Race Weekend Central

The Underdog House: Harrison Burton Brings Shades of Father at Darlington

Author’s note: In the spirit of throwback weekend, “The Underdog House” will have a one-off, new look this week. That’s right, we are throwing it back to 2016, when this column became a consistent presence on Frontstretch. Frontstretch’s Bryan Davis Keith launched the column in 2011 for two weeks before it returned five years later with our own Amy Henderson. This week will bring the past of those articles mixed with the present.

Top Dog: Harrison Burton

Wood Brothers Racing: Harrison Burton, No. 21 Dex Imaging Ford

Looking back: Kansas Speedway was not kind to Harrison Burton a week ago. After driving up into the top 15 early on in the race, Burton spun on lap 191 while avoiding a slow car. A short time later, he suffered a flat tire from right front fender damage and was relegated to a 30th-place finish. Through the first 12 races, Burton’s best finish was 15th, and he had eight finishes outside the top 20.

What happened now: It was more than a rebound for Burton at Darlington Raceway (May 14). Throwing back to his father, Jeff Burton‘s 1999 No. 99 for Jack Roush, the younger Burton looked like he had taken some notes from the elder Burton, who swept both Darlington races in 1999 and once had a streak of eight top fives in a row at the track.

Burton kept his Wood Brothers machine inside the top 15 nearly all day, finishing stage one in 11th and stage two in 15th. In the final stage, the 22-year-old flirted with the top 10 the rest of the race until his break came.

A caution for Ryan Newman with 18 laps to go stacked the field back up for a restart on lap 281. There, Martin Truex Jr. collided with Joey Logano, sparking a nine-car crash. Burton avoided the chaos, propelling him into the top 10. Another crash on the next restart saw leaders Ross Chastain and Kyle Larson wipe out, pushing Burton into the top five. From there, he held strong for the final overtime restart and came home in sixth.

This was certainly one of, if not the best performance of Burton’s young career. It’s his third career top 10 and the second-best finish of his career. The race certainly provided the momentum Burton needs, as he currently sits 30th in the points standings.

See also
Harrison Burton Scores 1st Top 10 of 2023 at Darlington

Honorable Mentions

Kaulig Racing: Justin Haley, No. 31 LeafFilter Chevrolet.

Looking back: Justin Haley had a roller coaster of a week at Kansas. He endured both a loose wheel and a flat tire by the end of the stage, leaving him two laps down. However, he was able to rebound and reel off an 18th-place finish, his fifth top 20 of the year.

What happened now: Darlington was a place of refuge for Haley, who finished third in his first start with Kaulig at the Lady in Black a year ago. And just like that day, he left the track Too Tough to Tame with a top 10.

Once again, Haley had to come back from one lap down after long green flag runs within the first two stages. He started the final stage in 28th, one lap down. However, a caution on lap 210 put the Winamac, Ind., native back on the lead lap. From there, the comeback was on. When the pileup occurred on lap 281, Haley leapfrogged from 17th to sixth. Through two more restarts, the 24-year-old held on to finish eighth. That gives Haley three top 10s through 13 races. In 2022, his total was four.

Front Row Motorsports: Todd Gilliland, No. 38 Serial 1 Cycles Ford

Looking back: After picking up steam for several weeks, Todd Gilliland endured his second-straight finish outside the top 20 at Kansas. The No. 38 struggled to find speed most of the race, but help was on the way at Darlington.

What happened now: Sporting an Elton Sawyer throwback, Gilliland narrowly missed out on the top 10 in 11th. In a race where passing was difficult, Gilliland started 24th and quickly worked his way into the top 20. Stage two saw the 22-year-old struggle with a loose-handling car, causing him to slip outside the top 20.

Gilliland’s day was jeopardized at the beginning of the final stage when a loose wheel from Erik Jones caused a massive crash on the backstretch, which involved Gilliland. However, the damage was minimal, and the sophomore driver got back to work. Thanks to the final two crashes and his avoidance, Gilliland was able to score the solid finish, which is his fourth finish of 11th or better this season. It’s also his best finish at Darlington, which broke his previous high of 15th.

