Sitting in first place, you can afford to be patient. Twice avoiding skirmishes with the front runners, Austin Hill's patience has paid off with two-straight Thursday Thunder wins at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Hill has averted disaster on consecutive weeks, only to make his way to Victory Lane moments later and pad his points lead over his Pro class competition.
Some say he continues to "Jimmie Johnson" the field. Hill often finds himself in the right place at the right time, being the benefactor of good fortune and capitalizing on others' mistakes. He watches the leaders' tendencies from behind waiting to pounce. And once a mistake occurs - be it a wreck, bad corner entrance or slowing due to a fight for position - Hill jumps to the front, giving his competition a front-row view of his rear bumper.
"A lot of time, I just sit back and wait to see what happens," explained Hill, a native of Winston. "I'll let the guys up front battle and I just try to miss as many wrecks as I can. I just ride for a few laps, start to see how it plays out and pick off cars one by one."
Using his patient style, Hill currently leads the Pro class with 491 total points on the season, 45 more than his nearest competitor. While he has claimed three wins in just five 2009 races, it is Hill's consistency and knowledge that allow him to be successful. Hill has finished in the top-three in each race this year and not once finished outside of the top-10 as a Semi-Pro in 2008.
"I'm always thinking about what to do next to get around [the competition]," explained Hill. "I watch their style, whether they are tight or loose, and what areas or corners I am better than the competition in."
Hill's consistent, patient approach has been tested each of the last two week's.
In week four of the Thursday Thunder season, Hill knew his car was far from the fastest. Changing his line with each lap, he fought just to stay with the lead pack. As Hill passed the white flag, he noticed his competition beginning to race erratically towards the finish. Moments later, the erratic driving led to contact between the leaders, but Hill was able to back off the gas and avoid wrecking, sliding inside of the leaders to sneak past and claim the win. Hill pushed his points lead to 31 points.
One week later and armed with a much quicker car, Hill once again dodged calamity for a win. After spinning early in the contest and being sent to the back of the field, Hill worked his way back towards the front, yet entered the race's final lap in third. Hill assumed he wouldn't win, but when the leaders began jockeying for position, and thus slowing, Hill dove to the inside for a pass. Contact between the leaders would force Hill into the infield grass, but he was able to clear the leaders by turn four for the win. Hill's lead grew to 45 points.
"It definitely took some luck," said Hill, who has 13-career Thursday Thunder wins. "The first week was all luck that night. I didn't have the best car, I was too loose to pass and I was just going to follow the leaders. The second week, I had a good car and dove to the bottom when I saw contact and was hoping I wouldn't get caught up into it."
Despite holding a commanding points lead, five weeks of Thursday Thunder racing remain and Hill knows most anything can happen. Because Hill needs to balance patiently maintaining points position while racing against his closest competitors, he has specific goals for the remainder of the season.
"I'm just trying to finish in front of the people that are in second and third [in the points standings]," said Hill. "If I'm behind those guys, I'll be more aggressive to try to get ahead of them. Once I get a lead on them, I will try to ride it out.
"I'm going to try to win races in the process," Hill continued, "because I want to win and win the championship at the same time. You have to be patient and aggressive at the same time - it's a lot of thinking - you don't know whose going to try to take you out and whose going to be your friend."