Another Burton To Launch Cup Career at Talladega

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, April 22 2021


Harrison Burton, son of former NASCAR star Jeff, is scheduled to make his Cup debut this weekend. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Jim Fluharty)

By Deb Williams | Senior Writer

When Harrison Burton straps into the Gaunt Brothers Racing Toyota Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway the 20-year-old will have achieved his childhood goal of competing in a NASCAR Cup event, but it’s not at a track where one normally expects a driver to enter stock car racing’s top level.

Known for its high-speed chess games and multi-car crashes, only five other drivers have made their Cup debut on the 2.66-mile track that many drivers describe as a “stressful” place. Still, one cannot turn their back on an opportunity when it presents itself.

“When the opportunity comes, no matter what the track, whether it’s a road course, a dirt track, oval, wherever, you have to be ready for it,” the second-generation driver said. “It would probably be a little more simple to go to a short track and just kinda run where you’re going to run, but gosh, it’s a crazy opportunity and I’m excited for it.”

Jeff Burton, the winner of 21 Cup races, noted that his son’s Talladega Cup debut possessed advantages and disadvantages. 

“When you go to a place like Talladega, it’s a race track where he doesn’t have to take off and have all the pressure of staying on the lead lap,” the older Burton explained. “Obviously, it’s a really tough race track … and we’ve seen a lot of things happen there, but in other ways it creates an opportunity to gradually get to know your car and know your competition. Just like everything in life. It’s got pluses and minuses.” 

Weather permitting, Harrison’s Cup debut comes a day after his 50th career Xfinity race and places him in the record books as the first person born in the 21st century to compete in a Cup race. It was a statistic that stunned the young Burton when it was called to his attention during a Wednesday zoom conference. 

“That is crazy! That’s pretty nuts!” Harrison stated with disbelief in his voice. “It makes me feel young. It probably makes my dad feel old.” 

Due to pandemic restrictions, Harrison’s parents won’t be by his side for the race’s opening ceremonies, but they will watch either from the grandstand or the family suite NASCAR created as a substitute. It’s a time when Jeff wants to focus on being his son’s father, not his driving coach, a duty he leaves to Blake Koch.

“The smallest things make the biggest differences and I don’t want to be Harrison’s guy that’s talking to him about all the small things, because the only thing we would be talking about was negative stuff,” Jeff said. “You don’t have to work on the things you’re doing well. You have to work on the things you’re not doing well and that’s just not the relationship I want with my son nor is it the relationship that I think he wants with me.” 

Since there is no qualifying at Talladega, the young Burton already knows he’s starting 39th in the 40-car field. It’s a starting position that will allow him to observe and learn. He also notes he feels “comfort in the discomfort” that Talladega presents.

“Understanding that there’s going to be discomfort and trying to find a way to handle that adversity is something that I’m excited about,” said Harrison, who has been studying multiple Talladega races and the Cup drivers’ aggressiveness.

 “It’s a long race … a lot longer than I am accustomed to. I feel like I have enough time where I can spend some time getting up to speed and at the end of the race be aggressive.

“I think the biggest thing I want to try and take away from this isn’t analytical, it’s more decision-making based. I always feel my decision making is one of my biggest strengths, thinking on the fly in the car … so I want to try and measure that, something that I think is a strength of mine, against the Cup field.”

Even though Burton won’t celebrate his 21st birthday until October, he takes 16 years of racing experience into Sunday’s event. He started racing Quarter Midgets at age four and eventually won three national championships. By age 11, he was racing Late Model stock cars, claiming his first pole in his rookie season. He recorded his first victory the following year. 

Last year’s Xfinity Series top rookie claimed his first Pro Late Model division victory in February 2014, making him the youngest Division 1 winner ever in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series. Burton became the youngest driver to compete in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West when he made his debut on that circuit in October 2015. 

Burton has won at nearly every level in which he has competed, including the Xfinity and ARCA Menards series. He added the 2017 K&N Pro Series East championship to his racing resume in 2017.

The Talladega Cup race is scheduled for Sunday at 2 p.m., ET, on Fox.


| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, April 22 2021
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