Column By: JOHN DOUGLAS / RPW – DAYTONA BEACH, FL – In his maiden voyage in any type of car on the big Daytona International Speedway, young Harrison Burton showed everyone he was up to the task as he was able to win the ARCA 200 on Saturday afternoon.
Christian Eckes a native of Middletown, NY led the field to the green flag in the ARCA 200 at Daytona and quickly jumped out to the top spot over Thad Moffitt and Leilani Munter in her final start as a driver. Tyler Dippel, another of the Southern Tier contingent at Daytona found himself searching for a place to file in and ride.
It only took four laps for things to get scary at the World’s Center of Racing, as defending race champion Michael Self was turned into the backstretch infield grass where he launched into the air. Luckily the car settled back down on all four tires and Self was able to continue.
The restart on lap seven again saw Eckes pull out quickly to the lead with Moffitt and Munter in lock step, however the high line began to make progress on the leaders. The assault led by Harrison Burton proved fruitful as he momentarily took the lead away from Eckes as the bottom line began to separate.
Burton assumed the lead on lap 10 as he moved down in front of Eckes and solidified his position. Gus Dean also took full advantage of the outside line’s momentum as he took the fight to Eckes. Just six laps later, Dean, still running the outside line found help in the form of Natalie Decker. That was all he needed to move down in front of Burton for the lead.
Joe Graf Jr. found trouble early with overheating issues and was forced to pit on lap 19. The team pitted his car multiple times, however the overheating persisted.
After a shaky start, Dippel found himself riding inside the top ten in ninth with 22 laps complete. The Wallkill, NY native in the Ken Schrader Racing Ford was eager to find more as he drafted with Munter who had split off from the lead group of five cars. Around two seconds separated the top five from the pack behind.
Thad Moffitt was called to pit road on lap 25 of 80. His window net came detached which ARCA requires to be attached to compete. On lap 27 Moffitt came to pit road, took a full load of fuel and the team attempted to re-fasten the window net, however Moffitt fell one lap down as he re-entered the speedway.
Eric Caudell gave Moffitt the chance he needed to get back into contention on lap 43, as he was spun entering pit road. His car nosed into the inside wall destroying the front beyond repair.
The field entered pit road taking fuel only. Todd Gilliland and Harrison Burton led the charge off pit road in first and second place respectively. The front runners could make the distance on fuel from here, however Gus Dean’s crew had major issues while trying to refuel. Unfortunately for the Bluffton, SC driver, the mishap relegated him back to ninth place for the restart on lap 47.
Quickly however, the caution flew again as J.J. Pack and Connor Hall befell troubles as Hall’s No. 22 slid along the apron and Pack was turned into the outside SAFER barrier off the nose of Derrick Lancaster’s No. 29.
27 laps remained as the field circulated under caution and the worry of weather loomed large on the horizon as rains threatened the speedway as they had for most of the afternoon. On the restart the Venturini Motorsports teammates filed into line as Burton pulled down in front of Eckes. Single file through the top five, the real trouble zone began at the No.’s 43 and 54 of Sean Corr and Natalie Decker. Corr had worked his way from his 22nd starting spot into the top ten.
The front runners began to move single file around the speedway however the three began to pull away from the pack as Burton, Eckes and Bret Holmes in his No. 23 worked well in the draft together.
As the lead trio pulled away, the rest of the field was snarled up trying to jockey for position. Corr fell back to tenth after being shuffled out of the top ten but the real focus quickly became the leader Harrison Burton as his front grille picked up a windshield tear off.
16 laps is a lot to ask of any racing engine with no air to cool it.
As the back of the top ten continually ran double file jockeying for position the lead seven cars continued to increase the interval back to eighth. However, Brandon McReynolds In a throwback to Davey Allison’s famous No. 28 and Sean Corr began to work in single file order to run down the lead seven cars. The only question now was time with just 11 laps remaining.
With the finish in sight, Thad Moffitt’s dream of going to Daytona victory lane to join his famous grandfather Richard Petty, came to an end as out of turn four he lost control, spun and was collected by the No. 11 of Jason White. Moffitt was checked and released from the infield care center according to ARCA officials
Another caution, which threw the field into ARCA’s new overtime format, flew as Brandon McReynolds was turned by Adam Gilliland. The field had just a single attempt at a one-lap dash for the cash in a green-white-checker.
Burton, who had dominated to this point of the race just needed one final clean restart. However at Daytona, anything can happen and it usually does.
Burton pinned the throttle and had help from Adam Gilliland behind. Pushing him all the way through turns one and two, Gilliland and Burton separated themselves and were never contested to the finish. Burton took the victory, with Gilliland, Grant Quinlan, Christian Eckes and Sean Corr completing the top five.
“…To win at Daytona is so special.” Burton said. “I wanted to do a crazy burnout but I also just wanted to take it in. So I did a little of both. I cruised around and looked at the fans. It was really cool. It was a humbling experience to win at Daytona.”
Asked if this win changes anything for next week’s Gander Outdoors Truck Series race, Burton said that nothing will change for him.
“For me nothing changes heading into next week. Every race I try to approach the same which is just win, win, win.” Burton said. “I feel more comfortable in the draft and in a pack.“
Burton looks to make it two-for-two at the World’s Center of Racing next Friday night as the Gander Outdoors Truck Series will begin their season with 200 miles of competition.