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Rookie Burton Joins Father As A Winner In Texas

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, October 25 2020

Harrison Burton upended the Xfinity Series Playoffs drivers Saturday at Texas Motor Speedway. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Jim Fluharty)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

FORT WORTH, Texas _ Rookie Harrison Burton joined his father in the Texas Motor Speedway record book, and jumbled the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs landscape, with an improbable victory in Saturday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 300.

Burton, who is not Playoffs-eligible, drove under season-long rival and Playoffs contender Noah Gragson exiting Turn 4 on the 200th and final lap to score his third series victory and first at TMS. Jeff Burton, Harrison’s dad, posted the first NASCAR Cup Series victory of his career in the inaugural Interstate Batteries 500 here on April 6, 1997.

Working with veteran crew chief Buddy Parrott at what now is Roush Fenway Racing, Jeff Burton passed Todd Bodine with 58 laps remaining and beat fellow-Ford driver Dale Jarrett to the finish line by 4.067-seconds. The race was slowed by 10 cautions, which included a multi-car accident in Turn 1 of the first lap. Jeff Burton went on to record 21 career Cup victories.

Burton also became the first repeat Cup winner at TMS with a victory in the Samsung 500 on April 15, 2007 while driving for Richard Childress Racing. Similar to Harrison’s victory, Jeff led one time for one lap, shooting past Matt Kenseth en route to the win by 0.410-seconds.

The Burtons now are the first father-son winners in the 24-year history of “The Great American Speedway.”

“That’s always cool,” said Harrison, who turned 20 on Oct. 9.  “I love winning at places that I grew up either watching my dad win at or seeing videos and pictures of my dad winning. Seeing pictures of my mom (Kim) crying and my dad excited and all that. I grew up kind of watching that stuff.”

For added drama, the elder Burton, 53, called the final moments live on national TV in his role as NASCAR analyst for NBC Sports Group.

When my racing career kind of took off in a way where I had opportunities to come to the places that my dad had raced at,” Harrison said, “it was always cool to kind of remember what I did here as a kid, playing on the playgrounds or eating at the racetrack or being in the motorhome lot with other kids in here.

“Now, to kind of write my own or be my own man and do my own thing here is awesome. Obviously, I haven’t done it at the level that my dad did yet and he’ll probably still hold that over me as much as he can. But hopefully one day I can do that as well.”

Harrison’s margin of victory was 0.445-seconds. His first two victories came at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., in March and Homestead-Miami Speedway in June.

“We had such a fast race car,” said Burton, referring to his No. 20 Morton Buildings/DEX Imaging Toyota Supra fielded by Joe Gibbs Racing. “I’ve never driven anything harder than that last corner in my life. I don’t know how it stuck.

“I’ve never spun out (on Lap 107) and then come back and won, so that’s kind of cool. We were obviously pushing the limits all day with speed. That’s just kind of what we came to do was to be fast, and to win our first stage of the year (Stage 2/Lap 90) was a good sign. To do what we did on that last lap was incredible. I don’t know how it happened, but I’m pretty damn glad it did.”

Gragson, meanwhile, was bidding to join Chase Briscoe as a winner in the three-race Round of 8. Briscoe’s ninth victory of the season for Stewart-Haas Racing at Kansas Speedway last Saturday punched his ticket into the Championship 4 at Phoenix Raceway on Nov. 7. If one of the seven other Playoff-eligible drivers wins at Martinsville Speedway next weekend, the remaining two slots will be filled by points. Gragson was well-aware of the ramifications of Burton’s bold move.

“Just frustrated at myself,” said Gragson, driver of the No. 9 Bass Pro Shops/True Timber Camo Chevrolet Camaro fielded by JR Motorsports. “I knew he (Burton) was coming, just didn’t expect him to get there.”

Burton was fourth when the race restarted on Lap 186 after the day’s 10th caution flag for a backstretch wreck involving Playoff contenders Justin Allgaier, Ross Chastain and Brandon Jones. Burton inherited third when Playoff contender Austin Cindric slid up the track on “a river of speedy-dry” on the restart. Burton then passed Anthony Alfredo for second on Lap 198. That set up his one shot at the checkered flag.

“Honestly, the last few laps there behind the No. 21 (Alfredo), I was running the bottom through there and I was making good time,” Burton said. “But once I went up to the PJ1 (traction compound), I felt that was the place to be. I’m in a position with us being out of the Playoffs now, where I can just say, ‘Hey, if I wreck, I wreck. I’m going for the win.’ I drove the car in probably too deep and got on the gas probably too soon and for whatever reason it stuck. If I could do that every lap, I wish I could, but I think we saw earlier in the race that I can’t because I spun out trying to do the same thing. I’m not really sure how or why it stuck, but I’m pretty excited that it did.”

The only other Playoffs drivers to finish in the top-10 were Cindric in fourth and Justin Haley in seventh. Cindric now is second in points, 30 behind Briscoe after his 24th place finish in the No. 98 Ford Performance Racing School Mustang. Pole-sitter Briscoe led the first 35 laps despite two caution flags, but a broken rear shock mount sent him to the garage for repairs with 10 laps remaining in the 45-lap opening stage.

Cindric is second in the overall standings, trailing Briscoe by 30 points and 14 above the transfer cutline.

“I have no idea what emotion I’m supposed to feel right now,” said Cindric, driver of the No. 22 Menards/Richmond Ford. “Obviously, it was a grind all day.  I have no idea how Harrison won, but points-wise that does a lot for me. Good job to him. I don’t  know whether to be disappointed, upset, happy I’m out of here, but we’re up in the points a lot more than what we came with, so I’ll sleep with one eye open and go to Martinsville.

“If the last two weeks are any indication, the blinders are out in the Xfinity Series. All of us have been losing our minds, so hopefully that’s not us and we come there and we have a shot to win.”

Allgaier, who finished 26th in his No. 7 Sam’s Club/Hellman’s Camaro, is third in points and 36 behind Briscoe. Haley, driver of the No. 11 LeafFilter Gutter Protection Chevy, is fourth and 40 behind the leader in the final transfer slot.

The post-race Playoffs point totals: Briscoe (3,133), Cindric (3,103), Allgaier (3,097), Haley (3,093), Jones (3,089), Chastain (3,078), Gragson (3,069) and Ryan Sieg (3,050).

Burton said that while his plans for the 2021 season have not been confirmed, he feels he is “heading in the right direction” with his team and partners at JGR. Harrison added the advice and counsel of his father are much appreciated but can only go so far.

“As far as actually driving goes, I kind of have to rely on my own experience,” Harrison said. “You feel things your own way, you drive the car your own way and you want the car to be a certain way so you can drive it yourself, not so someone else can drive it. For actually driving, once I got older, my dad stepped back.

“What my dad was always great at and what I want to be great at one day is the mental side of the game. My dad was always trying to be the best he could be. It kept him up at night knowing that other people were working trying to beat him. I kind of have that same drive in me as well where if I hear someone is working hard, that makes me want to work harder than them.

“The talks that mean the most between me and my dad (are about) digging deep. This is such a hard sport. There are so many things that can’t go your way and so many things that can go your way and sometimes you can’t explain why or why not they happen. Being mentally tough, something that my dad always was, is really important to me and something that I’m really proud to have from my dad. He’s a hero to me, so that’s definitely cool.”

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, October 25 2020
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