By David Morgan, Associate Editor
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Days before the 64th running of the Daytona 500, rookie Harrison Burton was put through the paces during a flight with the Air Force Thunderbirds. On Sunday afternoon, he was airborne again.
This time it wasn’t an Air Force F-16 that was taking flight, it was his No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford Mustang.
As the field powered its way through Turn 2 on lap 64, a bump from Brad Keselowski turned Burton’s car sideways, causing him to slide down the banking and collect William Byron, Kyle Busch, and Denny Hamlin in the process. Additional contact from Christopher Bell turned Burton broadside, allowing the car to lift up and blow over, making impact on his roof when coming back down to Earth.
After slamming the track on his roof, Alex Bowman tagged Burton’s car, flipping him back right-side up and allowing the car to skid to a rest, nearly flipping again the opposite way as a result.
Burton was able to climb from his battered car and was evaluated and released from the Infield Care Center a short time later.
“I just think it might have been in the wrong spot,” Burton said of the push from Keselowski. “It’s hard. These bumpers don’t line up as good as the old ones did… Obviously, I’m not questioning Brad’s ability, but I think he just got a little wide on my right side and kind of shot me on the inside there. We were working good together up to that point. There were a couple moments where I was having to save it kind of sideways and obviously just one too many and we ended up upside-down.
“It got real light and blew over. I don’t know if it was the diffuser that did it or what, but once I got backwards I just blew right over. As far as the cockpit and everything is safe. I didn’t get hit hard at all. Luckily, all good there and we’ll move on.”
Aside from Burton taking his scenic tour of the Daytona skyline, Byron took the second-hardest hit of the incident, as his car made a bee-line toward the inside wall after its contact with Burton’s spinning car, slamming into the wall and ricocheting him back toward the track.
Just like Burton, Byron was evaluated and release from the care center.
“It looked like the bottom lane was pushing well; nice, balanced and controlled,” Byron said. “The outside lane was getting a little squirrely the last lap or so. I noticed that, but there’s nothing you can really do. You’re just trying to push your guy out front. It was (Martin) Truex Jr. in front of me and Kyle Busch. We were doing a good job of kind of managing that gap on the bottom. I think the No. 21 (Harrison Burton) just got loose, slid down the track and I slid to the inside wall. There was nothing we could really do.”
A total of eight cars were involved in the incident, including Burton, Byron, Kyle Busch, Keselowski, Hamlin, Bowman, Christopher Bell, and Ross Chastain.
Both Hamlin and Chastain would join Burton and Byron behind the wall, with the DNF being the first of Hamlin’s Daytona 500 career.
“It looked like the two cars on top,” Hamlin said. “The 6 (Brad Keselowski) was pushing the 21 (Harrison Burton) and you could see the 21 was kind of getting out of control there, so you know the mindset was that you’ve got to back off but I think the 6 was just insistent on pushing him at all costs and eventually turned the 21 around.
“Tough, you know, considering it was just for the stage. We were kind of boxed in there where I noticed that something was going to happen, but I was boxed in, I was behind a teammate and I wanted to try to help. Again, just too aggressive pushing right there when they weren’t lined up and in control.”