The stage may have been the half-mile New Smyrna Speedway in Samsula, Florida for the 2018 K&N Pro Series East season opener. But for the combatants on that stage, it was like another night at the go-kart track.
Todd Gilliland outdueled Harrison Burton in a thrilling, physical fight to the finish to win the New Smyrna 175 and fire the opening salvo of the 2018 K&N campaign.
Gilliland, making his first start with the DGR-CROSLEY team, led the field to the green on a lap 168 restart in the 175-lap event. Gilliland and Burton fought intensely over the final eight laps, swapping the top spot and plenty of paint throughout.
“I was laying it all on the table right there,” Gilliland told Speed51.com. “I think we both were. He slid up into me, and I got back under him. It was back and forth a lot.”
“It’s always a lot of fun racing with Todd [Gilliland],” Burton said after the race. “We always race really well and have great battles. I got a little over-aggressive, made a mistake, and got us both in the dirt in [turns] three and four. I’m glad that he saved it.”
“We’ve been racing each other since we were five or six,” Burton added. “In our years of racing together, we’ve gotten into it and had a lot of raced and a lot of fun. That’s what it’s about.”
Both compared the racing to the times they have spent on-track against each other throughout the racing ranks – including on the go-kart track.
“He did what he had to do. I would have done the same thing,” Burton said. “I’m not mad at all. I’m actually thrilled that we put on a race like that. I’m sure it was a great race to watch. I felt like we were racing hard at the GoPro Motorplex. It was a lot of fun.”
“It’s pretty crazy,” Gilliland said. “We’re both in NASCAR Next, and also, just being teenagers our age in racing, we both love to go to GoPro Motorplex together. 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.”
Cole Rouse might have had the best seat in the house for the thrilling battle. Rouse was running third and was able to take second place from Harrison Burton as they raced to the checkered flag.
For a brief moment, Rouse felt he was in a great position to win the race.
“I was probably going to make it three-wide,” Rouse said. “We were probably going to all go up the track, and I was going to hopefully come out on top because they would have been in the dirt. If I would have gotten there, I would have done it. They would have done the same thing.”
The NASCAR K&N Pro Series East will return to action April 14, as they descend upon the infamous high banks of Bristol Motor Speedway.
Race fans can relive Sunday’s exciting finish by visiting our Trackside Now page. Click here to see our live updates from the race.
NASCAR K&N Pro Series East Unofficial Results
New Smyrna Speedway (FL) - 2/11/18
1 54 Todd Gilliland
2 99 Cole Rouse
3 12 Harrison Burton
4 16 Derek Kraus
5 17 Tyler Ankrum
6 82 Spencer Davis
7 20 Anthony Sergi
8 04 Ronnie Bassett, Jr.
9 30 Tyler Dippel
10 74 Brandon McReynolds
11 34 Kody Vanderwal
12 2 Ryan Vargas
13 23 J.P. Morgan
14 51 Brandon Oakley
15 43 Joe Graf, Jr.
16 55 Abraham Calderon
17 31 Jimmy Zacharias
18 5 Juan Manuel Gonzalez
19 4 Chase Cabre
20 10 Matt Levin
21 87 Chuck Buchanan, Jr.
22 36 Jesse Iwuji
23 39 Andrew Tuttle
24 40 Anthony Alfredo
25 44 Dillon Bassett
26 6 Ruben Garcia, Jr.
27 08 John Wood
28 32 Salvatore Iovino
29 19 Hailie Deegan