FONTANA, Calif. – At one time, Joe Gibbs Racing was the team to beat in NASCAR Xfinity Series competition at Auto Club Speedway, winning nine races in a row between 2008 and 2013.
Then came a seven-year winless drought at the two-mile oval, where other organizations prospered, but 19-year-old Harrison Burton finally rekindled JGR’s Fontana prominence on Saturday afternoon.
Burton drove to victory in the Production Alliance Group 300, holding off a last-lap charge from his teammate Riley Herbst to win in just his 12th career Xfinity Series start and third as a full-time driver.
The son of NASCAR on NBC analyst and former NASCAR Cup Series star Jeff Burton led 32 of the final 33 laps, taking command of the race with an inside pass in turn two on lap 118 when Chase Briscoe’s Ford Mustang slid wide off the exit of the corner.
That allowed Burton’s Toyota Supra to get out into clean air, which he used to the fullest as Briscoe tried to chase the young gun back down.
Briscoe finally spun during his pursuit efforts, going around off turn four with 24 laps left and bringing out the last of eight cautions that waved during the 300-mile event.
That set up a wild restart with 19 to go, in which Burton and Herbst started outside and inside, respectively, but swapped lanes a half lap after the restart in a battle to find grip out front.
Burton eventually won out, opening up as much as two seconds over his nearest pursuers as the laps wound down, but a gaggle of slower traffic in the final laps let Herbst close right back to Burton’s rear bumper.
Coming to two laps to go, Herbst was looking inside off turn four in an attempt to draft alongside Burton for the top spot, but Burton stayed true to the top groove and pulled away as the white flag loomed.
A last-ditch run to the bottom on the final lap wasn’t enough for Herbst, and Burton hung on to capture his first win in any of NASCAR’s three national series by .455 seconds at the checkers.
The hardest part of Burton’s day? That came after the race, when he successfully completed a smoky burnout, but couldn’t get to victory lane after his car stalled and had to wait on a track wrecker.
That was of no real concern, however. There was no wiping the smile off Burton’s face, especially after what he called “a fun battle” with Herbst down the home stretch.
“This DEX Imaging Supra was really fast when it counted,” Burton noted. “Once we moved up to the top at the end, I knew it was going to be really tough for him (Herbst) to pass us. I was just trying to be smart and not put it in the wall leading.
“Rick (Carelli, spotter) was huge all day long,” he added. “He did a great job on those crazy restarts, as well, with keeping me in the game and keeping me up to date with what was going on. I’m just so happy. Everyone’s worked so hard for this moment, and it’s finally here.
“Hell yeah, we won! It’s awesome.”
Though he wasn’t able to chase Burton down in the end, Herbst was still happy with a runner-up finish, and also offered plenty of kudos to the driver he was on-and-off teammates with at Kyle Busch Motorsports in recent years in the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series.
“I just needed a few more laps, honestly,” Herbst said. “Our Monster Energy Supra was really fast. We just ran out of time at the end. I’m really, really proud of Harrison, though. He and I have been working so hard this offseason. We’ve read it all, how we’re not ready for this series and we can’t do this at this level, but I think we sent a message to everyone today.
“(All the haters can) keep on talking, because we’re coming for more number ones this year.”
Austin Cindric was within two car lengths of the top two on the final lap, but couldn’t catch the Toyota pair and settled for third in his Ford Mustang. The Chevrolet Camaros of Ryan Sieg and Justin Haley completed the top five.
Finishing sixth in his Xfinity Series debut was Anthony Alfredo, followed by Daniel Hemric, Ross Chastain, Jeremy Clements and Josh Williams.
The third JGR Toyota of Brandon Jones started from the pole, won both stages and led the first 74 laps uninterrupted, but once Jones was shuffled out of the top spot during a round of pit stops his car was never quite the same.
Jones faded back outside the top five and then sustained damage on a restart with 49 laps left that led to a cut right-front tire and a date with the outside wall. He ultimately finished 30th, four laps down.
The NASCAR Xfinity Series season continues March 7 at Arizona’s Phoenix Raceway with the LS Tractor 200. Kyle Busch is the defending event winner and will make his first start of the year next weekend.
To view complete race results, advance to the next page.