NASCAR Next Drivers Put On A Show In K&N Pro East Opener At New Smyrna
NEW SMYRNA, Fla. – If Sunday night’s NASCAR K&N Pro Series East finish is any indication, the sport’s future is going to be exciting.
Todd Gilliland and Harrison Burton, a pair of NASCAR Next drivers, put on a two-lap brawl that had fans on their feet at the finish and social media buzzing long after the checkered flag flew.
Gilliland emerged with the victory in the New Smyrna 175, diving under Burton for the lead on the white flag lap and winning the drag race down the back stretch. Cole Rouse, another rising young star, nearly made it three-wide across the line and stole the runner-up spot from Burton at the finish.
"Hard racing for the win," Gilliland said of the battle. "That stuff is going to happen. We were both very hungry to get the win."
Burton, who led 79 laps, lost the top spot on Lap 131. But with two to go, he used a bump-and-run into Turn 3 to take the lead back. Gilliland, though, muscled his way by less than a half-lap later.
The victory was the sixth career on the East for the 17-year-old, and was his 19th victory combined in the K&N Pro Series.
"Luckily we put this Toyota Camry in Victory Lane." said Gilliland, who will be running a split schedule between the K&N Pro Series and Camping World Truck Series after winning the last two K&N Pro West titles. "I can’t thank everyone on my team enough. It’s a dream come true to be back here."
The Sherrills Ford, North Carolina, driver started from the outside of the front row after Burton won the pole, and the two swapped the lead back and forth throughout the race. The major twist in the battle came when Gilliland and the rest of the leaders pitted during the first of two race breaks on lap 63 and Burton stayed on the track.
Burton found himself in fuel conservation mode for the rest of the race – up until the final few laps of battling.
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"We were saving gas from the beginning of the race," Burton said. "At the end of the race, you aren’t think about it when you are racing like that, but I’m sure we were pretty close. It was just two guys going hard for the win, that’s what we come to do, we are both racing for the W."
Rouse’s Bill McAnally Racing teammate, Derek Kraus, finished fourth.
Tyler Ankrum, who blew a motor in practice and was forced to start at the tail end of the field, nearly drove to the front and rounded out the top five.
Spencer Davis finished sixth, followed by Anthony Sergi, Ronnie Bassett Jr., Tyler Dippel and Brandon McReynolds.
The New Smyrna 175 will air on NBCSN on Tuesday Feb. 27 at 6 p.m. ET.
The NASCAR K&N Pro Series East returns to the track on April 14 at Bristol Motor Speedway for the Zombie Auto 150.