What most of us already knew was coming was formally announced on Tuesday – Austin Hill will be making his first career Cup Series start at Michigan International Speedway this Sunday for Richard Childress Racing.
With Tyler Reddick’s impending (and shocking) departure from RCR after the 2023 season, the team had to do something to find someone – either externally or internally – to try and replace Reddick’s production once he’s gone. It seems as though they are content to look internally, calling up 28-year old Austin Hill, who currently runs for their Xfinity Series program, to get his first taste of the Cup Series. But is he ready to take on the best that the sport has to offer?
Yes. And even if he wasn’t, he doesn’t need to be just yet.
While specifics beyond his race this week have not been revealed, this is a part-time deal that will presumably lead to more one-off races for Hill over the next year and a half, assuming he stays part time in 2023. From the outside, it seems as though RCR is taking a similar strategy with Austin Hill that they took with Daniel Hemric in 2018, when Hemric ran a couple of races in the Cup Series while running full time for their Xfinity Series team. Hemric went full time the following year, winning Rookie of the Year in 2019 – before being unceremoniously replaced by, that’s right, Tyler Reddick.
We’ll ignore whether this is Karma for the way RCR disposed of Hemric and keep moving.
As it sits right now, I imagine RCR will employ a similar strategy with Austin Hill as Team Penske did last season with Austin Cindric, where he was allowed to run seven Cup Series races while competing full time in the Xfinity Series – allowing him to get his feet wet in Cup without throwing him immediately into the fire.
Of course, there’s always the chance that Hill takes a one season stint in a full time Cup ride next year with another Chevrolet team, with the most likely being the 42 car for Petty GMS. Or, what if RCR shocks the world and announces a third full time car of their own? If either of those scenarios get announced, I’ll of course revisit this. For now though, it seems like a year and a half of part-time competition is the most likely scenario.
But ignoring the specifics of the deal, let’s take a look at what Austin Hill has accomplished in his 10 years competing in NASCAR to evaluate whether he’s truly ready to compete.
Hill has been racing in NASCAR sanctioned events since 2012, when he made his first start in the K&N Pro Series East. Over the next two years he would make a handful of starts in the series, collecting his first win in 2013, before running full time in 2014. 2014 and 2015 saw Hill collect four wins in the K&N Series along with 12 top-5’s. He would finish 5th and 3rd in the standings those years respectively.
2016 and 2017 saw part-time competition across a variety of series for Hill, particularly in the Truck Series where he competed in 22 races for his own team, Austin Hill Motorsports. In 2018 though, he would get the call to drive full time for Young’s Motorsports in the Truck Series. That year he would wheel the fledgling program’s truck to six top-10’s and an 11th place points finish.
Following the 2018 season, Hill would make the move to defending Truck Series champions Hattori Racing Enterprises for the next three seasons where he would really start to shine. Over the three year stretch from 2019 to 2021 Hill scored eight wins, and 45 top-10’s en route to points finishes of 5th, 6th, and 9th respectively. Over those three seasons he was also running part time for Hattori’s Xfinity Series team, running 15 races and scoring four top-10’s.
In 2021, Hill made the move to full-time Xfinity Series competition, signing on with Richard Childress Racing. Through the first 20 races of the season, Hill has collected two wins – one in the season opening race at Daytona, and a second one at Atlanta. He has also picked up 13 top-10’s, and eight top-5’s. As of writing this, Hill has scored a top-10 in seven consecutive races, and currently sits sixth in points.
I firmly believe that if RCR takes the same route that Team Penske took with Austin Cindric last season – let him compete in a few Cup races next season while running full-time in the Xfinity Series before making the move to cup full-time in 2024 – he can, and will be competitive. Even if he opts to take a full time ride with a lesser team next season before moving to RCR in 2024 he should be competitive – and that added seat time may help him once he makes the move over to RCR.
He won’t be a typical rookie at that point mind you – he will be either 29 or 30 years old depending on which route he takes – but that actually helps support the case that he’s ready for it. He isn’t just a kid – he’s a seasoned veteran who has been at this for a while, and is ready to make the final leap to the Cup Series.