Harrison Burton continues to put a disappointing rookie season in the rearview mirror with a sensational sophomore campaign.
The 17-year-old from Huntersville, North Carolina, outdueled fellow NASCAR Next driver Todd Gilliland in a thrilling side-by-side battle for the lead and claimed the Busch North Throwback 100 at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park. It was Burton’s third win in the last four races and fourth win of the year out of eight starts.
It was a new name winner sporting his father Jeff’s retro surname.
“It’s awesome,” Harrison Burton said. “The Burtons, they’re kind of like a team. We all root for each other even if we’re racing each other. It’s cool that we’re kind of branching out a little bit and trying some new race tracks and I’m getting the opportunity to drive at race tracks like this and really have good race cars while I do it. … It’s cool to put the Burton name up somewhere else.”
Just past halfway through the 2017 schedule, Burton has already opened up a 22-point lead over Gilliland in the championship race.
Burton finished seventh in points last year in his first season, with five top 10s in 14 races and every manner of bad luck. What a difference a year makes. Saturday was his seventh top five in eight races, and his sixth-place finish last week at Michigan’s Berlin Raceway marked his worst run of the season.
“I was pretty focused so I didn’t really think about having fun, but it was fun looking back at it,” Burton said of his duel with Gilliland. “We kind of would try to make a run in the middle and it wouldn’t work and I’d fall back. I had to kind of slowly chip away and it finally fell right to where I kind of just drove it in and it stuck pretty well and it got to his door. From there it was just kind of side-by-side for a few laps and that was pretty fun and pretty intense. I don’t think I breathed a whole through it. Once we got clear it was just trying to be smooth.”
The series made its return to Thompson for the first time since 2009.
The historic Connecticut oval was a staple of the early years of the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, when it was primarily a New England-based series under the Busch North banner. Burton added his name to a list of series winners at Thompson that include NASCAR Hall of Fame nominee Mike Stefanik, Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers Martin Truex Jr. and Trevor Bayne, and former Cup driver Ricky Craven.
Burton was presented the trophy in Victory Lane by Joey Kourafas, who won the series’ inaugural championship in 1987.
To get there, Burton had to fight his way past Gilliland. The two engaged in a door-to-door battle for several laps before Burton took the lead on Lap 75 and pulled away. Burton finished .719 seconds ahead of Gilliland, who led a race-high 58 laps.
Ronnie Bassett Jr. came home third.
Earlier in the day, Purdy broke Truex’s track record in qualifying en route to collecting his third straight 21 Means 21 Pole Award presented by Coors Light.
The Busch North Throwback 100 will air on NBCSN on Thursday, July 13 at 7 p.m.
The NASCAR K&N Pro Series East stays in New England, as it heads to New Hampshire Motor Speedway for the United Site Services 70 on Saturday, July 15.
The complete results can be viewed below.