By AMANDA VINCENT
Austin Hill led a race-high 103 laps of the 163-lap Raptor King of Tough 250 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Saturday en route to his third win in the first five races of the 2023 NASCAR Xfinity Series season. It was Hill’s second-consecutive win Atlanta and continued his string of top-two finishes in all three races there since the track was reconfigured.
“It’s special, just having my while family here and growing up in Georgia, an hour down the road, and growing up racing on this little quarter-mile race track,” Hill said. “I knew it was going to be tough today. I knew guys could get really good runs.”
Daniel Hemric finished second, and Ryan Truex was third.
The race concluded with a two-lap, green-flag sprint to the finish after a track record 11th caution for Parker Retzlaff on lap 155. Parker Kligerman battled Hill for the lead the final two laps but wrecked with Riley Herbst and Brennan Poole as Hill took the checkered flag.
Kligerman crossed the start/finish line backward, sliding to a fourth-place finish. Herbst rounded out the top-five.
“Once I got to the lead, I knew it was wreckers or checkers. When (Kligerman) hit me in the right-rear – I’m guessing he got hit or something – I thought I was headed to the outside wall, but I was able to gather it up and bring it on home,” Hill said. “This is so special. It was a tough one to win.”
Hill dominated the second half of the 163-lap race after taking the lead from Herbst on lap 93. Herbst was first off pit road after the second stage to lead at the halfway point of the race.
Both Hill and Herbst maintained their positions when they were among a handful of drivers who stayed out during the 10th caution of the race for a Kyle Sieg/Patrick Emerling incident on lap 117.
Sheldon Creed edged out Richard Childress Racing teammate Hill to win the first of two 40-lap stages. Hill led most of the opening stage after taking the lead from John Hunter Nemechek on lap 11.
Nemechek started on the front row alongside Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Sammy Smith and took the lead on the first lap.
More than half of the first stage was run under caution. The yellow flag waved four times in the first 40 laps, including a lengthy caution on lap 12 for an incident involving Garrett Smithley, Kaz Grala and Jeffrey Earnhardt.
Debris from Josh Williams’ car resulted in a lap-32 caution. Williams was parked by NASCAR, and in protest, he parked his car on the track’s start/finish line and climbed out. He was called to the NASCAR hauler because of the incident.
Williams was deemed to be in violation of a rule that states, “At the discretion of the Series Managing Director, if a damaged vehicle elects not to enter pit road on the first opportunity or if a damaged vehicle exits pit road before sufficient repairs have been made and thereafter causes or extends a caution (e.g. leaking fluid, debris, etc.), then said vehicle may incur a lap(s) or time penalty or may not be permitted to return to the race.”
Kligerman won stage two at lap 80. The second stage ended under caution after Justin Allgaier spun from contact from JR Motorsports teammate Josh Berry on lap 78.
The high attrition rate continued into the second 40 laps with three additional cautions in the stage.
The high rate of cautions in the first half of the race resulted in varying pit strategies. A different group of drivers was up front for stage two after pitting during stage one and staying out after the first stage. Justin Haley and Brandon Jones were up front for the first restart in stage two.
Anthony Alfredo took the lead on lap 50 and led the most laps in the stage before losing the lead to Jones on a lap-67 restart from a lap-62 caution for a Retzlaff tire.Kligerman took his stage-winning lead on lap 77, one lap after a restart from a lap-69 caution for an incident involving Connor Mosack and Hemric.
Herbst was first off pit road after stage two to restart with the lead for the second half of the race.
Finishing sixth through 10th Saturday were Brett Moffitt, Berry, Nemechek, Sam Mayer and Haley.