By Brian Smith
Going around Dover International Speedway at more than 150 mph is a pretty nerve-wracking experience. Doing so sideways is even more so. And it usually doesn’t result in finishing the race, much less winning it.
But Austin Hill was able to accomplish that in Friday’s “Drive Sober 150” presented by the Delaware Office of Highway Safety NASCAR K&N Pro Series East race. He saved his car after contact with Brennan Newbury on Lap 98 that sent him sideways, and then needed just 17 laps to drive from 13th back to the lead. About 30 laps later, Hill took the checkered flag by just over five seconds to win the race. It marked the second consecutive year that Hill won the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East race at Dover.
Hill first took the lead on lap 69 during a round of pit stops, but at that point, it wasn’t all that great in his eyes. It was only at the race’s halfway break that things changed.
“We came in the pits, made a huge swing at it, and the car came to life then,” he said.
For the next 25 or so laps, the race was all Hill and Newbury. They battled to a caution at lap 91, and then Newbury was able to take the lead off the restart the following lap. The two were side-by-side heading into lap 93, but that’s when Newbury got loose going into Turn 1 and made contact with Hill before spinning out. The contact sent Hill sideways too, but he was able to make the recovery and drive off with the lead.
“I don’t even know how I saved it, to be honest with you,” Hill said. “I don’t even remember what happened. I just know me and him got together and somehow I got through it without spinning out.”
He didn’t come out completely unscathed though. The contact ripped off the valve stem on the left rear, and the tire started going down. That forced Hill to the pits for new rubber, and when he came back out, he was 13th.
“I was pretty bummed out about that,” Hill said. “[At that point] I thought if I could get a top 5, that would be great.”
But such thoughts turned out to be nonsense. Once racing resumed, Hill found that despite the contact with Newbury, his car was unstoppable.
“When we went back green and I could run the top and pass people on the top side, I knew I could have a shot at it, since we had more than 50 laps left,” he said.
His dominance from that point was astounding, often allowing him to make up as much as half a second per lap. After he got back to the front, it was just a matter of keeping the car pointed forward for the rest of the race.
“Once I took the lead I just never looked back,” he said. “I can’t believe that we won two in a row here.”
Hill’s win spoiled the hopes Ben Rhodes may have had of ending his championship season with a victory, but Rhodes had plenty to be happy about – including the fact that he didn’t have to worry about how things went in the race to cement his title. He finished in 14th, two laps down.
“I’m glad we had a points lead going into this race because we had some bad mechanical issues,” he said. “The motor didn’t feel right from the green flag, and I was hoping it would hold in long enough. I didn’t want to jinx us so I didn’t say anything, but the motor had other plans.”
Kaz Grala finished second with a commanding lead over everyone except Hill, taking that spot by his own five-second cushion. Scott Heckert, Eddie MacDonald and Brodie Kostecki rounded out the top five, followed by Sergio Pena, J.J. Haley, Gray Gaulding, Ryan Gifford and Dylan Presnell.
For complete results, click here.