On a historic day for the sport of NASCAR racing, Harrison Burton and the No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Mustang finished 30th, two spots better than they started,in the Grant Park 220 on the streets of Chicago.
Not only did NASCAR’s elite Cup Series race for the first time on a street course, the race victory went to a New Zealander Shane Van Gisbergen, who became the first driver since Johnny Rutherford at Daytona in 1963 to win a Cup race in his first series start. Rutherford’s win came in a points-paying qualifying race.
Sunday’s ground-breaking race was regarded as a big success for NASCAR in spite of torrential rains that delayed the start of the race and led to the race ending 22 laps shy of the advertised 100 as darkness closed in on the Windy City.
As the skies began to clear late in the afternoon, NASCAR officials elected to start the race on rain tires. Burton and the Motorcraft/Quick Lane team set in to try and overcome a poor 32nd-place starting position.
The No. 21 Mustang cracked the top 25 for the first time at Lap 15 but was running 29th at the end of the first 20-lap Stage.
In Stage Two, the team executed a strategy of running long during a round of green-flag pit stops, Burton moved into the top 10 before pitting from eighth place at Lap 27. The strategy nearly paid great dividends as the caution flag flew a lap later, but it ended up being of little help as Burton wound up 26th when the second Stage ended at Lap 45.
The intensity of the race picked up as the track dried and teams switched to the faster slick tires. Adding more drama was a decision to end the race at Lap 75 due to impending darkness.
Burton ran into a tire barrier as he tried to avoid a crash ahead of him with just over 10 laps left to run. After a trip to pit road to replace a flattened tire, he returned to the track and finished 30th.
Next up for Burton and the Wood Brothers team is a Sunday night race at Atlanta Motor Speedway on July 9.