JTG-Daugherty Racing: Ricky Stenhouse Jr, No. 47 Kroger/Country Clock Chevrolet

Looking back: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was the top dog once again at Kansas. The reigning Daytona 500 champion scored a 12th-place finish and continued to add to his 14.1 average finish, which is on pace to be a career high. He entered Darlington on a streak of five straight top 15s.

What happened now: Keep the streak rolling! It was a groovy comeback for Stenhouse this weekend, and perhaps the comeback of the race. Piloting a throwback to Dale Jarrett‘s 2001 UPS machine, Stenhouse was stout all weekend, qualifying in third, his second top five start of the year. From there, the Olive Branch, Miss., native kept his Chevrolet in the top 10, scoring a combined six stage points.

Unfortunately, trouble struck on lap 210 when Stenhouse’s left rear tire went flat, causing him to spin. Stenhouse fell a lap down and was then busted for speeding on pit road during green flag stops late in the race. Fortunately, the cautions fell his way to put him on the lead lap, where he rebounded to finish 13th. That is now six consecutive top 15s for Stenhouse, who’s average finish is now a solid 14.0.

Who’s in the Dog House

Darlington’s most recent winner, Jones, looked sporty early on, quickly gaining 10 spots from his 28th-place starting spot. However, disaster struck to begin the final stage when a loose right rear wheel on the No. 43 spurred a nine-car accident. The crash ended the race for fellow underdog Michael McDowell and involved Jones’ Legacy Motor Club teammate Noah Gragson. Jones and Gragson would finish 25th and 26th, respectively, while McDowell was credited with a 33rd-place result.

The Rocket Man is back! Ryan Newman returned for the first time since Phoenix in 2021 in the first of five races for Rick Ware Racing. Throwing back to his first career win, Newman piloted the No. 51 to a 28th-place finish. However, it was anything but easy for the 45-year-old. He was swept up in the lap 194 crash caused by Jones’ loose wheel, and he then brought out the race-changing yellow with 18 laps remaining after a spin. Newman will be back to compete in the All-Star race at North Wilkesboro Speedway next weekend.

Tweet of the Week

What They’re Saying

Burton (sixth):

Haley (eighth): “Overall we had a good day. We found a good package in practice that we utilized to get a pretty decent qualifying spot compared to where we’ve been. We just kept our heads in the game all day, made some good changes and caught a few lucky breaks. We’re happy with today’s finish as a team. “

Corey LaJoie (25th):

Newman (28th):

McDowell: (33rd):

Small Team Schemes of the Week

It’s that time of year! Get your ballots here, hot off the press and cast your vote for the underdog scheme of the week in the comments. Typically, I only do the Cup underdog scheme of the week, but since it’s throwback weekend, lower series schemes were too good not to include.

This one was tough, as many underdog teams brought some serious nostalgia this weekend. But LaJoie’s was too good to pass up on, which was a tribute to his grandfather, Don LaJoie. A red and white scheme brings some classic feels, and the “11” inside the box was the icing on the cake for this ride.

Honorable Mention: Gilliland’s throwback to Elton Sawyer’s No. 38 Barbasol NXS car.

In what Garrett Smithley dubbed the ‘Kevin Harvick 200,’ I had to go with a Harvick throwback. That goes to DGM Racing and Josh Williams, who threw back to Harvick’s Richard Childress Racing at the inaugural NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Mexico City. The team changed the font and used characters from Call811.com to match those that were on Harvick’s car. Respect!

Honorable Mention: Blaine Perkins No. 02 Payday throwback to Harvick

Reaume Brothers Racing went all out this weekend, sporting a tribute to the late Ken Block. The stars and stripes, logo usage in place of Block’s Monster Energy sponsored car, and the font change set this scheme apart.

Honorable Mention: Kris Wright’s No. 02 throwback to Juan Pablo Montoya

About the author

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Luken Glover joined the Frontstretch team in 2020 as a contributor, furthering a love for racing that traces back to his earliest memories. Glover inherited his passion for racing from his grandfather, who used to help former NASCAR team owner Junie Donlavey in his Richmond, Va. garage. A 2023 graduate from the University of the Cumberlands, Glover is the author of "The Underdog House," contributes to commentary pieces, and does occasional at-track reporting. Additionally, Glover enjoys working in ministry, coaching basketball, playing sports, and karting.

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