NASCAR’s Next Generation: Q&A with Harrison Burton

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If your name is Harrison Burton, your racing career can only start one way.

As the 15-year-old driver remembers it, the setting was the infield at one of the many tracks on the Sprint Cup circuit.

Burton was 2 at the time, his vehicle was a small, battery-powered car. His race course was a series of cones set up by his father, Sprint Cup driver Jeff Burton.

“Even at two years old, I wanted to race,” Harrison Burton told NBC Sports.

A 21-time winner on the Cup circuit and now an analyst for NBC Sports, Jeff Burton was already in teacher mode.

“I guess my dad actually started to take it a little bit more seriously,” Harrison Burton said. “He’d be like ‘You need to be doing this with your line, then doing this.'”

That scene led to one a few months ago with Harrison Burton in his yard playing catch with Pippen, one of his family’s three dogs, when his mother, Kim Burton, came outside to give him the phone. A NASCAR representative called to tell the K&N Pro Series East driver that he was going to be the youngest member of this year’s NASCAR Next class.

The following Q&A has been edited and condensed.

NBC Sports: What is it like being a 15-year-old driver getting this kind of recognition this early in your career?

Burton: It was awesome. I’m part of a class where I’m the youngest one, but where I feel right at home with all these guys and girls. It’s pretty cool. As for me, racing, my dad made this very evident when I started it, it’s an adult thing to do. As soon as you strap on that helmet, you’re a grownup like everyone else and they’ll treat them the same. For me, it didn’t mean a whole lot as to my age. I think that race car drivers, as soon as you strap that helmet on, you have an even playing field as far as age, sex, height, weight.

NBC Sports: Do you feel like an adult?

Burton: No. Only when I’m in a race car do I feel like an adult. I’m still fairly childish I’d say. My mon can attest to that, I’m sure. I don’t feel like an adult yet. Soon enough, I guess.

NBC Sports: You’ll get to race in the Camping World Truck Series later this year at Martinsville with Kyle Busch Motorsports. How did that deal come together and what are you expecting from that experience?

Burton: My dad is kind of my manager I guess you could say. He hasn’t really told me the full story on how that’s all coming together. I think that’s because I’m a blabber mouth and I might tell people. I do know I’m going to a great organization with guys like William Byron, Christopher Bell, Kyle Busch that have all shown success in these trucks. They’re proven to be fast. I think it’s a great environment to prove myself.

DOVER, DE - SEPTEMBER 24: Jeff Burton, driver of the #31 Cingular Wireless Chevrolet, stands with the winners trophy and his wife Kim, daughter Paige, and son Harrison, following the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series Dover 400 on September 24, 2006 at Dover International Speedway in Dover, Delaware. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Jeff Burton poses with his wife Kim, daughter Paige, and son Harrison after winning the Sprint Cup Series Dover 400 on Sept. 24, 2006 at Dover International Speedway. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images for NASCAR)

NBC Sports:  In the K&N series you’ve raced at Bristol, Watkins Glen and Loudon. These are tracks you grew up going to with your dad’s racing career. What’s that been like for you getting to experience these tracks in their truest form after watching from the garage or the RV for so many years?

Burton: It’s different than I expected it to be. I think everyone looks at these faster tracks and gets a little bit nervous about them I guess. I was too, I was nervous about going to Bristol, I was nervous about going to Watkins Glen, especially. But what it comes down to is fundamentals of what you’re doing. If you can make a car go fast, you can make a car go faster. It’s a big challenge to learn the race track and you see how it goes.

NBC Sports: Of those three Cup track you’ve raced at, which one was the most surreal experience for you?

Burton: For me, Bristol. I got to go and see my dad win there (in 2008). My dad won at Loudon as well, but I wasn’t there, I was racing at that point. I was there when my dad won at Bristol.

NBC Sports: This early in your career, what is it that you look for in a race team that isn’t necessarily ‘they’re successful’?

Burton: First off, are you going to have fun? That’s what we’re doing it for. It’s a serious matter, obviously and we take it very seriously, but we’re having fun while doing it. I want to have guys where I can go to the shop and have fun with and be at the race track and have a good time with. Obviously, I want to have fun, but I also want to have intensity during practice and during the race.

