It seemed inevitable Sunday night’s NASCAR K&N Pro Series East season opener would be decided between Harrison Burton and Todd Gilliland.
The pair – both members of the NASCAR Next program – started first and second, respectively, and they were the only two drivers to lead the 175-lap event at New Smyrna (Fla.) Speedway.
Gilliland appeared to have the race win in hand when Burton got under him with two laps remaining, slid Gilliland up the track and took the lead.
On the last lap, however, Gilliland returned the favor in Turn 3, got under Burton and was able to power away to the victory – his sixth in the K&N Pro Series East.
Cole Rouse made his way around Burton to take second at the line while Burton had to settle for third. Derek Kraus finished fourth and Tyler Ankrum completed the top-five.
“I feel like we’ve been racing each other since we were five or six and in our years of racing together, we’ve gotten into it, had great races and had a lot of fun – man, that’s what it’s about right there,” said Burton, 17, who won the East series championship last season.
Asked about Gilliland’s move on the final lap, Burton said, “He did what he had to do. I would have done the same thing. I’m not mad at all. I’m thrilled that we were able to put on a race like that. I’m sure it was a lot of fun to watch.”
Neither Gilliland nor Burton is running for a K&N series title this season and both will be competing extensively in the Camping World Truck Series with Kyle Busch Motorsports.
With no championship on the line Sunday night, it was all about the victory.
“I was laying it all on the table, I think we both were,” said Gilliland, 17, who has won the K&N West title the past two seasons.
“It was back-and-forth a lot and just being able to get him loose in (Turns) 1 and 2 and get a little bit of a run down the backstretch to get even with him in (Turns) 3 and 4, I knew we’d be OK at that point. It was all about timing, I guess.
“I’ll race anyone I can as hard as I could, that’s what this business is about is winning races.”
Gilliland, who earned his second series win at New Symrna, said he believed there was a mutual respect between himself and Burton.
“I feel like we’re friends off the race track but we want to beat each other as much as anyone else on the race track,” he said.