Opener At New Smyrna Is Third Straight K&N Pro East Victory
NEW SMYRNA, Fla. — Offseason did nothing to slow down Austin Hill.
The 20-year-old picked up right where he left off last year in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, leading every lap Saturday in winning the Hart To Heart 150 Breast Cancer Foundation 150 at New Smyrna Speedway.
“To be able to sit on the pole and spend all 150 laps in the lead is really special for me,” said Hill, who earned the victory in the new K&N Pro Series chassis — which was unveiled in the offseason. “I can’t thank these guys enough, we’re a family owned racing team, we’re just trying to make it here. To be able to win with Ron Otto as my crew chief for the first time was amazing. We worked really well together.”
Hill finished 2014 with back-to-back wins at South Carolina’s Greenville Pickens Speedway and Dover International Speedway. And he kicked off his pursuit of a NASCAR championship with a dominating performance on the .48-mile high-banked oval just south of the “World Center of Racing,” Daytona International Speedway.
The NASCAR Next driver won his first career 21 Means 21 Pole Award and then survived a challenge on a green-white-checkered from rookie Dalton Sargeant to earn the win. The race ended under a yellow-checkered following an accident on the white-flag lap.
“I was getting worried on the restarts, five laps was about when my car would really start to get up and really go,” Hill said. “So about five laps I would have to hold them off and then it would finally get going.”
Sargeant, making his first series start, settled for second while Gaulding closed late to take third.
“It was just a car length off of first, so it’s a bit disappointing,” said Sargeant, who started ninth after an engine change in the morning. “But overall for my first race in the K&N Pro Series East, we had a really good run.
“It was intense for sure. This track is really tough if you’re starting on the bottom. You get pinched down and you spin the tires a little bit, it’s really hard to get the momentum rolling and get up on the outside to pass the guy. You definitely either have to make a dive-bomb attempt or have to be rolling around the outside pretty fast. But overall it was a good night.”
Said Gaulding: “I knew I was where I needed to be being on the high side. I wasn’t going to give up. It was just so tight out there and I just had to do everything I could to get my car to turn. Being able to finish third is a really good way for us to finish the night. I hate to lose more than anybody, but some nights you have to take finishes like this.”
Scott Heckert and Kyle Benjamin were fourth and fifth, respectively. Sargeant and Benjamin, as well as sixth-place Dillon Bassett and seventh-place William Byron are Sunoco Rookie of the Year contenders.
Nick Drake, Sergio Pena and Kenzie Ruston rounded out the top 10.
It was the fourth career win for Hill, who also won at Dover in 2013.
“I got to thank Robert Yates Engines, they give me awesome engines every week,” Hill said. “Every time we hit the track I know we have plenty of power. I can’t thank my dad enough, without him I wouldn’t be where I am today. Hopefully we can get this championship, we are on a good streak right now so hopefully we can keep it going.”
The NASCAR K&N Pro Series East will return to the track at Greenville on April 4.
The Hart To Heart Breast Cancer Foundation 150 will air on NBCSN on Thursday, Feb. 19 at 10:30 p.m. ET.