DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Coming into the 64th running of the Daytona 500, 21-year-old Cup rookie Harrison Burton was looking to repeat what “Cinderella” Trevor Bayne accomplished as a 20-year-old rookie some 11 years ago: Win the Daytona 500 for the famed Wood Brothers Racing.
He had plenty reason to think he had as good a chance as Bayne did – he topped the speed chart in final practice Saturday, finished third in his duel Thursday, and lined up eighth on the starting grid for NASCAR’s biggest race in front of a sellout crowd.
Proving his speed was no fluke, Burton found his way to the lead on Lap 39 and once again 20 laps later with the aid of a Brad Keselowski push.
That pushing persisted for a few more laps – until it became too much to handle.
While running in second place off turn two on Lap 63, Burton spun off the nose of Keselowski and turned down the track into the third-place car of William Byron, ending he and Byron’s day.
The wreck also collected three of the four Joe Gibbs Racing entries – Martin Truex Jr. was the leader and evaded the mess – as well as Ross Chastain and Alex Bowman. Keselowski, Bowman, Kyle Busch and Christopher Bell were able to continue.
Though Burton wound up on his roof, he quickly landed back on four wheels as the flip was relatively tame.
“I don’t know. I’ve never had another one upside-down, so I don’t have any reference,” Burton said of the wreck. “I don’t know if it was the (rear) diffuser that did it or what, but once I got backwards I just blew right over. … I didn’t get hit hard at all.”
While it did appear he was hit hard by Keselowski to initiate the wreck, Burton wasn’t so quick to pin the blame on the RFK part-owner.
“I don’t think it was too hard, I just think it was in the wrong spot,” Burton said of the wayward push from Keselowski.
“With the new car you’ve got to push in the middle. It’s just different – the bumpers don’t line up as well. He got a little too far right and it shot me down (the track).”
Ever the optimist despite the early end to his Daytona 500 hopes, Burton will look forward to next weekend’s race at Auto Club Speedway – the track where he earned his first Xfinity win in 2020.
“At the end of the day, everyone knew we were here. We were leading when we crashed.
“Our Wood Brothers group brought a fast Ford down here and we were showing it.”