‘Ninth is not good enough’ says rookie Harrison Burton

Photo by Jerry Jordan/Kickin' the Tires

By Jerry Jordan, Editor

DARLINGTON, S.C. – Imagine being a rookie racecar driver and restarting the racing season following a global pandemic at a track nicknamed ‘Too Tough to Tame’ but never making a single lap before the green flag was scheduled to fall – that was the reality for Harrison Burton.

Burton came into the Toyota 200 at Darlington Raceway, on Thursday, with four Top 5’s in a row, including a win and two runners-up and he despite running in the Top 10 throughout the race, his streak would come to an end. Burton was running seventh heading into the final lap but by the time he made the final circuit he came across the stripe in ninth.

“Ninth is not good enough,” Burton told Kickin’ the Tires after the race. “It wasn’t a bad run, it was tough to fire off and not really ever have seen the place before.”

File photo: Harrison Burton

It was bad enough that Burton had never turned a lap at Darlington but the race was originally supposed to run on Tuesday. It was rained out. Then, when drivers reassembled Thursday, they waited for four hours after the green flag was supposed to fly because the rains continued to plague the Xfinity Series return to racing. Much like icing a pitched in baseball, Burton waited and waited – thinking about going green on a green track with no rubber laid down.

“I think my nerves went away like in every race, as soon as you fire up the engine and, kind of, get rolling,” the 19-year-old Burton said. “You know, for me, as soon as I turn the racecar on everything just goes away and I just focus. I am having a good time doing what I love and I don’t really have too much nerves, which is nice, I think.

“Now, before the race, I am like, ‘dang, this is going to be crazy’ and then right when it starts I’m ready to go. It’s my job, just let me go out and execute and I didn’t feel like I did that as good as I could have today. So, it was a good day and not a great day.”

Coming off a 74-day break, where the entire world was locked down in different degrees of restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Burton was ready to get behind the wheel of a real racecar. Hitting the Toyota similar at TRD or driving in iRacing events can help a driver learn the track and braking points but it is no substitute for the feel of Goodyear rubber sliding on asphalt at 150-plus mph.

“Yeah, life is what you make it, I think everyone gets discouraged about it some days and you’re not going to have a good time that day but you make the best of it and that’s how a lot of things are in life,” Burton said, as he reflected on getting back to the track post lockdown. “But for me, it was tough because I was having so much fun racing and I missed going to battle with my team and that comradery. I don’t know. I missed competing, I guess and being part of my team. I told them that was what I missed most and I was happy to have it back but not happy to finish ninth and that is how this team is. We are super focused on doing good and super focused on doing our jobs the best we can.”

Burton explained that he realizes he is with a great organization at Joe Gibbs Racing and he knows his team can get it done. He has already been to Victory Lane one this season at Auto Club Speedway in California. His runner-up finishes at Daytona and Phoenix were races where he could have won, so he is confident and coming off what wasn’t the best year in the truck series, he wants to excel.

“Now, that I have had that win in California, I want more,” he said.

Darlington was tough for Burton all the way to the checkered flag, he said. There were points where he got better as the day progressed but he realized there was little chance he would conquer the Track Too Tough to Tame.

“Three and four I felt really, really good about, especially late in the run going right up against the wall,” Burton said. “I felt really confident about that. Late in the run, I felt like our speeds were good because I was able to maintain in (Turns) one and two and again in three and four. But early in the runs I struggled. I don’t know, it is hard to describe. I struggled like entry to corner length of the corner just being able to get to the throttle, I was loose. I don’t know if I was setting myself up on entry or what it was. I was struggling pretty hard with that and it was pretty much my main focus to fix the whole race and I think I got better at the end but we were running seventh on the last lap and got past and finished ninth, which was frustrating, as well.”

While most would consider a ninth-place a strong finish for a rookie in the first outing at Darlington, Burton feels he left something on the table. But with NASCAR back, he has already put things in his rearview mirror and looks forward to Monday at Charlotte Motor Speedway. He is focused on winning.

“It’s just the way I am wired, that’s what making racing fun for me … Not winning is not fun,” he said. “I am ready to get to Charlotte.”

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