By: Zach Catanzareti, Staff Writer
Harrison Burton is hoping for some quick change.
“We’re definitely missing the mark on races early,” Burton said. “The first two were somewhat decent for us. We had a chance at the [Daytona] 500, led late. Fontana was a decent day, 15th, nothing amazing. And the last three have just been not good at all. Missing execution on my end, missing speed in general.”
With the season’s first road course on tap Sunday at Circuit of the Americas, Burton and crew are taking an undisclosed new approach to the weekend, one that gave them a season-high qualifying effort on Saturday (16th).
“We have re-evaluated a lot going into this weekend and changed the way we look at things,” he said. “I’m excited to see where we build to. To have to try and pull something out of where we are now is going to be really challenging against this field.
“But I think we can do it. I feel really good about the group that’s around me, I feel good about where I’m at this weekend in particular. I prepared differently this week.”
A difficult grind in ’23 proceeded a tough rookie campaign in 2022, where Burton only managed two top 10s in 36 races, the least amount for Wood since they returned to full-time racing in 2016.
Poor results in Penske-affiliated equipment such as Burton’s No. 21 is more than just numbers on the stat sheet. Confidence has been a tricky factor to manage for the 22-year-old, who hasn’t won a race now since 2020.
“It’s easy to lose confidence in Cup,” he said. “You have a mistake or a couple bad weeks and it stacks on you pretty bad. But all you need is that one good weekend to turn it around.
“I’ve talked to people who have run any top level of motorsport and they all say NASCAR was the most competitive and the toughest. There’s a reason for that. I think it’s the deepest field in motorsports and most people can have a good weekend [here] than anywhere else. How many winners did we have last year?”
“It takes one weekend where you have to nail everything once and all of a sudden the whole outlook on your career changes.”
Part of the mental re-charge process has included eying one-off Xfinity starts this season, a series Burton won four times. Unfortunately for Burton, securing the right opportunity to run up front and showcase his talents have gone without success thus far.
“I want to do [Xfinity races] and I want to win if I do it right,” he said. “I feel like it’s the right thing to do to get track time. The right opportunity hasn’t fallen my way yet.
“[Xfinity and Cup cars] are pretty different nowadays. But I think any time you’re on the track, you’re learning. There’s a lot to learn there. Keeping that confidence up is important. I can see how running races in those series would help but also, I would like to stay focused on Cup as much as I can.”
Without Xfinity races planned, indeed, Burton has both hands and feet locked on Cup. And if you ask him, that’s how it needs to be.
“You have to be on your game,” he said. “As a younger guy, it’s hard because you end up looking up to these guys until you get here. And then it’s like, ‘Ok, now I want to beat them.’ Learning to be aggressive, learning to be the aggressor, learning to take the fight to these guys.
“At some point, you just have to go race. It’s no different than running late models and running against Bubba Pollard for the first time knowing he’s the man and will win Pensacola nine times out of 10. Same deal, it’s just at a different level and more people watch.
“When things don’t go right, you’re here for a reason so you don’t want to change the whole wheel and reinvent yourself… but you have to re-adjust or you’ll get left behind.”