By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Heading into Speedweeks, one team that’s stirred some buzz in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series for making a crucial driver switch, which was the ultimate case for Hattori Racing Enterprises, as they released defending champion Brett Moffitt in favor of Austin Hill of Winston, Georgia, and already has hit his stride when he topped the speed chart during final practice.
The 24-year-old clocked in at 46.646 seconds (192.943 mph), and while he’s satisfied of putting up an excellent lap, there’s still room for improvement that he sees could benefit him for Friday’s NextEra Energy Resources 250 at Daytona.
“It was really good. There’re a few things that we’re going to work on that we saw in the draft that we can actually make a little bit better,” said Hill. “Just some minor stuff that in the race that it’ll make me more comfortable in the draft.”
Adding to his comments, he also told Motorsports Tribune that it’s more about the HRE No. 16 squad than him that’s led to instant success for the new pair.
“These guys have been working their tails off,” said Hill. “I’ve been going over to the shop every day, hanging out with the guys and get to know them the best as I can coming to the track. All of their hard work is paying off that’s for sure. I give that lap time we ran, that’s all these guys. All I’m doing is holding the pretty wheel, and they’re the ones that’s making it go fast this weekend.”
Entering his second full-season, Hill has had success in the K&N Pro Series East before going into the Truck Series, where he was known for putting up impressive results at Young’s Motorsports, where last season, he scored his first career top-five at the November Texas race, finishing fifth and scored six top-10s to finish 11th in the final points tally.
Hill’s stellar runs caught the attention of owner Shige Hattori and marketing manager Mike Greci that they’ve decided to hire him full-time, which he felt it’s a career changer and is excited to see what he can bring to the table and prove that it’s the team, not Moffitt, that made HRE a top-tier Truck Series team.
“It’s very humbling. I’ve really worked my butt of to get to this point,” said Hill. “The fact that HRE believed in me. Greci was the one that made it happen and he saw something in me for running the Young’s truck that he wanted to see if we can make it all work out going forward in to 2019.
Hill added that he didn’t expect to be picked up by HRE and expected that he’d continue running for Young’s Motorsports, and the emotions didn’t kick in until he arrived at the “World Center of Racing.”
“It’s something that I didn’t see coming,” said Hill. “I figured I would run for Young’s Motorsports again, but when they approach me and made it all work, it was definitely a surreal moment. I don’t think it really hit home until we hit the race track this weekend and got strapped into the No. 16 truck and see what we had. To be able to go P1, it’s Daytona but it gives you a lot of momentum for sure.
For just this race, and hoping to keep them onboard for another race, Hill will have the silver and aqua CHIBA Toyopet livery as his primary sponsor and hopes to have a strong truck that he can compete for the win, but he’s also looking forward to the opening leg of the season with track such as Atlanta and Martinsville.
“Going into 2019, Daytona is one of those races I feel that we have a good enough truck to lead laps and as long as we make it to the end, I think we can win the race,” said Hill. “Anyone can win Daytona, but you just got to be in the right place at the right time but looking forward to the first five races that we got on the schedule.
“It’s one of those things where I want to go out there and show the world and all the fans in NASCAR that I’m for real and this team’s for real that Brett is not the only one who can jump into this thing and go fast.
“Our plan is to go out there and run fast and compete every weekend. We may not get a win right off the bat, but eventually I think we’re going to end up having a shot at one.”