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Austin Hill, Chandler Smith miss the Daytona 500 field

The Duels are over, the field is set and we now know who has failed to make the 2023 Daytona 500 field.

Chandler Smith is just 20 years old, and was hoping to make his NASCAR Cup Series debut this weekend in the biggest race of the year.

With a Kaulig Racing car under him, his chances seemed decent. But things got off to a rocky start in qualifying, with mechanical gremlins meaning he never even got the chance to put up a competitive lap and time. No, if he wanted to be part of the Great American Race, he would likely have to race his way in.

Unfortunately, a speeding penalty in a race that went caution-free cost him dearly. He finished 18th in Duel #1, and failed to make the 500. Despite this, the young driver remained positive, and will be back on track later this weekend in the NASCAR Xfinity Series season-opener.

"Just taking an opportunity that Chris Rice and Matt Kaulig gave me there," he said post-race. "Before I said I'm fine if I don't make it, but it would be awesome if I make it. I believe everything happens for a reason. I'm I believer. I'm fine with this. I had a lot of fun right there. I learned a lot. Now I get what these guys talk about when you run on a Sunday you gain a lot of experience. That translates into Saturdays and Sundays.

"Even from that one Duel I learned so, so much, which was awesome and I'm taking that in. Yeah, I just can't thank everybody enough at Kaulig Racing, all the men and women that just put a full effort into coming down here and trying to attempt the Daytona 500 in a third car, first time as an organization. We weren't able to get it this year, but hopefully we can come back next year and make another attempt and get in on time."

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It was a lot harder for Austin Hill to swallow his elimination from the field. He was in a strong position, and his competitor over a lap behind. All he had to do was ride to the checkered flag. A winner at Daytona in both the Xfinity and Truck Series, he knows what it takes to succeed at the superspeedway.

He entered this event with Beard Motorsports, a part-time team that has made this race in five of the last six years. It seemed like a recipe for success, but at Daytona, luck has to be on your side. On Thursday night, that was not the case for the No. 62 Chevrolet.

When Kyle Busch crashed out of the race lead, Hill spun while trying to avoid the incident. He and several others were collected, ending his race. What turned out to be a Cinderella story for his rival, Conor Daly, was a bitter defeat for Hill.

“I was on the top and saw someone about lost it, can’t remember who, but I knew it was getting dicey," he said after falling out of the race.

"Going down the backstretch I actually rolled out of the throttle a little bit, but I had guys behind me and it wasn’t like I could jump out of the throttle. I saw the wreck started happening and dirt started coming across the race track.  When the dirt was going across the track I kind of lost sight of where the cars were that were wrecked and the next thing I knew was I was trying to get on the brakes pretty hard. I don’t know if I got in the dirt and it got me loose or the 15 (or 67) tagged me. I have no idea. Either way I started going toward the outside wall and I got a lot of damage. 

"I think the right front blower was broke and there was no way to fix it and it just ended our night.  It’s a bummer because we knew where the 50 was and we knew that he was multiple laps down and all we had to do was beat him. When we were single file, we were like, ‘hey, we are just going to run here’.  We were going to try and get some experience and learn the draft and see what the Cup cars do differently from the Xfinity cars. As soon as they got two wide through the tri-oval, I should have just bailed completely and lost the draft and not worried about it. I didn’t react fast enough and then the wreck started and we ended up in it. 

Austin Hill, Beard Motorsports, Chevrolet

Austin Hill, Beard Motorsports, Chevrolet

Photo by: John Harrelson / NKP / Motorsport Images

Hill lamented the decision to stay with the pack, and couldn't help but think about what could have been had he chosen differently.

"There is no reason why we shouldn’t be in the 500 from where the 50 was running and really it was just being dumb on my part and there is just no reason for that. I was the one holding the steering wheel and I should have just seen what was happening and just let those guys do their thing and we just fall back. Even if we fall laps down, it doesn’t matter as long as we stay in front of the 50. It stings, but we get to race on Saturday in the Xfinity car and I am really excited about that with RCR and hope we can go win that race.”

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