Harrison Burton may have fallen out of championship contention weeks ago, but the 20-year old is driving every bit like one as he earned his second consecutive NASCAR Xfinity Series victory Saturday in the Draft Top 250 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway.
The driver of the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota held off veteran and NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoff contender Justin Allgaier by a mere .355-seconds and led 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 and his win was the rookie's fourth on the season. It came in the series' first race at Martinsville Speedway since 2006.
"Great race car and best team in the garage," Burton 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 -- 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. Gragson won Stage 1 and led 23 laps on the day. Chastain won Stage 2 and led 31 laps on the afternoon.
Pit strategy ultimately played 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.
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. Allgaier, 34 and who drives the JR Motorsports No. 7 Chevrolet, is in the final four for a fourth time. His previous best championship finish in this Playoff format was third - both in 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.
The NASCAR Xfinity Series decides the 2021 championship next Saturday in the Desert Diamond Casino West Valley 200 at Phoenix Raceway.
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.
Stage 1 Top Ten: 9,20,22,10,11,16,19,7,1,98
Stage 2 Top Ten: 10,9,11,7,22,19,02,16,20,13