Harrison Burton may have fallen out of playoffs contention weeks ago, but the 20-year old is driving every bit like a champion right now, earning his second consecutive NASCAR Xfinity Series victory Saturday afternoon in the Draft Top 250 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway.
The driver of the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota held off veteran and Xfinity Series playoff contender Justin Allgaier by a mere .355s, leading the final 53 laps of the race to become the youngest winner (20 years, 22 days) in series history at the famed half-mile track – bettering his own father Jeff Burton’s mark (23 years, two months, 24 days).
Burton’s 81 laps out front on the day was best in the field, his win the fourth on the season coming in the series’ first race at Martinsville Speedway since 2006.
“Great race car and best team in the garage,” Burton excitedly told his father, a broadcaster on the NBC race telecast as he made his way to the finish line for a victory burnout.
While it was an important personal triumph for the second-generation driver, Burton’s victory had an important impact on the ultimate championship battle as three of the final four championship-eligible positions were decided by points. Allgaier’s runner-up effort was good enough to allow him to transfer to the title round next week at Phoenix, joining Saturday’s 10th-place finisher Austin Cindric, 12th-place finisher Justin Haley and seventh-place Chase Briscoe, who had already advanced with a win two weeks ago.
Crossing the line just behind Burton and Allgaier to round out the top five Saturday were Noah Gragson; the winner’s cousin, Jeb Burton; and Ross Chastain, with Gragson and Chastain falling just short of advancing into the Championship 4 round.
Brandon Jones (ninth place) and Ryan Sieg (11th place) also failed to earn a position in the Championship 4.
Those motivated to earn a title shot certainly put in the effort, however. Gragson won the Stage 1 and led 23 laps on the day. Chastain won Stage 2 and led 31 laps on the afternoon.
Pit strategy would play a big role: Non-championship contenders such as Burton and veteran A.J. Allmendinger (who led 68 laps) were able to gamble on pit stop timing and track position. Allmendinger had the lead after the Stage 2 restart and he and Burton were the only two drivers to trade the top position from there out while the early leaders navigated back up through the field in traffic, dicing through cars pursuing their own agendas.
Of the four drivers who have advanced to decide the championship next week at Phoenix, Allgaier is the only one with previous experience in the Championship 4. This will be the 34-year old driver of the JR Motorsports No. 7 Chevrolet’s fourth chance to earn the title. His previous best championship finish in this Playoff format was third, scored in both 2016 and 2017. He is a three-race winner this season.
Briscoe, 25, who has a series best nine victories in the No. 98 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford, has a best championship finish of fifth – last year.
Cindric, the regular season champion and a five-race winner in the No. 22 Team Penske Ford, is also making his Championship 4 debut. His previous best showing was sixth place in last year’s championship.
Haley, 21, the driver of the No. 11 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet and three-race winner in 2020, will also be making his Championship 4 debut.
“A lot of boxes checked for us today, I feel like we’ve had to points race the entire Playoffs,” Cindric said. “And it’s been really annoying. We’ve brought some really fast race cars to the tracks in the last few weeks and our guys did an incredible job coming to the race track with no notebook and really basing it off the Ford simulator of notes from the Cup guys. Really proud of that effort. It’s a year’s worth of work and going to try to go take advantage of it next week.”
“I think we have to go there prepared to win the race,” Cindric added.
Half of the Championship 4 Are Indiana Natives
Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart have been retired for a few years now. But, the next two greats from Indiana may be on their ways up. Mitchell’s Chase Briscoe already knew that he’d have a shot at this year’s championship due to his win in the opening race of the Round of 8 in Kansas. Briscoe, is the championship favorite heading to Phoenix next weekend with nine trips to victory lane in 2020, including three of which in the last seven races.
But, he will be joined by Winamac’s Justin Haley too. This will be Haley’s first Championship 4 appearance as well as the 21 year old has quietly been strong in the postseason with three top seven finishes in his last five starts.
Briscoe, is moving up to the Cup Series to take over Stewart’s No. 14 Ford ironically enough while Haley returns to his No. 11 Chevrolet in 2021 with dreams of moving up to Cup for 2022.
These could be the next two Indiana greats.
Cindric Backing His Way Into The Championship 4
Austin Cindric was at one point the championship favorite. Not Chase Briscoe. During one stretch this past summer, Cindric had five wins in a six race span with a runner-up as his lone finish not of a win in that time frame. Unfortunately, his No. 22 Ford hasn’t visited victory lane since.
Cindric, enters Phoenix next Saturday without a win in his last 13 starts and just two top five finishes in his last eight races overall. He’s had one top five all playoffs at that.
Cindric, was only 10th in his No. 22 Ford on Saturday in Martinsville. Can he overcome this and win a title in the Arizona desert next weekend?
Gragson Has Solid Playoffs, 1 Bad Race Cost Him
Playoff points accumulated during the regular season allowed Austin Cindric to take a wildcard spot to the Championship 4. Two top seven finishes and a 12th on Saturday allowed Justin Haley to take the other spot. But, when looking at Noah Gragson’s stats this postseason, you’d wonder how he’s not a part of this.
Gragson, had a top three finish in five of the six races run during these playoffs. The only time he didn’t was when he was caught up in an early race crash in Kansas two weeks ago. He’d finish 36th that night. He narrowly missed out on the Championship 4 because of that.
Gragson, did his best on Saturday in winning the first stage and finishing second in Stage 2 for 19 much needed bonus points in Martinsville. Unfortunately, he couldn’t get past his teammate Justin Allgaier for second in the closing laps in order to try and catch Harrison Burton for the win in the end.
