Jeff Burton

NASCAR America: Challenges of manufacturer parity in Cup

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As NASCAR closes the 2017 season this week in Las Vegas, an issue becomes if manufacturer parity will be a reality in 2018.

Toyota, which debuted a new Camry before the 2017 season, didn’t win the most races in the regular season — Chevrolet did with 10 — but Toyota won eight of 10 playoff races and won the championship with Martin Truex Jr. (Chevrolet went winless in the playoffs).

Toyota’s dominance was an issue Ford driver Brad Keselowski raised toward the end of the regular season. Toyota driver Kyle Busch had a sharp response to Keselowski’s comments at Chicagoland Speedway on the opening weekend of the playoffs. 

NASCAR America’s Kyle Petty and Jeff Burton addressed the issue of manufacturer parity.

“Is the parity of the manufacturers, is that such that you’re going to have to do a (car) submittal every year?’’ Burton said. “So that Ford can go back … (and) resubmit the same car to be able to shift that downforce. I don’t think a Toyota makes more downforce than a Ford. I think it makes more rear downforce and less front and that was advantageous this year with the rules. That’s a tough situation for NASCAR to get a hold of.’’

Chevrolet debuts the Camaro ZL1 next season in Cup. That will leave Ford with the oldest model among the three manufacturers

“It’s going to be interesting to see what NASCAR does or how they try to balance the field,’’ Petty said. “If they want true parity, they’re going to have to look at this at some point in time and try to figure out how to weigh it.’’

Watch the video above for more from Petty and Burton on the issue.

NASCAR America: Youth will have big impact in 2018 at Gibbs and Hendrick teams

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As we continue to look at how some of the sport’s power teams shape up for 2018, it was our turn to analyze both Joe Gibbs Racing and Hendrick Motorsports on Tuesday’s NASCAR America.

While both organizations may seem opposite ends apart, there’s really a lot of similarity heading into next season.

Both Erik Jones – who moves to JGR to replace Matt Kenseth in the No. 20 – and teammate Daniel Suarez will be entering their second full season in Cup racing in 2018.

How much better will both be next season? Or, will one or both fall victim to the notorious NASCAR sophomore jinx and both have tough second seasons?

Then there’s Hendrick Motorsports, which uncharacteristically struggled in 2017. The head of the Chevrolet family in NASCAR, HMS and Chevy failed to place even one driver in the Championship 4 round at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

And this is where HMS has a lot of similarity with JGR: youth.

Gone for 2018 are Dale Earnhardt Jr. (retired) and Kasey Kahne (moved to Leavine Family Racing).

In their stead will be youngsters William Byron, fresh off winning the NASCAR Xfinity Series as a rookie this past season, and Alex Bowman, who will replace Earnhardt Jr. in the No. 88.

And don’t forget about Chase Elliott, who will enter his third full season in Cup and is still looking for his first breakthrough win. It’s not a matter of if, but rather a matter of time.

Our analysts Kyle Petty and Jeff Burton gave their take on what HMS and JGR will be like in 2018 on Tuesday’s NASCAR America.

Click the videos above (JGR) and below (HMS) to see what our analysts had to say.

NASCAR America, special start 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN: Bud Moore, Cup power teams

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Today’s edition of NASCAR America airs at a special time, from 6-7 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Carolyn Manno and Kyle Petty host from Stamford, Connecticut. Jeff Burton joins them from Burton’s Garage.

Here is what’s on today’s show:

  • NASCAR Hall of Famer and decorated World War II veteran Bud Moore has passed away at the age of 92. As the NASCAR community pauses to remember him, we’ll look back on his championship legacy in the sport and the heroism he displayed while serving America in its time of need.
  • We’ll also continue our early look ahead to the 2018 season with driver moves among the sport’s power teams – Hendrick, Penske, Gibbs, Stewart-Haas, and new champs Furniture Row!
  • Sirius XM NASCAR Radio’s Pete Pistone also joins us with his thoughts on the late Bud Moore and the one driver change for 2018 that intrigues him the most.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, you can also watch it via the online stream at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at a special start time of 6 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

Harrison Burton’s drive to racing stardom happening sooner, faster than his father’s

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Being a teenager in the Burton family is not what it once was.

For Jeff Burton, the age of 16 included the end of his go-kart career. Still in school, he played soccer and basketball and went to parties on the weekends in his hometown of South Boston, Virginia.

He also dated his future wife, Kim, a junior varsity cheerleader who spent time in gymnastics and performing in dance recitals.

“We were allowed to just be regular kids,” she says.

For Harrison Burton, the highlight of his mid-teens was becoming the youngest NASCAR K&N Pro Series East champion, less than two weeks before his 17th birthday on Oct. 9.

He earned the title Sept. 29 when he won the season finale at Dover International Speedway and exited the race with an eight-point advantage over season-long rival Todd Gilliland.

