 77, Justin Allgaier by 84 and Sam Mayer by 92.

Results.

1. Austin Hill, 103 laps led, Stage 1 winner

2. Daniel Hemric

3. Ryan Truex

4. Parker Kligerman, five laps led, Stage 2 winner

5. Riley Herbst, 11 laps led

6. Brett Moffitt

7. Josh Berry

8. John Hunter Nemechek, 10 laps led

9. Sam Mayer

10. Justin Haley, five laps led

11. Ryan Sieg

12. Cole Custer

13. Brennan Poole

14. Anthony Alfredo, 18 laps led

15. Jeremy Clements

16. Jeb Burton

17. Sammy Smith

18. Patrick Emerling

19. Brandon Jones, 10 laps led

20. Gray Gaulding, one lap led

21. Sheldon Creed

22. Blaine Perkins

23. Ryan Ellis

24. Chad Chastain

25. Joe Graf Jr.

26. Kyle Sieg, two laps down

27. Parker Retzlaff – OUT, Accident

28. Chandler Smith – OUT, Rear Gear

29. Justin Allgaier – OUT, Accident

30. Connor Mosack – OUT, Accident

31. Sage Karam – OUT, Radiator

32. Josh Williams – OUT, Accident

33. Kyle Weatherman – OUT, Accident

34. Jeffrey Earnhardt – OUT, Accident

35. Kaz Grala – OUT, Accident

36. Garrett Smithley – OUT, Accident

37. Joey Gase – OUT, Accident

38. Caesar Bacarella – OUT, Accident

Next on the 2023 NASCAR Xfinity Series schedule is the series’ third annual trip to the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, which will also serve as the Dash 4 Cash qualifying event. The event is scheduled to occur next Saturday, March 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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