What You May Have Missed from the NASCAR Truck Series at Las Vegas

After a complete disaster of a playoff opener last weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway, Austin Hill insisted he would win the next race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

He called his shot and backed it up with an important triumph on Friday night in the World of Westgate 200 in Sin City.

He called it. 😏@_AustinHill | #NASCARPlayoffs pic.twitter.com/lPRKmKQuSt

Hill first took the lead from a dominant Sheldon Creed on a Lap 96 restart and fended-off several charges from him afterwards. Hill crossed the line in front of Creed by .546 seconds for his sixth career Truck Series win and back-to-back autumn triumphs at Las Vegas.

“That’s the ironic thing, is right after Bristol when we took the checkered flag, I said ‘let’s keep our heads up, we’re going to Vegas and we’ll win it.’ Heck, we did it,” Hill said. “We didn’t have the best truck by no means.

“We had to fight a lot of adversity. Stage one and two, we weren’t good at all. Scott and the guys kept working on it and got it better and better.

“Pit crew did a hell of a job on that last pit stop getting me in the position that I needed to get into. I just had to get out there and get it. That’s what we did. I knew clean air was huge so just had to get through the gears right and get to the lead.”

The victory came at the expense of Creed, who won the opening two stages, but was derailed on that Lap 96 restart when a three-wide scenario knocked him briefly outside of the top-five.

LOOK. AT. THIS. 👀@_AustinHill takes the lead away from @sheldoncreed during an incredible restart! pic.twitter.com/Ig6XMfEwbf

He recovered and marched his way back to the front, but just couldn’t overcome the clean air advantage held by Hill.

At one point, Creed even hit the wall trying to get clean air and downforce on his nose.

“I had hopes still, I never gave up until the end,” Creed said. “I could see him getting free and I was hoping he would get free-er as we ran, honestly. I saw him get free into 1 and also 3, so if I could get close enough, he would jump sideways, and if I could get next to him, I could clear him.

“That was the hope there. Man, when he’s blocking the air like that, there’s not much more you can do, but that’s the unfortunate part of our sport sometimes.”

Here are some important takeaways from the Truck Series at Las Vegas.

1. Austin Hill Won to Lock Himself into the Round of 8

This was a important victory for Hill and the Hattori Racing Enterprises No. 16 team because they entered the second race of the first round on the elimination bubble to advance into the next round after what transpired the week before in Bristol.

Hill failed to score any stage points and ultimately finished 25th — falling to just eight points above the cutline.

The second race of this first round didn’t start any better. Hill was not happy with the handling of his truck and only scored one stage point through the first two segments. But crew chief Greg Zipadelli made the right adjustments and secured his driver track position.

Once Hill took the lead on a restart with 39 laps to go, a dominant Sheldon Creed just couldn’t overcome the advantage of clean air.

“I was probably looking in my mirror more than I was looking out front,” Hill conceded of keeping Creed behind. “I knew he was better than we were, and I knew I was going to have to protect.”

Again, this win was huge because if Hill finishes second with only one stage point, the No. 16 team wouldn’t enter the final race just 10 points above the cutline … entering Talladega.

“We needed this because we didn’t score very many stage points in stage one and two. Like I said, we just had to fight the truck all night long. We worked on it really hard. Scott made the right adjustments. Once I got clean air, I had to do my job as a driver and keep him behind me.

“It’s definitely a lot of weight lifted off my chest now that I know I can go to Talladega and have some fun and not worry about points or anything like that. We’re always here to go win the race and I think my heart rate was probably 200 beats per minute and it was just one of those dog fights. I thought it was a really good race and we did everything right.”

Meanwhile, Hill is now feeling a tremendous amount of confidence as the regular season champion and now the first driver to qualify for the Round of 8 — the Truck Series playoffs semifinals.

“I think we’re the best there is out there right now,” Hill said. “I know the GMS teams are really good right now. They’ve been really consistent and they’re going to be players.

