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THOMPSON, Conn. -- Harrison Burton continues to put a disappointing rookie season in the rearview mirror with a sensational sophomore campaign.
The 16-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.
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.
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.
Four-time NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion Doug Coby, making his first K&N Pro Series start, finished fourth. Coby has four Whelen Modified Tour wins at Thompson.
Ronnie's brother, Dillon Bassett, rounded out the top five. Ryan Preece finished sixth, followed by Chase Purdy, Ruben Garcia Jr., Jay Beasley and Chase Cabre.
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.
Harrison Burton (12) chases down Todd Gilliland (16) in the late stages on Saturday's NASCAR K&N Pro Series East race at Thompson (Conn.) Speedway Motorsports Park. Adam Glanzman/NASCAR