WATKINS GLEN – When the green flag flies Saturday for the NASCAR Xfinity Series Zippo 200 here at Watkins Glen International, Lockport native Mike Hillman Jr., will be sitting atop the pit box supervising his Richard Childress Racing crew and driver Brandon Jones as he navigates his way through the twist and turns of the fabled Glen road course.
Hillman is the crew chief for RCR’s NASCAR Xfinity Series No. 33 Roland Chevrolet which will start 22nd in the Zippo 200. Hillman Jr., a NASCAR veteran who has served on various teams and in various series in his long NASCAR career of nearly 20 years is currently enjoying his new assignment with RCR.
“I’ve been with RCR eighteen months and have worked with Brandon Jones all year this year,” said Hillman. “I worked for Turner-Scott Motorsports before I came here. I’m having a blast at RCR and running this with Brandon in his rookie season and I’m learning a lot and having fun doing it.”
To date, after 19 Xfinity races in 2016, Jones sits eighth in points sporting eight top-10 finishes and has finished every race. This has pleased Hillman.
“I think we have over exceeded our expectations and our team has done a great job,” said Hillman. “We’re just trying to learn and get better week in and week out.”
Hillman is quite busy this weekend supervising many team personnel and wearing many different hats, all part of his crew chief role.
“Once the pit crew guys get here, there will be about 15 guys on the crew that I’m responsible for,” said Hillman. “I have a lot to do. Sometimes I will be in the truck lounge with the engineers planning our next changes and sometimes I’m hands on out with the car and the mechanics trying to make sure everything is just the way we want it.”
Like every other team here this weekend, prepping the car for the newly repaved surface has been a challenge.
“I think they did a really great job repaving this race track,” said Hillman. “It’s Brandon’s first time here in an Xfinity car and he’s learning every time he goes out this weekend. So am I.”
Life for a NASCAR crew chief is a busy one especially when one divides their weeks between time at both the shop and on the road at the track. It has left Hillman no time to return to Lockport for family and friend visits.
“I’d love to get back to Lockport but it’s been way too busy,” said Hillman. “We have a road course race again next week (Mid-Ohio) so it’s going to be hard to hang out here and it would be good to get home to see family and friends but it’s just not going to happen on this trip.”
Joey Logano earned the pole Friday for the Zippo 200.
Saturday’s schedule includes Cup Series qualifying at 12:15 p.m. followed by The Zippo 200 at 2 p.m.
Buescher grabs attention
Chris Buescher and his Front Row Motorsports team have had quite the week ever since Buescher emerged victorious in the rain/fog shortened Cup Series race last Monday at Pocono. With the win, Buescher has become a possible player in this year’s Chase for The Cup.
Buescher practiced his No. 34 CSX Play It Safe Ford here Friday and will hope for a good result in Saturday’s Cup Series qualifying for Sunday’s Cheez-It-355 At The Glen.
After the 26th race of the season next month in Richmond, any driver who has at least one win and emerges in the top 30 in Cup Series points will make the 16-driver, final 10 race Chase for the Cup.
Buescher enters Sunday’s Cheez-It 355 At The Glen with the victory but is currently 31st in points just six markers begin David Ragan. Buescher knows that following Pocono, much of the spotlight has shifted in his direction.
His quest to land in the top 30 begins this weekend here.
“A lot of things have changed really quickly this week,” said Buescher, the 2015 NASCAR Xfinity Series champion. “It’s moving so fast so I really haven’t had a chance to take a step back and look through all of it. The win at Pocono changes our whole year.”
Last season at The Glen Buescher finished 37th in the Cheez-It-355 At The Glen after starting 32nd and also finished a strong third in the Zippo 200 last August.
“We ran extremely well in the Xfinity race here last time around,” said Buescher. “I absolutely love Watkins Glen. It’s a very unique road course compared to anywhere we go. In the No. 34 Cup car here last year due to a mechanical malfunction on lap one we did not get the finish we wanted but we practiced extremely well and we qualified pretty decent. I feel like coming back we should be in pretty good shape this weekend.”
Front Row’s sponsorship portfolio could gain quite a bit due to their recent win as well.
“At the end of the day this has added huge publicity for us and it’s a huge way to try and sell some more sponsorship on the car,” said Buescher. “If we can sell more sponsorship this season and really fill out the empty slots that would be big for our organization.”