LAS VEGAS – Austin Hill said after struggling in the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series playoff opener one week ago that he was ready to come to Las Vegas Motor Speedway and win.
Hill called his shot then, and he backed it up Friday night with a dominant late-race performance in the World of Westgate 200, reigning victorious in Sin City for the second consecutive season.
The Winston, Ga., native charged past race-long dominator Sheldon Creed on a lap-96 restart and never looked back, fending off every advance that Creed made in the closing laps to secure the trophy.
Hill eventually crossed the finish line in front by .546 seconds for his sixth career Truck Series win and second of the season. The victory locks him into the Round of 8 ahead of the first-round cutoff race next weekend at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway.
“That’s the ironic thing, is that right after Bristol when we took the checkered flag I said, ‘let’s keep our heads up, we’re going to go to Vegas and win it.’ Heck, we did it,” Hill said. “We didn’t have the best truck tonight by any means. We had to fight a lot of adversity. Stages one and two, we weren’t good at all. Scott (Zipadelli, crew chief) and the guys kept working on it and got it better and better. The pit crew did a hell of a job on that last pit stop getting me in the position that I needed to get into. I just had to get out there and get it and that’s what we did.
“I knew clean air was huge, so I just had to get through the gears right and get to the lead,” Hill added. “I knew this Weins Canada Toyota Tundra could probably hold off everybody, but Sheldon (Creed) was definitely way faster than me.”
Creed’s pure pace was evident throughout the night, as the Alpine, Calif., driver led a race-high 89 of 134 laps and swept the first two stages virtually uncontested.
However, following a lap-90 caution for the stalled truck of Jordan Anderson, the ensuing restart six laps later saw Hill shoot to the lead on the bottom, while Creed fell back as far as seventh amid a four-wide scramble.
Creed quickly raced his way back up to the runner-up spot, but struggled to navigate the turbulent air off the rear of Hill’s truck as he tried to challenge for the lead late. Creed eventually tagged the wall with 11 laps to go, rallied back down the stretch, but didn’t quite have enough to get the job done.
“I was probably looking in my mirror more than I was looking out front. I knew he (Creed) was better than we were,” noted Hill. “I knew that I was going to have to protect, and that’s the first time I’ve rode the wall all the way around this place … so it was almost a little intimidating for the first three or four laps when I moved up. I knew as I disturbed his air that it would keep him behind me, though, and he would have to change his lane.
“When he went to the bottom and he made a little bit of time, I thought he might be able to get me because my truck was so tight at the end that there was no way I could go to the bottom. That was a heck of a battle between him and I. I hope all the fans at home enjoyed it.”
After the race, Hill dedicated the victory to crew chief Scott Zipadelli’s late daughter – Torie Costa – as well as Martin Truex Jr. Foundation cancer hero Cindy Adkins. One name was placed above each window of Hill’s truck in advance of Friday night’s race.
“We had some really special guests on the truck today. I’ve got Tori (Costa) and Miss Cindy (Adkins). Miss Cindy, we’re really thinking about her, she’s fighting cancer right now. Tori is Scott’s (Zipadelli, crew chief) daughter and she passed away a few years ago. Thinking about her. I know this means a lot to Scott; this is a tough time for him so just excited to get the job done for him,” Hill said. “Thinking about my father in-law right now, he’s really fighting a lot of adversity and been in and out of the hospital.
“With a lot going on with family, it’s really nice to get a victory.”
Behind Hill and Creed, Tanner Gray finished third for the second week in a row, matching his career-best finish after a late run through traffic.
Stewart Friesen was a season-best fourth and Chandler Smith crossed fifth.
Grant Enfinger, Zane Smith, Christian Eckes, Matt Crafton and Tyler Ankrum filled out the top 10.
Heading into Talladega, Ben Rhodes and Todd Gilliland are the two drivers at risk of elimination, sitting six and 19 points below the cutoff line in ninth and 10th in the standings, respectively.