DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Hattori Racing Enterprises started the new NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series season exactly like they ended last year: on top of the scoring pylon.
Armed with a new driver in Austin Hill, the No. 16 Chiba Toyopet Toyota raced to the No. 1 position in combined practice speeds on Thursday afternoon at Daytona Int’l Speedway.
Hill turned a quick lap of 46.646 seconds (192.943 mph) to lead a field of 39 trucks that took time ahead of the season-opening NextEra Energy Resources 250. The Georgia native replaced defending champion Brett Moffitt at HRE during the offseason, and the team showed Thursday that it hasn’t missed a beat.
“Our truck was really good today. There’s a few things that we’re going to work on that we saw in the draft, where we saw we could make the truck even better, but it’s all minor stuff that will make me more comfortable in the draft during the race,” noted Hill. “Otherwise, we’re really happy right now.
“All these guys have been working their tails off. I’ve been going over to the shop every day and getting to know them as best I can, and all their efforts are paying off,” Hill added. “That lap time – all I’m doing is holding a pretty wheel. They’re the ones making it go fast this weekend.”
Hill told SPEED SPORT that topping the charts in his first on-track day with HRE is a big moment.
“Man, I think going quickest on opening day is huge, at least for me,” Hill said. “I know that it’s Daytona and you have to get the right draft to put up a fast time, but it’s a huge confidence-booster. Scott (Zipadelli) and the rest of the guys … they don’t really know me well yet, so this breaks the ice a bit.
“I feel like this proves to all of us going forward that we’ve got a fast truck and we can contend and do what we’ve all set out to do here. Our gameplan is to contend for wins and this is a great start.”
A pair of 18-year-olds trailed Hill on the speed charts, with Kyle Busch Motorsports teammates Christian Eckes and Todd Gilliland timing in second- and third-fastest, respectively.
Eckes toured the 2.5-mile superspeedway in 46.647 seconds (192.938 mph) with the No. 51 SiriusXM Toyota, while Gilliland posted a time of 46.656 seconds (192.901 mph) in the No. 4 JBL Toyota.
David Gilliland was fourth in a DGR-Crosley Toyota and Gus Dean completed the fast five in a Young’s Motorsports Chevrolet.
All five of the top single-lap speeds came during the second of two hour-long sessions on Thursday.
Chris Fontaine, who was ninth in final practice, led the way during the opening round with a lap of 47.014 seconds in the No. 68 Rackley Roofing Chevrolet.
Codie Rohrbaugh, Austin Theriault, 2016 Truck Series champion Johnny Sauter and Matt Crafton completed the top five in first practice.
Qualifying for the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series kicks off at 4:30 p.m. Friday afternoon.