Austin Hill said he wasn't expecting to be able to compete for a win at Virginia's Richmond International Raceway on Thursday night. He didn't think that he'd have a car good enough to contend, so he said he would settle for at least a top five finish.
But when the heavens opened up and the rain started to fall, Austin Hill found himself celebrating in Richmond's victory lane after the UNOH 100 was cut short at lap 70.
"I really can't believe I'm sitting here right now," said Hill after the race. "Especially how the day was this morning. I'm still in shock. I'm sure in a little while it'll come to realization that we won."
When Hill and his team unloaded their no. 22 Ford, they were only good enough for 28th on the speed chart after the first practice. He said his team battled hard all day long to find speed. While he was unsure if they had found it, Hill was able to start up front after qualifying was cancelled due to rain.
Once the race began, Hill used his third-place starting spot to quickly start a battle at the front of the field with points leader William Byron for the lead.
Hill and Byron ran side-by-side for a few laps before Byron cleared Hill to keep control of the lead. But Byron wasn't able to replicate that performance on the next restart.
Byron and Hill went into turn three on the lap 27 restart and made a slight bit of contact. However, the touch was strong enough to send Byron up the race track and back into the third spot as Scott Heckert was able to get by.
Now Hill had to contend with Heckert as they battled for the lead, but Hill cleared Heckert off turn two and never looked back.
"I knew I was going to have to get up on the wheel for sure," explained Hill. "Byron was really good, especially in clean air. Going into one I drove it off a little harder than he did and got a really good run off of two. Going into three my spotter said clear so I came down and we touched just a little bit. That caused Heckert to get by us so I set him up going into one and got back by him."
After Hill took the lead he was able to use that clean air advantage to pull away from Heckert and the rest of the field. Hill stretched his lead out to 1.6 seconds before the rain came on lap 61.
The field ran nine more laps behind the pace car before NASCAR called the race due to the falling rain, giving Hill his second win of the season, and first since the season-opener at Florida's New Smyrna Speedway back in February.
Dillon Bassett, Dalton Sargeant, Scott Heckert and Spencer Davis completed the top five.
Now the series heads to the Monster Mile of Dover International Speedway (DE) for the season finale on October 2, and Hill is back in championship contention as he should now be within 18 points of Byron.
However, Hill, the winner of the last two races at Dover, said that being in the title hunt doesn't change how he plans to race at Dover.
"Through this season, I've said that no matter what happens, we're going to Dover to try to get three wins there," said Hill. "I feel we are really good there and that's definitely my favorite track of all time. It's just one of those tracks that I really like. I think I'm going in there with the mindset to win."
To see an on-demand replay of today's Race Central Live coverage on NASCAR Home Tracks powered by Speed51.com, click here: http://hometracks.nascar.com/nknps-east/race-central-live-richmond_08312015
-By Rob Blount, Speed51.com Northeast Editor - Twitter: @RobBlount
-Photo Credit: Speed51.com photo
NASCAR K&N Pro Series East UNOH 100
Richmond International Raceway, Richmond, Virginia
|21||31||David Garbo Jr.|
|30||19||Charles Buchanan Jr.|