Gragson, settled for third in his No. 9 Chevrolet for his second third place result of the 2020 postseason. He also has three runner-ups too, including last Saturday at Texas to where he was passed by Burton on the final lap in the final corner for the heartbreaking defeat.
If Gragson wins that race, then he’s championship bound as the hottest car out there. Instead, his season will end with a fifth place finish at the very best when it’s all said and done.
Chastain Solid All Year, No Wins Cost Him
Ross Chastain will move up to the Cup Series in 2021. But, he so badly wanted a championship for Kaulig Racing in 2020. Chastain, just didn’t have enough in his No. 10 Chevrolet and missed making the Championship 4 by just four points to his teammate Justin Haley.
Chastain, had a solid season. He had 16 top 10 finishes in the first 18 races run. He extended that to 23 in the first 26 races at that. But, he had three finishes of 12th or worse in the playoffs and without a win all year, his championship dreams are dashed despite having a top 10 car for much of the year.
Chastain, came home fifth in his No. 10 Chevrolet on Saturday and scored 17 much needed stage points. He just didn’t have enough.
JRM Shines In Martinsville
Burton may have won in his No. 20 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing, but JR Motorsports had a solid outing too. They finished 2-3-4 behind him with Allgaier, Gragson and Jeb Burton nearly running down Burton.
If Gragson could have got by Allgaier and Burton, then JRM would have put two cars in the Championship 4. Instead, they’ll have to settle for one.
Burton A Future Star In 2021?
Harrison Burton had a bad first round of the 2020 postseason. He finsiehd ninth, 23rd and 33rd respectively. That eliminated him from championship contention as a result. But, just look at what he’s done in this round.
Two straight wins.
If he made it out of the opening round, then Burton not only would be Championship 4 bound, but he’d be the favorite for the title. Does this make him a favorite for 2021 now?
Briscoe and Ross Chastain are graduating up to the Cup Series next year. Burton, can at the very least end this year with two wins in his final three races. He started his rookie campaign with three top two finishes in his first four races. His worst result in that span was fifth. Through his first 10 NXS starts in 2020, he had a top 10 in each.
With how he’s looking now, Burton is going to be a championship threat next season.
NASCAR Xfinity Series Race – Draft Top 250
Saturday, October 31, 2020
1. (10) Harrison Burton #, Toyota, 250.
2. (6) Justin Allgaier (P), Chevrolet, 250.
3. (2) Noah Gragson (P), Chevrolet, 250.
4. (8) Jeb Burton, Chevrolet, 250.
5. (4) Ross Chastain (P), Chevrolet, 250.
6. (24) Riley Herbst #, Toyota, 250.
7. (5) Chase Briscoe (P), Ford, 250.
8. (11) Michael Annett, Chevrolet, 250.
9. (7) Brandon Jones (P), Toyota, 250.
10. (1) Austin Cindric (P), Ford, 250.
11. (9) Ryan Sieg (P), Chevrolet, 250.
12. (3) Justin Haley (P), Chevrolet, 250.
13. (14) Brett Moffitt(i), Chevrolet, 250.
14. (39) JJ Yeley(i), Ford, 250.
15. (23) Jeremy Clements, Chevrolet, 250.
16. (15) Tommy Joe Martins, Chevrolet, 250.
17. (34) Timmy Hill(i), Toyota, 250.
18. (12) Brandon Brown, Chevrolet, 250.
19. (13) Josh Williams, Chevrolet, 250.
20. (38) Mason Diaz, Toyota, 250.
21. (25) Joe Graf Jr #, Chevrolet, 250.
22. (19) Jesse Little #, Chevrolet, 249.
23. (22) Myatt Snider #, Chevrolet, 249.
24. (35) Stefan Parsons, Chevrolet, 249.
25. (27) Colby Howard, Chevrolet, 248.
26. (36) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 248.
27. (16) Alex Labbe, Chevrolet, 247.
28. (20) Jeffrey Earnhardt, Chevrolet, 246.
29. (26) Kody Vanderwal #, Chevrolet, 246.
30. (33) Kyle Weatherman, Chevrolet, 246.
31. (28) Donald Theetge, Chevrolet, 245.
32. (37) Carl Long, Toyota, 244.
33. (29) BJ McLeod, Toyota, 239.
34. (17) Ryan Vargas, Chevrolet, 233.
35. (30) Gray Gaulding(i), Chevrolet, Electrical, 230.
36. (21) Bayley Currey(i), Chevrolet, Accident, 178.
37. (32) Chad Finchum, Toyota, Engine, 120.
38. (18) Matt Mills, Toyota, Oil Line, 103.
39. (31) Josh Reaume(i), Chevrolet, Suspension, 62.
Average Speed of Race Winner: 61.673 mph.
Time of Race: 2 Hrs, 7 Mins, 56 Secs. Margin of Victory: 0.355 Seconds.
Caution Flags: 10 for 63 laps.
Lead Changes: 11 among 6 drivers.
Lap Leaders: A. Cindric (P) 0;A. Cindric (P) 1-42;N. Gragson (P) 43-63;H. Burton # 64;J. Yeley(i) 65-69;H. Burton # 70-80;N. Gragson (P) 81-82;H. Burton # 83-92;R. Chastain (P) 93-123;A. Allmendinger 124-184;H. Burton # 185-190;A. Allmendinger 191-197;H. Burton # 198-250.
Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): Harrison Burton # 5 times for 81 laps; AJ Allmendinger 2 times for 68 laps; Austin Cindric (P) 1 time for 42 laps; Ross Chastain (P) 1 time for 31 laps; Noah Gragson (P) 2 times for 23 laps; JJ Yeley(i) 1 time for 5 laps.