LAS VEGAS (AP) — Austin Hill, the regular-season Truck Series champion, rebounded from a poor opening race of the playoffs with a victory Friday night at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Hill had dropped from first in the standings — where he'd been ranked since the second race of the season — to eighth in points after he finished 25th last week in the playoff opener at Bristol. It was just the third time this season Hill finished lower than 12th and dropped him to the edge of playoff elimination.
He held just an eight points lead over ninth-place before Las Vegas and two drivers will be cut from the 10-driver field next week.
Hill also won at Las Vegas last September and has six career victories. He said the finish at Bristol made him determined to bounce back with a strong showing at Las Vegas.
Hill is the only driver locked into the second round of the playoffs.
“Right after the checkered flag I said ‘Hey, let’s keep our heads up. We are going to Vegas and win,'" Hill said. “We did it, man. We didn't have the best truck tonight by no means.”
Shelden Creed had the best truck and won the first two stages, but Hill passed him in the third stage and wasn't challenged as he drove to his second win of the season.
Creed finished second and was followed by Tanner Gray, Stewart Friesen and Chandler Smith.
“Just frustrated, the best track I’ve ever had,” Creed said. ”We're all racing hard, this is the playoffs. I think I showed my hand too early."
Minutes before the start, NASCAR said Natalie Decker was not medically cleared to compete. NASCAR gave no details on what caused Decker to be pulled from the race, but because her truck had already been through inspection and moved to the starting grid, Decker was credited with a last-place finish.
Decker has made 11 starts this year and missed the June race at Pocono after she was hospitalized due to bile duct complications related to her gallbladder removal in December.
IndyCar driver Conor Daly and X-Games star Travis Pastrana both entered the race for Niece Motorsports. It was Daly’s first career Truck Series race and fifth for Pastrana, who also raced at Kansas in July. Daly finished 18th, and Pastrana was 21st.