HOMESTEAD, Fla. – Austin Hill wasn’t part of the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series championship picture, but that didn’t stop him from stealing a chunk of the spotlight Friday night at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Under the floodlights at the 1.5-mile South Florida oval, Hill used a bullet-fast No. 16 Toyota Tundra to carve up the competition en route to his fourth victory of the season.
The Winston, Ga., driver led five times for a race-high 56 laps, passing Matt Crafton for the final time on lap 112 after a round of green-flag pit stops in the final stage and never looking back after that.
Hill drove away down the stretch, taking the checkered flag in front by 1.569 seconds over Crafton.
“I just have to give this one to all to my guys,” Hill said in victory lane. “This is probably the best truck that I’ve had. I know we were really good at Vegas, but man, this thing was good. At Vegas we were on a different tire strategy than other guys, but we weren’t this time and we just showed then how good we actually were.
“I can’t thank everybody on this team enough. We had a great year this year, and we made a lot of noise that I’m really proud of,” he added. “This win locked up the manufacturer’s championship for Toyota, too, so I’m really glad that I could be a part of that and help that out. An awesome way to end the year.”
In a race that only saw one caution aside from the two stage breaks, which came on lap 50 for an oil leak out of Ray Ciccarelli’s ailing truck, Hill made his money running the bottom groove all night long.
It was a strategy that mirrored Brett Moffitt’s race- and title-winning plan from a year ago with Hattori Racing Enterprises, and it paid off with many of the same dividends for Hill on Friday night.
The only prize Hill’s win didn’t bring was a driver’s championship, as he was eliminated from playoff contention following the penultimate race of the season at Arizona’s ISM Raceway on Nov. 8.
“I’m excited for the win, but at the same time it stings a little bit because I know if we would have been a little better in the Round of 6, we could be celebrating a win and a championship,” Hill noted. “We were so close to having a shot at the title, but we can’t hang our heads too far, because we ran so strong tonight and I’m proud of this effort.
“Ending the season on a high is a big deal and I’m excited to work with these guys again in 2020.”
Crafton, who finished second, secured his third Truck Series title by outdueling Championship 4 rivals Ross Chastain (fourth), Brett Moffitt (fifth) and Stewart Friesen (11th) in the winner-take-all event.
The Tulare, Calif., veteran tied Jack Sprague (1997, 1999, 2001) for the second-most championships in Truck Series history with his effort, adding to back-to-back titles in 2013 and 2014.
Crafton became the first winless champion in Truck Series history and in any NASCAR series since the dawn of the elimination playoffs, with seven top-five and 18 top-10 finishes in 23 races.