RICHMOND, Va. — Austin Hill secured the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series regular season championship with a quiet eighth-place finish in Thursday night’s ToyotaCare 250 at Richmond Raceway.
Though he was a lap down at the checkered flag due to a long green-flag run and major tire falloff at the end of the night, Hill did more than enough to maintain his place at the top of the standings after the 16th race of the season.
Hill ended the regular season with a 42-point margin over GMS Racing driver Brett Moffitt, securing a 15-point bonus for his No. 16 Hattori Racing Enterprises squad.
That, Hill noted after the race, was the mission coming into Richmond. It wasn’t necessarily about going for the victory, though, it would have been a bonus had he won.
“It definitely means a lot and that was our ultimate goal coming in here tonight,” Hill said of the regular-season championship. “After as good as we were in stage one leading those laps, we thought we were going to win stage one until tires got put on and we fell a few positions back. But all in all, it was a really good effort from everyone at HRE. Scott (Zipadelli, crew chief) and all the guys, they worked really hard.
“The end of the race just didn’t fall our way. We really thought a caution was going to come out and we wanted to leave a set (of tires) laying just in case a caution came out with 30 or 40 (laps) to go,” Hill continued. “It went green the rest of the way and all those guys who pitted had the edge. We just started fighting really free entry and really loose off on the long run. Then I was just kind of holding on at that point. I was praying for a caution. I think we still had a shot at it if the caution could have come out. If we had 20 or so laps to go, we could have had a shot at the win still.
“All in all, though, we did our job today getting the 15 bonus points and the regular season title, which is really nice to have those bonus points. It stings a little bit because we definitely felt that we had a better truck tonight than an eighth-place finish, but we’ll go forward now and see what we can do in the playoffs.”
While Hill took the regular-season title, he won’t begin the postseason as the top-seeded driver.
That honor belongs to GMS Racing’s Sheldon Creed, who was a three-time winner during the regular season, had five individual stage victories and added six more playoff points by ranking fifth in points after 16 races.
Creed will open the playoffs with 2,026 points — four more than Hill and Zane Smith, who tied for the second seed. Smith earned the tiebreaker on race wins, with two to Hill’s solo victory.
A 13th-place finish Thursday night at Richmond wasn’t anything to write home about for Creed, but he knows his team has the strength to contend for a championship.
“I think we’ve got good trucks coming, not just myself, but for the whole organization,” Creed said. “We didn’t really know what we were going to have for this race. I believed we would be better, but we struggled all night here at Richmond. We made some good adjustments before the end of stage one and drove up into the top 10, but I had to focus so hard on what my truck was doing and how to drive it.
“I had to change my driving style so much throughout the run. It was a lot of fun, but it’s a lot more fun running up front,” Creed added. “We’ll keep our heads down though, stay focused and move forward. Last year I had no wins at this point and this year I have three, so we’re moving in the right direction.”
Grant Enfinger, who won Thursday’s regular season finale at Richmond, is the No. 4 seed with 2,019 points. Like Creed, Enfinger was a three-time winner in the first 16 races, most among all drivers.
The remainder of the playoff drivers, in order of seeding, are Brett Moffitt, Ben Rhodes, Matt Crafton, Christian Eckes, Todd Gilliland and Tyler Ankrum.
Gilliland and Ankrum secured the final two playoff berths on points with their runs during Thursday’s race. Ankrum finished fifth, while Gilliland was 17th.
Rookie Derek Kraus was the first driver below the playoff cut line, missing the postseason by 13 points.
The NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series playoffs commence Sept. 17 at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway.