The future of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series was on display Sunday night in rural Georgia as Harrison Burton outdueled Erik Jones in a Super Late Model event at Watermelon Capital Speedway.
The 16-year-old captured the biggest victory of his young career against a stout field of 25 teams in the annual Champion Racing Association pre-season showcase. Not only did Burton outduel a 2017 Cup Series rookie-of-the-year candidate, he did so in dominant fashion but leading 161 of 200 laps.
Burton struggled to find mechanical reliability last season in both Late Models and his rookie NASCAR K&N Pro Series East campaign so the victory was a well-needed confidence booster.
“If you would have told me this in the middle of last year, I would have said ‘nope’ because I probably would have broken or wrecked or something,” Burton said in Victory Lane. “Last year was rough but I knew we were capable of this and being a force in racing.
“Sometimes it’s disappointing but that’s part of racing and it’s worth it when you have days like this.”
Burton first took the lead on lap 22 and only surrendered the top spot on two different occasions. He was amongst the second group of drivers to pit on Lap 106 but wasted no time getting back to the lead during the following restart.
He lined up fifth but was back in the top spot just two laps later.
“That was awesome,” Burton said. “The guys just kind of washed up in front of me. I took them three-wide, which was probably overaggressive, but I wanted to make sure we beat Erik (Jones) to the front because he’s been fast all weekend.”
Jones was the pole-sitter and led the first 23 laps and would get one more shot at Burton on a Lap 132 restart. Jones led at the line on two different occasions, but couldn’t keep it. Burton took advantage of the bottom line and led for good by Lap 135.
The elder Burton said he learned a lot about his son over the past year, during their collective rough patch.
“As a parent, you live your kids’ triumphs and you live their defeats,” he said. “Last year, think about, we just felt like there was a black stripe over everything we did. It was hard to watch.
“On the other hand, I watched my son to see how he would handle it. Everyone wants to win but I think you really see how much an athlete wants something when he has deal with the downs. I watched my son and he never got down. He would get disappointed, but he’d wake up the next day and he’d be ready to go.”
Jones held off a hard-charging Nasse to finish second. The soon-to-be NASCAR Cup Series rookie admitted he hadn’t raced nor watched Burton race much over the past few seasons. He had been looking forward to racing against Burton and was impressed by what he saw.
“They were just fast all weekend,” Jones said. “I thought they’d win the pole honestly. We were just too tight and you really saw that when we were up top. We just didn’t have the drive off that we needed. But we’ll take second.”
The race also featured NASCAR Xfinity Series contender Brandon Jones and rookie Spencer Gallagher.
The complete results can be found below.
- Harrison Burton
- Erik Jones
- Stephen Nasse
- Zane Smith
- Chase Purdy
- Christian Eckes
- Jeff Choquette
- Chandler Smith
- Casey Roderick
- Raphael Lessard
- Brandon Jones
- Scotty Ellis
- Chris Dilbeck
- Steve Dorer
- Bubba Pollard
- Jerry Artuso
- Martin Latulippe
- Brandon Setzer
- Connor Okrzesik
- Spencer Davis
- Kyle McCallum
- Austin Thaxton
- Derek Scott Jr.
- Jordan Pruitt
- Spencer Gallagher