It capped a year where the MDM Motorsports driver scored five wins, including four in the first eight races. He also made six starts in the Camping World Truck Series with a best finish of fourth at Martinsville Speedway a month after he clinched the K&N title.

Not bad for someone who committed to the family business at the age of 9 after four years of racing quarter midgets.

“I think I was pretty old, like relatively,” Harrison Burton says.

Going National

“Quarter midget racing, it was fun,” Harrison says in his father’s shop in Huntersville, North Carolina, which houses one of his late-model cars and the red 1957 Chevrolet his parents drove in their youth.

“You would race and then go play football afterward … tackle a guy so hard that he would wreck you. That was kind of the extent of that. It was a bunch of friends and we’d travel around and race.”

Then USAC established a national quarter midget series, one that would send 10-year-olds and their parents as far west as Phoenix.

Harrison wanted in.

At the time his father’s Cup career was winding down, but it still kept Jeff Burton from attending most of his son’s races. Sundays after races and Tuesdays were dedicated to working on Harrison’s cars.

“He came to us and he had a proposal,” says Jeff Burton, now an analyst for NBC Sports. “We both immediately said, ‘No, there’s just no way that we can do it.’ We were explaining to him, I’m racing. This means we’re going to be separated as a family.

“So his reply to that was, ‘I don’t want to do anything that’s going to hurt our family. So we just won’t do it.’

“I don’t know if he’s a good salesman or what he is. But now how do you say no to a kid that has that perspective? Essentially (Kim) had to make the decision because I couldn’t do it.

“Can she do it? Can she manage it? Plus a daughter. Can she manage this?”

She did.

For two years, Kim Burton shepherded her son’s young racing career and her daughter’s horse riding career while also attending her husband’s Cup races, typically all in a three-day span.

It was this period, in which he competed in roughly 300 races (including heat races), that Harrison thought back to when he arrived in Dover’s Victory Lane.

Harrison and Kim Burton embrace in Victory Lane after his win at Dover International Speedway. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

“I just thought about all the races, all the weird areas I’ve been around the country,” he says. “My mom in a motor home.”

“Not so great hotels,” Kim quickly adds.

It was much like those days in the early 90s, when she and Jeff went from track to track as he worked to establish his name in the Xfinity Series at the same time she worked as a teacher.

“It was just, ‘Are we going to race each year?’” Kim recalls. “That first year, it was us in a van, basically. We drove around the country all night long, trying to eke out, figuring out how to make everything work. He had a crew of a few guys that were his late model guys. It was hard. It wasn’t glamorous. Riding in a van with five stinkin’ men, all night long. It was like, ‘What am I doing?’

She was unknowingly preparing herself for her son’s own journey into NASCAR history.

‘This feels really slow’

It was in Harrison’s second year in the national quarter midget series that his dad saw “it.”

That’s when “the magic happened,” Jeff said.

Jeff saw the drive and driver intuition that would serve his son well as he tried to move up the driving ranks.

“It got to the point where we could show up and he could look at the race track at 10 years old and understood what he needed to do and where he needed to run,” Jeff says.

A race day would see Harrison at the track until 10 p.m. A test day would have him sitting in the car non-stop for four to five hours.

“Part of that is because I’m insane,” Jeff says. “But the other part of it is because he needed to … If you’re going to do this, what are you willing to give up? … He has our support as long as he has the willingness and desire to put the effort, time and energy into it. If someone’s going to outwork him, he doesn’t deserve it.

“Children don’t do this. Men do this. Grown men, women. When you get in that car you can’t be a child. When you get out of it, you can be, but when you get in it, you can’t be.

“He never balked at it. He never complained about it.”

Harrison also didn’t balk when, at the age of 11, he took part in his first Limited Late Model test at Southern National Motorsports Park in Lucama, North Carolina.

Harrison Burton leads Christopher Bell during the Oct. 28 Camping World Truck Series race at Martinsville Speedway. (Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)

With crew members from their quarter midget team helping and then-Richard Childress Racing engineer Matt McCall (now Jamie McMurray’s crew chief) supervising, Harrison used a step stool to climb into the vehicle and took to the track.

Upon returning to the pits Harrison told his father, “this feels really slow.”

This from a kid whose only racing experience was on tracks small enough to complete a lap in under five seconds.

“Driving a world formula quarter midget is out of control,” Jeff says. “It’s a grossly overpowered, under-gripped race car on a tiny track with 11 cars.”

Within four years, Harrison was racing at Dover, Bristol and other short tracks his father didn’t set foot on until his early 20s.

“Part of me says that’s awesome,” Jeff says. “The other part of me says, ‘Damn, that’s a lot of pressure to put on somebody.’”

The pressure didn’t slow his son down. In April, 16-year-old Harrison started from the pole in the K&N East race at Bristol, led 68 of 70 laps and won his first NASCAR race.

More Schooling

Harrison Burton had to make sacrifices to become a NASCAR champion. That included giving up playing lacrosse at school.

