He considers that runner-up finish more of a disappointment than an accomplishment.
"It was a bummer," says Austin, 25, a graduate of Mt. Juliet High and a sophomore at Middle Tennessee State where he is majoring in aerospace engineering.
"To be so close to that first win and let it get away ... it hurt. I was in position to win, but got beat on the last restart."
Austin, who finished fifth in the Late Model championship standing, says his come-close finish in the season finale serves as motivation.
"I think we're going to come back strong," he says. "We didn't have a bad season last year, but it wasn't the season we'd hoped for. Coming close is not good enough."
Austin's dad Mike, a former standout racer in the 1989's, is even more blunt:
"Last year wasn't a good year," he says. "The competition is tough on that level, and it takes so much money to compete. It's hard to keep up with some of those other teams."
Mike, whose father John also raced, is quick to add that he and his son are not discouraged, and are eager for another shot at the title. They have made a major commitment to a new season that opens April 2.
"We've got a new car and a new trailer," he says. "We may also have a new sponsor. We're working on some things and may have an announcement soon."
"We've put in a lot of work in the off-season," Austin says, "and hopefully it will pay off."
Austin started racing go-karts at age seven, and by 13 was behind the wheel of a Pro Truck at Highland Rim Speedway. At 17 he was competing in the Rim's premier Late Model division. In 2014 he made his debut at Nashville's Fairgrounds Speedway where his dad was among the top drivers in the 1980s. In 2015 Austin was voted the Most Improved Driver in the premier series.
"Racing is all I've always wanted to do," he says. "It's been my entire focus."
Mike is encouraged by his son's determination, and optimistic about his potential.
"He's already better than I was," he says. "He's a good driver and a great kid who works hard and does well in school. He's never been in a bit of trouble. He's the greatest kid that anyone could ask for."
The Brawleys race out of the famed shop of Wayne Day Racing in Goodlettsville. Over the past half-century Day has fielded cars for some of the region's top racers, including Bobby Hamilton and Jeff Green, both of whom went on to win NASCAR championships.
Mike Brawley carried Day's iconic 31W Insulation sponsorship in his final race in the old Busch Series in 1996.
"We've got a lot of good people behind us, and that boosts a driver's confidence," Austin says. "It's like a football quarterback being surrounded by good players."
In addition to competing in the premier Late Model division at the Fairgrounds, Austin also plans to run the Short Track Nationals race at Bristol Motor Speedway on May 19. He may also enter the April 8 ARCA race at the Fairgrounds, but no decision has been finalized.
A grueling racing schedule, working toward a degree in a demanding major like aero-space engineering, and holding a part-time job makes for a hectic schedule for the young racer. But that's the dream he has chosen to chase, and he's determined to catch it.
"In racing you can't just sit back and wait for something to happen," Austin says. "You have to work for it."