PIT BOX: Harrison Burton & Co. Rumble Into Thunder Valley

After opening up the season during Speedweeks with an exciting race at Florida’s New Smyrna Speedway, the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East had a little time off. But that vacation is over, as the series returns to action this weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway. “The Last Great Colosseum” will kick off a stretch of five races in Virginia and Tennessee over the next month and a half.


It’s hard to bet against Harrison Burton. The Mooresville, North Carolina, driver is running a handful of NASCAR K&N Pro Series East races in addition to his NASCAR Camping World Series schedule, and the defending champion has the trip to Thunder Valley circled on his schedule. Burton won the pole and led 13 laps in the 2016 event before being sidelined with engine issues. Last year, he won the pole again and led 68 of 70 races to win the rain-shortened affair. The six K&N Pro East races at the high-banked .533-mile oval has had six different winners and Burton will look to break that trend.

If he does so, he’ll have to out-run a loaded field. Defending K&N Pro West champion and Burton’s Kyle Busch Motorsports teammate on the Camping World Truck side, Todd Gilliland, will be looking for back-to-back wins. Gilliland held off Burton in a frantic final lap dash to win at New Smyrna. In addition to his son, David Gilliland’s team will include up-and-comer Tyler Ankrum as NASCAR Camping World Truck Series rising star Noah Gragson.

Cole Rouse and Derek Kraus finished second and fourth, respectively in that race. And the pair of Bill McAnally Racing drivers finished first and third — with Kraus taking home the win — in the K&N Pro Series West opener in Bakersfield, California, last month.

Ruben Garcia Jr. will lead a Rev Racing contingent looking to break through. Garcia, the 2015 NASCAR PEAK Mexico Series champion, finished second to Burton at Bristol last year.

RACING-REFERENCE: Previous K&N Pro Series East races at Bristol | K&N Pro Series East drivers’ career stats at Bristol

Ten of the 28 drivers entered in Saturday’s race are members of the NASCAR Next program or alum of the industry initiative developed to identify and support the sport’s top young drivers.