“When it was winding down and I had to cut lacrosse, (his father) was like, ‘You know, you can do whatever you want. You don’t have to do this because it’s what I did,” Harrison said. “Every time it’s been hands down, I want to race, I want to race, I want to race, I want to race. He’s asked me that more than you would think.”

But Harrison adds there’s “nothing I regret giving up because I knew it was for racing.”

This season coincided with the younger Burton’s junior year, which took a hit as his focus narrowed on battling Gilliland for the K&N East title. He missed an entire week of school at one point.

The biggest casualty was biology.

“It’s been harder than normal,” he says. “That led to results like you’d about imagine in school. I’m kind of making up for that now, and I feel like I’m getting my grades back up. It’s a hard balance for sure. It’s something you feel so focused on racing and you spend a lot of time preparing for races and then you go and you feel like there’s hardly enough time for school, and it’s hard to focus on school when all you want to do is race.”

Despite the split attention, the Burton household is now home to its first NASCAR champion.

Being 17 and with NASCAR’s age limits on competing on large tracks, going full-time in Trucks isn’t a possibility yet. He’ll have at least one more year of dividing his time between school and racing.

“My wish list is to run as many races as possible and learn as much as I can,” Harrison said after his fourth-place finish at Martinsville in the Truck Series. “I think I have a long way to go if I want to race every Sunday, so I’ve got to learn as much as I can, as fast as I can ‘cause I used to be a 14-year-old kid with a long, a long time to go before I even had to think about that stuff and had a long time to learn, but now the time’s coming.”

For now he’s still a teenager, for better or worse.

Before he left Dover for the trip back to North Carolina, he made a parting remark to his dad that reminds you some things about being a teenager don’t change.

“I am so far behind on homework.”

NASCAR America: Why did Denny Hamlin battle Chase Elliott late in the race when he didn’t have to?

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Had he stayed on track and on focus, Denny Hamlin woulda, coulda, shoulda wound up with the final Championship 4 berth last weekend at Phoenix.

But he didn’t and it cost him possibly his first Cup championship.

On Monday’s edition of NASCAR America, analysts Dale Jarrett, Jeff Burton and Nate Ryan broke down what happened in Sunday’s Can-Am 500 at Phoenix Raceway.

They discussed why, when Hamlin was ahead of Brad Keselowski, who was the only driver he should have worried about when it came to Hamlin’s hopes to reach the title race via points, he chose instead to race Chase Elliott for third place with less than 50 laps left.

Elliott had to win to advance. As long as he didn’t and Hamlin remained ahead of Keselowski, Hamlin would take the final transfer spot.

Instead, Hamlin raced Elliott. The result was Elliott moved Hamlin up the track, forcing Hamlin into the wall in what many portrayed as payback for Hamlin wrecking Elliott out of the lead two weeks ago at Martinsville. The contact at Phoenix led to a cut tire and sent Hamlin into the wall, ending his race and title hopes.

Here is what our analysts had to say (watch the video above for all their comments on the incident).

Dale Jarrett:

“Why was (Hamlin) even putting up a battle with someone, who we knew there was potential because just a few short weeks ago that things escalated to a bad situation at Martinsville with him? So why would you race that person when it didn’t make any difference?

“(Hamlin) goes out in the first two stages and does everything he needs to do, he’s doing well in the third stage. By then, he had set himself up to where all he had to do was beat (Keselowski). So I don’t understand why he was letting the (Elliott) affect him. If (Elliott) was going to pass him and go on to win the race, he couldn’t do anything there, so just focus on (Keselowski).

“I don’t understand why they weren’t telling Denny more that this isn’t your battle, the battle is still behind you and that’s all you have to worry about.”

Nate Ryan:

“There wasn’t a lot of communication telling Denny that Brad Keselowski is behind you. At that point, Brad had just catapulted into the top 10 due to some shrewd strategy by his crew chief, Paul Wolfe. … He got from the mid-teens into the top 10 and he was in Denny Hamlin’s mirror for the first time all race.

“I think he also had on his mind probably that he’s battling Chase Elliott for third and Chase is fast. If Elliott gets past him and gets the win, then it’s game over either way and Denny has no shot at advancing by points.”

Jeff Burton:

“What really confuses me is that there were comments on social media that Denny was trying to let Chase go.  … I don’t possibly see how that’s accurate. When you come off a corner side-by-side with a guy at a tight racetrack, that’s not letting the guy go.

“There was a bigger picture. Chase and Denny had two completely different agendas at this point in the race. Chase really had nothing to lose. If Chase didn’t win this race, he was not going to move forward.

“Denny didn’t have to win the race because of the great job he did in the first two stages. I just don’t think Denny and the 11 team didn’t respond to the great work they did in the first two stages. They didn’t need to race Chase, they just needed to let him go. Once (Elliott) is underneath you, just get on the brakes and slow down and let him go. I’m sorry, it’s not that hard.

“If you think you’re better than (Keselowski)) and you’re still racing (Elliott), that was not a good decision.”