A daunting task lies ahead for Harrison Burton and Noah Gragson following the NASCAR Xfinity Series Round of 8 middle race at Kansas Speedway.
Disaster struck for both drivers with 21 laps remaining in Saturday’s Kansas Lottery 300. Burton’s No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota was launched into the front stretch outside retaining wall after part-time driver Sam Mayer got into the left-rear quarter panel of Burton. In the process, Gragson, a teammate of Mayer, was an innocent bystander when his No. 9 JR Motorsports Chevrolet smashed into Burton’s machine.
The crash took both postseason contenders out of the 200-lap race. Burton finished 34th, while Gragson finished a position behind in 35th.
Burton heads to next Saturday’s Round of 8 finale at Martinsville Speedway eighth in the playoff standings, 51 points below the elimination line — a must-win situation to make his first Championship 4 appearance.
“I just got hit and got headed toward the fence,” Burton told NBC’s Parker Kligerman after exiting the infield care center. “Such a bummer. We were so fast today. I felt like this was one of our better races. We were really building on it, building on it and just needed a different outcome. But that’s alright. We’ll go to Martinsville and try to kick their tail.”
Prior to the incident with Burton, Gragson had raced back into the top five following a run-in with playoff driver Daniel Hemric after a restart on Lap 97. Gragson got into the back of Hemric’s No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota at the exit of Turn 2, sending Hemric for a spin. As Hemric tried to save his car, he hit the right front of Gragson’s No. 9. Both drivers hit pit road for relatively quick damage repair and stayed on the lead lap.
Although Hemric finished 15th, he still remains seven points above the elimination line in his effort to make his first Championship 4 appearance.
As for Gragson, he’s now 24 points below the elimination and likely in the same boat as Burton if he also wants a title opportunity.
“I thought Harrison was doing a great job and myself. You know, we’re just racing for a championship,” Gragson said. “Harrison didn’t do anything wrong. Just a bummer. Proud of this True Timber 9 Bass Pro Shops team. A lot of fun. Ran out of tires with the contact with (Daniel) Hemric there on the restart. Hung on really well for the tires that we were on.”
Gragson noted he would address the situation with teammate Mayer, but viewed Martinsville with a positive lens.
“We’re really good at Martinsville,” Gragson added. “Finished third there last year, second there earlier in the spring. I’ll get the situation from today handled and we’ll go to battle next week as a team. Just very thankful for the opportunity today to race here at Kansas.”