James Gilbert | Getty Images
James Gilbert | Getty Images

From humble beginnings, Austin Hill finds stability at RCR

It wasn’t long ago that Austin Hill was trying to find his footing in NASCAR. Now, he’s competing for one of the Xfinity Series’ Goliaths in Richard Childress Racing.

“I’ve never forgotten where I’ve come from,” Hill recently told NASCAR.com. “I’m very humble and very grateful to have the opportunity to be in really fast race cars. It makes it so much fun to go out and try to race for wins now. I don’t forget where I came from.”

Moving up the ranks, Hill competed for his family team in the K&N Pro Series East (Now, ARCA Menards Series East) before making stops with Camping World Truck Series underdog teams like Young’s Motorsports, Ricky Benton Racing, Empire Racing and Jennifer Jo Cobb Racing before landing at Hattori Racing Enterprises ahead of the 2019 season.

At HRE, Hill won off the bat at Daytona International Speedway. While driving the No. 16 truck, Hill won seven more times over the next three seasons, clinching the 2020 regular season championship.

“I think he learned a lot from Scott [Zipadelli, crew chief at HRE] and our team,” owner Shige Hattori said. “Three years with Austin, he became a great driver.”

But even when Hill succeeded, he saw the doubters. They continued despite him becoming a versatile driver, winning on a superspeedway, mile-and-a-half, road course and even on dirt at Knoxville Speedway.

“I get motivation from people that believe in me or don’t believe in me,” Hill added. “You’ll see tweets where it says, ‘This guy is terrible.’ And it just makes me laugh and dig that much deeper and harder to go show everyone that I can run up front, win races and can compete and run just as good as anyone out here.”

Building a program at HRE and becoming embedded with Toyota was hard to walk away from. Originally, Hill planned on staying in the Truck Series for the 2022 season to drive the No. 16 truck. However, neither side could agree to a deal.

That put Hill on the market, and last October, he landed a ride at Richard Childress Racing for a full Xfinity schedule.

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“For whatever reason, we weren’t able to make it work out,” Hill said.” I started looking around a bit, and there were a few places I could have went on the Xfinity side but I didn’t want to go because I’ve always said that if I was going to move up from trucks to Xfinity, I wanted to get in equipment that I thought I could win in.”

Admittedly, Hill had been talking to RCR for the past few years, trying to land a deal. This time, he had partners Bennett Transportation & Logistics and United Rentals follow him, adding on Global Industrial and Alsco.

Because of that, it was a no-brainer for Hill to move up to chase an Xfinity title.

“They could have easily gone and found someone else that probably had more money than what I brought,” Hill stated. “I feel like we’ve done a good job of finding the sponsorship and what it takes to win races with teams that we feel like are good enough to get the job done.”

A rugged, tough, relatable family man fits the RCR mold. In that way alone, Hill was the perfect fit to take over the No. 21 car.

“He’s a hard worker, good competitor and I like everything he’s done this year,” Austin Dillon, grandson of Richard Childress, said. “I thought he’d do a really good job and it’s panning out.”

Similar to when Hill joined HRE, he won his first race out with RCR at Daytona. It’s likely that win locked him into the playoffs, as seven series regulars have victories with 13 races remaining in the regular season.

Getting that first win off his chest early into his rookie campaign — acting like a series veteran — was important.

“It was a big boost,” Hill said of the win. “I feel like I’ve always been the underdog for whatever reason. We come to Daytona on the Xfinity side and win right off the bat, that just builds my confidence even more.”

Since Daytona, Hill has four additional top-five results, including runner-up finishes in consecutive weeks at Atlanta Motor Speedway and Circuit of The Americas, two distinctly different racetracks. The No. 21 Chevrolet also paced the field for more than half the race at Talladega Superspeedway before getting involved in a late incident, finishing 27th.

Currently sitting eighth in the championship standings, Hill has high aspirations for his rookie season. In a way, it’s win at all costs, believing he could potentially be a viable championship threat in the playoffs.

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As he noted, anything can happen if you make it into the postseason.

“I don’t ever try to come across as cocky because I don’t feel like I’m that type of guy, I feel like I’m a very confident person,” Hill continued. “For my rookie season, I’m going for the championship. It is what it is.

“Why not? I feel like our team is established enough and good enough that if we tweak on certain small things that we can win more races and compete for the championship.”

No matter what, Hill is going to do it with grace, knowing everything aligned with him to be in his current position.