NBC Sports: Do you remember the first time you told your parents you wanted to pursue a racing career?

Burton: The thing I do remember the most was … in quarter midgets, which was where I started, there is this national touring series that you can go run. We’re out of North Carolina, but the first race is in Phoenix and it’s (places like) San Antonio. It’s pretty crazy. We’ve got 11 year olds traveling to Phoenix to race. At that point, I was just running at a local race track as much as possible. I went and I asked my mom, I didn’t ask my dad because I felt he would have been harder to ask. It was really hard, because she had to give up so much. That was really the point where she sacrificed time for me so I could go and race and get better with all the best drivers that were in quarter midgets. I remember, I sat there and we all started crying, I don’t know why, it was really emotional. She ended up saying yes and we didn’t look back.

NBC Sports: What do you consider your theme song?

Burton: Me and my mom used to sing this song while going down the road, it’s “House of the Rising Sun.” That’s a good song. We used to sign that and still do whenever it comes on. Not for any particular reason for the meaning of the song, just because me and my mom listened to it.

NBC Sports: What’s the hardest you’ve ever laughed?

Burton: We were about to do the announcement for NASCAR Next, I’m kind of going to throw Todd Gilliland under the bus here, but Todd was absolutely shaking. He was so nervous to go onto Race Hub and everyone was making fun of him for it. That was probably one of the hardest times I’ve ever laughed, watching Todd sit there and shake getting ready to go on TV.

NBC Sports: What was your favorite paint scheme that your dad drove?

Burton: When I was a kid I really loved the purple Prilosec car that had lightning bolts all over it. Prilosec OTC, No. 31. That thing was definitely my favorite, I guess the lighting bolts did the trick for me as a kid.

Cup drivers are for changing Texas but leery about making it another Atlanta

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FORT WORTH, Texas — Some Cup drivers are concerned that a reconfigured Texas Motor Speedway could create racing similar to Atlanta, adding another type of superspeedway race to the NASCAR calendar.

While Texas officials have not stated publicly any plans to make changes, some competitors feel Sunday’s playoff race (3:30 p.m. ET on USA Network) could be the final event on this track’s current layout. 

With the All-Star Race moving from Texas to North Wilkesboro next year, Texas Motor Speedway’s lone Cup race will take place Sept. 24, 2023. That could provide time for any alterations. Work on changing Atlanta began in July 2021 and was completed by December 2021. 

Reigning Cup champion Kyle Larson said work needs to be done to Texas Motor Speedway.

“I would like them to demolish this place first and then start over from scratch,” Larson said Saturday. “For one, they did a very poor job with the reconfiguration, initial reconfiguration. 

“I would like to see them change it from a mile-and-a-half to something shorter. I don’t know if that means bringing the backstretch in or whatever. 

“If I could build a track, it’d be probably a three-quarter mile Bristol basically, pavement and progressive banking. But I don’t know if that’s even possible here. I’m not sure what they have in mind, but anything would be better than what they did.”

Former Cup champion Joey Logano worries about another superspeedway race with such events at Daytona, Talladega and now Atlanta. 

“Do we need more superspeedways?” Logano asked Saturday. “Is that the type of racing fans want to see? Because when you look at the way that people have finished up front in these superspeedways lately, (they) are the ones that are riding around in the back. 

“Do you believe that you should be rewarded for not working? Because that’s what they’re doing. They’re riding around in the back not working, not going up there to put a good race on. They’re riding around in the back and capitalizing on other people’s misfortune for racing up front trying to win. I don’t think it’s right. That’s not racing. I can’t get behind that.”

Logano said he wants to have more control in how he finishes, particularly in a playoff race. 

“I want to be at tracks where I can make a difference, where my team can make a difference, and we’re not at the mercy of a wreck that happened in front of us that we couldn’t do anything about,” he said.

Discussions of changing the track follow complaints about how tough it is to pass at this 1.5-mile speedway.

“Once you get to the top, it’s almost like the bottom (lane) is very, very weak,” Daniel Suarez said.

Suarez has mixed feelings about the idea of turning Texas into another Atlanta-style race.

“Atlanta was a very good racetrack, and then they turned it into a superspeedway and it’s a lot of fun,” Suarez said. “I see it as a hybrid. I don’t think we need another racetrack like that, but it’s not my decision to make. Whatever they throw out at us, I’m going to try to be the best I can be.”

