MOORESVILLE, N.C. — NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series regular season champion Austin Hill and his Hattori Racing Enterprises team both have the experience of competing under the pressure of the playoffs.
Hill made the postseason for the first time last year, while the Hattori team won the Truck Series championship in 2018 with Brett Moffitt and has been in playoff contention the last three years.
Returning to the playoffs for a second consecutive season, Hill is hopeful the lessons he and the No. 16 Toyota Tundra squad learned from their playoff run a year ago will help them this time around as the Winston, Ga., native pursues his first Truck Series title.
“I definitely think that (playoff) experience matters some, for sure,” Hill told SPEED SPORT during Truck Series Playoff Media Day on Monday. “It just helps because you’ve been there and it seems like when you get to the race track everything is a little bit more hyped up especially around all of the playoff guys. You have to get in a different mode almost and you have to really just focus in on racing and not listening to the outside noise or anything else.
“You just have to focus on what you’ve been doing all season that got you here and try not to change anything that you’ve done, which is hard to do,” Hill admitted. “When you get into the playoffs, you know that you’re racing a lot more points wise and more so (doing) that than just trying to win races. You’ve got to focus on stage points and you’ve got to focus on everything else. It’s very easy to kind of change what you’ve been doing all season that’s worked for you, but that’s something I feel like we’re going to be really good at this playoffs, is just staying true to what we’re doing and not changing things.”
Despite only winning one race this year, compared to a pair of regular-season victories and four total wins in 2019, Hill feels confident that his team is even stronger this year than it was a year ago.
“We’ve changed some setup stuff throughout the season that I think is going to help us on the short tracks. I think if we’re good at Bristol, we should make Phoenix unless something crazy happens, like wreck at Talladega and we end up close on points or something … or we go to Martinsville and we get in a wreck or something crazy,” Hill noted. “I think something crazy has to happen for us not to make the final four because of how good we’ve been all season long. I feel like we’ve been one of the best teams and it shows in being the regular season champion. It just shows that our consistency has been there all season long.
“We’ve only been outside of the top-10 twice and that’s because of having an engine issue one race and the other race, we were going for the win and got wrecked. That’s the only reason we’ve finished outside the top 10 this season,” Hill continued. “Other than those, we’ve finished inside the top 10 and gotten a lot of top fives and wins. I think that’s important and, hopefully, we can build on that.”
Knowing that he has those 14 top-10 finishes in 16 races as a foundation, Hill pointed out that type of consistency will still be key to advancing in the playoffs, even as a bigger emphasis is placed on wins.
“It’s definitely really tough,” Hill said of staying consistent in the postseason. “You are going into tracks where anything can happen. Bristol is one of those race tracks, where if you put yourself in a predicament, you can end up in a wreck very easily. Then you look at places like Talladega or Martinsville, and it’s one of those race tracks — especially Talladega — where you can be doing everything right, leading the race and end up in a wreck somehow. We just have to do our thing, which is being aggressive on restarts, being aggressive throughout the race to try to get stage points and trying to keep that clean air. That’s been the biggest success for us.
“Scott (Zipadelli, crew chief) and everybody at HRE has been doing a good job at being really consistent on where the truck is when we unload when we get to these race tracks,” Hill continued. “The setups and everything have been really close. We’ve had to work on it a few times throughout the season to make it a little bit better, but it’s been good.
“We’ve been strong all season and we just have to keep it up.”
As a parting shot, Hill offered a strong statement to the rest of his competition.
“I think that we’re going to be the team to beat this year,” Hill said. “I really do.”