“But if you look at consistency, and you look at everything we’ve done, we’ve gotten better on the short tracks. Phoenix being a short track, we’re working really hard on our package to be good at Phoenix and Martinsville for that matter.

“Richmond was really good for us. It just didn’t work out for us because we didn’t take tires when a lot of guys did and the race stayed green the rest of the way. We weren’t expecting that. But we had really good speed at Richmond, and we should have that at Martinsville and Phoenix.”

And to his point, no one has scored more overall points than Hill this season. He has three more top-15s than the closest contender. His 5.5. average finish is the best in the division this year.

And now they’re already in the second round.

And we’re off to the Round of 8!#Winning #NASCARPlayoffs pic.twitter.com/pn6GqLfWoQ

2. Ben Rhodes Limited the Damage

The box score shows Rhodes as finishing 23rd, and that’s not optimal, but that doesn’t tell the entire story.

Rhodes will enter the final race of the first round of the Truck Series playoffs six points below the elimination cutline, but it could have been considerably worse.

Rhodes finished sixth and fifth across the first two stages and scored nine championship points as a result, before a spin sent him backwards into the wall on Lap 85. Prior to that, the ThorSport No. 99 fought a litany of mechanical issues that included smelling oil inside the cockpit and a reduction of power at sporadic points during the first half of the race.

Had Rhodes not scored those nine points, he would have entered next weekend at Talladega 15 points below the elimination cutline and almost in a must-win scenario.

3. Talladega Means No One (But Hill) is Safe

Again, Friday night’s win was huge for Hill because he will have advanced to the second round no matter what happens next Saturday at Talladega.

Everyone else will need to score stage points and avoid the costly multi-truck incidents that could derail championship destinies.

Here’s the playoff outlook entering the final race of the first round.

1. Austin Hill (Advanced, win)
2. Sheldon Creed +52
3. Brett Moffitt +44
4. Zane Smith +39
5. Grant Enfinger +31
6. Tyler Ankrum +15
7. Matt Crafton +15
8. Christian Eckes +6

9. Ben Rhodes -6
10. Todd Gilliland -19

Even Todd Gilliland, who appears to be in a must-win mode next weekend could conceivably advance with a little luck.

All it would take is for a ‘Big One’ to claim the trucks of several playoff contenders, and for Gilliland to survive until the end, and that could be the difference between being on the right or wrong side of the cutoff.

Creed has the easiest path into the second round.

All he needs is 10 points over the course of the entire race to advance, regardless of what happens. Moffitt needs just 22 points to advance, but that’s a little too close for comfort should he be involved in an early incident or can’t score stage points.

That’s how close next Saturday stands to be.

RESULTS

1. Austin Hill
2. Sheldon Creed
3. Tanner Gray
4. Stewart Friesen
5. Chandler Smith
6. Grant Enfinger
7. Zane Smith
8. Christian Eckes
9. Matt Crafton
10. Tyler Ankrum
11. Johnny Sauter
12. Ryan Truex
13. Todd Gilliland
14. Dylan Lupton
15. Brett Moffitt
16. Tate Fogleman
17. Tyler Hill
18. Conor Daly
19. Spencer Davis
20. Raphael Lessard
21. Travis Pastrana
22. Clay Greenfield
23. Ben Rhodes
24. Austin Wayne Self
25. Danny Bohn
26. Ray Ciccarelli
27. Chase Purdy
28. Spencer Boyd
29. Josh Reaume
30. Derek Kraus
31. Jesse Iwuji
32. Jordan Anderson
33. Tim Viens
34. Jennifer Jo Cobb
35. Dawson Cram
36. Natalie Decker

What an experience! So much fun. Massive respect to these @NASCAR_Trucks drivers. P18 crossing the line on fire 😂 seems about right! This @NieceMotorsport team is fantastic. Let’s line up another one @TravisPastrana ! @iRacing @Fatheadz @ElliottsTrailer @wienerschnitzel pic.twitter.com/QTj3gLF26J


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