DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Harrison Burton made the most of his Daytona International Speedway debut Saturday, keeping his cool over a series of challenges and late-race restarts for his first ARCA Menards Series victory.
His mother and his girlfriend stood vigil atop the No. 20 Toyota’s pit box during the Lucas Oil 200’s 11th-hour plot twists, sending out prayers amid a cardiac-wrenching tangle of nerves. Burton, 18, seemed to take it all in stride.
“Ah, yeah. this is when it gets fun, huh?” Burton told his crew over the radio when a yellow flag bunched the field with nine laps to go. He remained loose just a few laps later, saying his crew chief “looks good on TV” as he caught a glimpse of an interview with Mike Hillman Jr. playing out on the ISM Vision big screen under caution.
Those unflappable moments all unfolded as Burton dealt with rising water temps because of debris on his grill, the frantic restarts and the loss of his rearview mirror during the race.
“To win at Daytona is so special,” Burton said. “I wanted to do a crazy burnout, but then I just wanted to take it in, too. I kind of did both, just cruised around and looked at the fans and everyone out there. It was really cool, a really humbling experience to win at Daytona for sure.”
Burton led 48 of the 86 laps in his first ARCA Menards Series start. He held off a pressing Todd Gilliland, his Kyle Busch Motorsports teammate in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series and like Burton, a product of the NASCAR Next program.
One year ago, the two drivers engaged in a spirited battle for the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East opener at half-mile New Smyrna Speedway, with Gilliland taking the checkers first. This year, the two warmed up for next weekend’s Truck Series lid-lifter by putting on another show on one of the sport’s most historic stages.
“I always raced the short track at New Smyrna Speedway over there and would watch the big track and was like, ‘I want to do that one day,'” Burton said. “Finally, I got old enough to do it, and the first time was a really special time. For me, that can’t really be put into words.”