Californian Thomas Merrill won Saturday’s 100-mile Trans Am TA2 powered by AEM race at VIRginia International Raceway at Alton, but it was Harrison Burton who was the star of the race.

Burton, who had finished sixth in Friday night’s NASCAR Xfinity Series race driving a car out of the Joe Gibbs Racing stable, started last in Saturday’s race and made up 20 positions driving up to fifth place.

The Huntersville, North Carolina, resident and son of former NASCAR star, South Boston native Jeff Burton, was sitting in fifth place when the race restarted with four laps to go following a full-course caution period. An issue with the fuel pump in the Mike Cope Race Cars Ford Mustang he was driving that occurred in the closing laps left Burton with a ninth-place finish.

At the end of the race Burton was presented the Cool Shirt Cool Move of the Race award.

“It was a lot of fun,” Burton remarked.

“I got up to fifth, and the fuel pump went bad, and I lost a lot of power at the end. I would have liked to have fought it out and gone for a podium finish or win. It was a lot of fun to try to come from the back and run fast. These things (cars) are a challenge and a lot of fun to drive.”

Burton said he did not know what to expect in the race.

“There is tough competition out here, so I didn’t know what to expect,” Burton remarked.

“I knew these guys were going to be fast, and I was going to have a lot of fun. I just went out and tried to pass as many cars as I could.”

Burton’s focus in Saturday’s Trans-Am TA2 race was to learn and gain experience on a road course. He is scheduled to drive a Joe Gibbs Racing entry in this weekend’s NASCAR Xfinity Series race at the Roval, Charlotte Motor Speedway’s road course.

“I’ve got to get ready for it and get ready to go and try to win that one,” he noted.

Burton’s stellar day Saturday at VIR followed a solid effort in Friday’s NASCAR XFinity Series race at Richmond Raceway.

“Sixth is what the car had, I think, and we got it there, and I learned a lot. That’s what’s important.”

Merrill took the lead from Rafa Matos of Boca Raton, Florida, on the 23rd lap and led the final eight circuits to score his third win of the season.

“We had to make the best of the opportunities we were given,” Merrill remarked.

“It got tight toward the end, but we came away with the win.”

Rafa Matos appeared to be on his way to his third win of the season but saw his hopes dashed when a mechanical issue forced him to drop out of the lead and the race.

Scott Lagasse Jr., looking for a second straight VIR win, hounded Merrill after Merrill inherited the lead. With one lap to go, Lagasse, looking to make a last-ditch bid for the win got airborne as he sped through the Roller Coaster section of VIR’s 3.27-mile full-course layout, and his car to rest upside down.

Lagasse climbed out of the car under his own power and was taken to the track’s medical center for examination.

With only a couple of minutes remaining in the 75-minute race, the race finished under caution with Merrill in front.

Series championship leader Marc Miller of Holland, Michigan, retained his lead in the series points chase with his second-place finish 1.68 seconds behind Merrill.

Dillon Machavern of Charlotte, Vermont, Misha Goikhberg of Woodbridge Ontario, Canada, and Jacob Mosler of St. Augustine, Florida rounded out the top five finishers.

Merrill averaged 85.138 mph in the race that took one hour and 11 minutes to complete.

Finishing results were called provisional by race officials and are under stewards’ review.

Joe Chandler is the sports editor for The Gazette-Virginian. Contact him at jchandler@gazettevirginian.com.

Joe Chandler is the sports editor for The Gazette-Virginian. Contact him at jchandler@gazettevirginian.com