By: Ashley McCubbin
There’s no secret that racing in the NASCAR Cup Series and finding your way to the front and not an easy task, especially when there’s 39 other drivers on the track trying to accomplish the same task. Now trying to doing that also against guys who have been competing at this level for five or more years.
As a rookie in the series, Harrison Burton admits it has not gone as he would have hoped in trying to be a contender weekly, saying the season has “definitely been a let down for me personally.”
“I wanted to come out and do a really good job and I feel like I made a lot of mistakes early,” he told NEWS FROM THE PITS. “Some things I feel like I did well early, but I don’t know. I don’t know what the grade would be. I haven’t really thought a lot about that. I think the biggest thing is just trying to build off of every weekend. Last weekend at MIchigan was so tough because we just missed it in practice and qualifying and then you get into the race and get crashed early and don’t have a chance to really build off of anything. I’m just trying to get better and better each weekend.
“If I could give it a grade, I wouldn’t give it a good one. I think we’ve got to run better. There’s no secret about that and there’s no one on our team that believes what we’re doing is enough. We’ll get it done. It’s just a matter of how and I know we’re working hard enough to do it. That’s for sure.”
Fortunately, he still has an opportunity to make a big impact on his season with a trip to the playoffs, virtue of the win and you’re (practically) in format. He will also get this chance at a variety of tracks with Richmond Raceway (short track), Watkins Glen (road course), and Daytona International Speedway (restrictor plate).
“It’s always tough to win at any level,” he commented. “It’s really tough to win in the Cup Series. I feel like we’ve been making good strides the last two weeks to have good speed and show up to the racetrack fast and I think Daytona is a good opportunity for almost everybody in the field to try and bust off a win there. We led laps there earlier in the year at the Daytona 500, so there are some things I can see, ‘Hey, that could be a track for us.’ I feel like Richmond was one of our better races earlier in the year when we compare to our alliance partners with Team Penske. The goal is to run as good as those guys do, so that was a race where I felt like we did that.”
Earlier this year at Richmond, Burton was able to pick up an 18th-place finish, with Team Penske driver placing seventh (Ryan Blaney), 17th (Joey Logano), and Austin Cindric (20th). In contrast, he led three laps at Daytona in February before finding himself wrecked out in one of the big wrecks.
“We had a decent run there and had some speed and showed a lot of speed in the race, but we just didn’t execute properly on a few things and that bit us in the butt,” he added. “Those are two good ones (Richmond and Daytona) and obviously anything can happen at a road course and coming off a top five, so there’s a case you can make for any of them, I guess. We’ve just got to go and show the speed in practice and in qualifying and the early parts of the race to get that, so really it’s one day at a time and one practice at a time to get to that level and we’ll get there eventually. I’m pretty sure of it.”
Knowing the task at hand, Burton is setting high expectations for his team, wanting to qualify in the top-10 at Richmond Raceway. He feels confident in the goal, knowing the laps led in Xfinity Series competition and coming close to winning.
“I really love that racetrack and feel like that place suits me well, so I want to be a top 10 guy there in qualifying and build off of that for the race,” he explained. “Then we go to Watkins Glen and just want to show similar speed and get a good result like we did at the Indy road course. I’d like to try to build off of that result and see what we learned. I feel like we have some good directions from our post-race meetings there that we learned from what we could do to make our car better, and then Daytona my expectation is that my team shows up with the same level of aggression as we did in the 500 and try and go and lead laps in that thing and be aggressive and try to take advantage of that opportunity.”
If they are unable to make the playoffs, Burton is not going to throw away the final 10 races of the year. Instead, he wants to utilize those events to continue improving as a driver, and putting the No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford at the front of the field.
“We just need to get better and better every week and show progress at the end of the day,” he said. “Show lap time. That’s the biggest goal for us. We’re working day and night. There’s no pointing fingers on our team, which is amazing. All of our team members at Wood Brothers Racing are all kind of pointing fingers at themselves at what we can all do better, and I’m in that same boat and working as hard as ever to do this. It’s an honor to drive the 21 car and get it out front. It’s a priority for us and at the end of the day we’ve got to put the work in to do that.”