Suarez hopes that Texas can be like what it once was.

“Maybe with some work, we can get this race track to what it used to be, a very wide race track, running the bottom, running the middle, running the top,” he said.  

“As a race car driver, that’s what you want. You want that ability to run around and to show your skills. In superspeedways … everyone is bumping, everyone is pushing, and you can not show your skills as much.”

Chase Briscoe would be OK with a change to Texas, but he wants it to be more like a track other than Atlanta.

“If we’re really going to change and completely start from scratch, I would love another Homestead-type racetrack,” Briscoe said. “The problem is any time you build a new race track, it’s not going to be slick and worn out for a while. It’s trying to figure out what’s best to maximize those first couple of years to get it good by the end. 

“I think Homestead is a great model, if we’re going to build another mile and a half. I think we’re going to have to look at what they have, the progressive banking, the shape of the race track is different. I just think it’s a really good race track, and I think it always puts on really good racing. Anything we could do to try to match that, that would be my vote.”

Denny Hamlin just hopes some sort of change is made to Texas.

“I’d rather have another Atlanta than this, honestly,” Hamlin said. “Anything will be better than kind of what we have here.”

NASCAR shares prayers for Stewart-Haas Racing engineer

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FORT WORTH, Texas — The NASCAR garage is sharing its prayers for Stewart-Haas Racing engineer DJ VanderLey, who was injured Thursday night in a crash during a micro sprint Outlaw race at the Texas Motor Speedway dirt track.

He suffered several fractured vertebrae and has a spinal cord injury, according to a post from his wife Jordan on her Facebook page. 

Two GoFundMe accounts have been set up to help the family with medical costs. 

VanderLey was Chase Briscoe’s engineer for four years, and they are good friends.

“I hate that it happened to anybody,” Briscoe said Saturday at Texas Motor Speedway, “but for it to hit close to home has definitely been tough for me.”

Briscoe said he planned to visit VanderLey in the hospital on Saturday and that “I just hope that everybody continues to pray. That’s really all we can do at this point, trying to hope he gets better.”

Christopher Bell calls VanderLey among his best friends. VanderLey was Bell’s engineer at Kyle Busch Motorsports in 2016. 

Bell spent the night at the hospital and also picked up Jordan VanderLey at the airport when she arrived. 

Stewart-Haas Racing had a decal for VanderLey on Riley Herbst‘s No. 98 Xfinity car for Saturday’s race.

Starting lineup for Texas Cup race: Brad Keselowski wins pole

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Brad Keselowski will be at the front of the field to start Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series playoff race at Texas Motor Speedway (3:30 pm ET, USA Network).

Keselowski, who is not a part of the 12-driver playoff group, won the pole Saturday afternoon with a speed of 188.990, edging Joey Logano‘s 188.805.

MORE: Texas Cup starting lineup

The race is the first of three in the second round of the Cup playoffs. Round of 12 races will follow at Talladega Superspeedway Oct. 2 and the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval Oct. 9.

MORE: Waffle House a headquarters for race winners

Also starting in the top five Sunday will be William Byron, Tyler Reddick and Michael McDowell. It is McDowell’s best oval start of the season and his ninth top-10 start of the year.

Brad Keselowski wins Cup pole at Texas Motor Speedway

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Brad Keselowski, hoping to extend Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing’s turnaround, won the pole Saturday for Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series playoff race at Texas Motor Speedway.

It was the second piece of good news for RFK Racing in two weeks. Chris Buescher,  Keselowski’s teammate, won last week’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway, the first victory for the team under the RFK banner.

Keselowski, who ran 188.990 mph, is not a part of the 12-driver playoff group. Nine of the first 14 starting positions were filled by playoff drivers.

MORE: Texas Cup qualifying results

Following in the top five Saturday were Joey Logano, William Byron, Tyler Reddick and Michael McDowell. Playoff point leader Chase Elliott will start sixth.

“Texas is a really tough track,” Keselowski told NBC Sports. “As hot as it’s going to be, that will be even tougher.”

Race-time temperatures are expected to be in the mid-90s Sunday.

The race (3:30 p.m. ET), the first event in the second round of the playoffs, will be televised by the USA Network.