BRISTOL, Tenn. – Austin Hill walked into the media center on Thursday at Bristol Motor Speedway buoyed by a recent surge of momentum for both himself and his Hattori Racing Enterprises team.
Not only is Hill the most-recent NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series race winner, taking down the regular-season finale at Michigan Int’l Speedway last weekend, he also led final practice at Bristol Motor Speedway in advance of the UNOH 200 presented by Ohio Logistics.
That has the Georgia native optimistic for the Truck Series playoffs, as he seeks to deliver team owner Shige Hattori a second-straight championship, following on from Brett Moffitt’s title a year ago.
“Having some momentum is huge for us, just because we had such a bad stretch and our season after Daytona was kind of a rollercoaster,” Hill told SPEED SPORT. “It was a really bumpy ride. We had a lot of good finishes and a lot of really bad finishes. To be able to come off a win and coming into this weekend I feel like there’s a ton of confidence in the HRE camp.
“I feel like there’s a ton of momentum going in, and being able to go out there and turn a lap like we did in practice and then be on top of the board in second practice, I think that just helps everything.”
Hill’s fast lap – and the second-quickest time of the day around the .533-mile concrete oval – was 15.189 seconds (126.328 mph) with the No. 16 Toyota Tsusho Tundra.
It came after Hill’s team switched the “entire front end package” of their truck following first practice.
“We really weren’t looking at the lap times a whole lot,” noted Hill. “When we ended first practice, we thought we needed to be a little bit faster, but we weren’t too concerned. The biggest thing is just having a truck that drives really good and will handle traffic really well.
“I was able to get behind a few trucks and I felt like it drove fairly decent in traffic,” he added. “I felt like it could have been a little bit better when I got really close on somebody … but I was really happy with how it drove. I felt like if anything, we might be a little on the tight side, so that’s something to look at.”
– Current NASCAR K&N Pro Series East point leader Sam Mayer is doing double duty Thursday at Bristol, competing in the Bush’s Beans 150 for the K&N East cars before also strapping in for his Truck Series debut under the lights.
Mayer won the K&N East race in April at the concrete coliseum by leading all 150 laps, and was busy during the day with three and a half hours of practice, split between the K&N car and the Truck Series.
He was all smiles after hopping out of his No. 21 Manpower Silverado, however, going sixth and second in the two hour-long Truck Series sessions held before lunchtime.
“That was fun!” Mayer grinned. “It’s a busy day for me, and a lot to learn on the truck side, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Hopefully we can contend for two trophies tonight; I think we can, because we had a lot of speed in our GMS Racing truck. Hopefully we can keep making it better.”
The 16-year-old Wisconsin native did take a visit to the infield care center, presumably for fluids on a humid, 84-degree afternoon, following the 90-minute K&N practice session, which ended at 1:25 p.m.
– Also notable in Truck Series action on Thursday was NASCAR on NBC analyst Parker Kligerman, back in action behind the wheel with the locally-based Henderson Motorsports operation.
Wheeling the No. 75 Food Country USA Silverado, Kligerman was 17th and 13th on the speed charts, respectively. He’s a two-time Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway winner in Truck Series action but has never won on a short track in the series.
– Thursday marks the first time the K&N Pro Series has accompanied the Truck Series on the fall Bristol card, replacing the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, which raced at Connecticut’s Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park on Wednesday night.
NASCAR modifieds competed at Bristol for a decade from 2009 to 2018, with nine different winners during that span. Justin Bonsignore won the final modified event at Bristol last August.
– Making his return to the NASCAR Xfinity Series for the first time since ISM Raceway in November of 2017, Erik Jones swept a pair of practice sessions for that division on Thursday afternoon.
Jones’ best lap came in the first of two hour-long rounds, a clip of 15.385 seconds (124.719 mph) in the No. 81 iK9 Stars and Stripes Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing affiliate team Xtreme Concepts Racing.
The Byron, Mich., native is a two-time Xfinity Series winner at Bristol, topping back to back spring races at the track in 2016 and 2017.