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 to run on Indianapolis road course in 2021

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The NASCAR Cup Series will return to Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2021 but will race on the road course for the first time instead of the oval, track officials announced Wednesday.

Cup will race on the road course on Aug. 15. That race will be held a day after the NTT IndyCar Series races on the Indy road course.

“Our first NASCAR-IndyCar weekend was a big success last July, with positive feedback from our loyal fans who watched the races on NBC and from the drivers, teams and participants involved,” IMS President J. Douglas Boles said in a statement. “The Xfinity Series’ debut on the IMS road course provided exactly the kind of thrilling action from the green to checkered flags that we anticipated, so we know the teams and drivers of the Cup Series will put on a great show as they turn left and right for the first time at IMS.

“We can’t wait to welcome back fans to see NASCAR and IndyCar together during this exciting weekend as we add another memorable chapter in the long, storied history of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.”

MORE: Atlanta to have two Cup dates in 2021

MORE: Darlington to run Cup races on Mother’s Day, Labor Day weekend in 2021

The Cup Series has raced at Indy since 1994. But as the racing there has been questioned and the sport has made a push for more road course races, NASCAR moved the Xfinity Series to the road course this year as a trial. The event was well received, creating the opportunity to move next year’s Cup race to the road course as well.

Indy’s road course is 2.439 miles and features 14 turns. Chase Briscoe won the Xfinity race there after a four-car battle for the lead in the final laps.

The full Cup schedule will be announced Wednesday afternoon. The Xfinity schedule will be announced at a later date. Boles said on a media Zoom he was unsure of the Xfinity plans but talked with Joey Logano about an interest Logano would have in running in a Xfinity race there to get more track time for the Cup race.

 

Darlington Raceway gets second Cup race for 2021

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Darlington Raceway will have two races in 2021, marking the first time since 2004 that the track has been scheduled to hold multiple Cup races in a season. The track announced its schedule Wednesday with South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster at the Governor’s mansion.

“Congratulations. Thank you. Hallelujah,” Gov. McMaster said after the dates were announced.

Darlington was scheduled to host one race in 2020 but added two more in NASCAR’s return to racing after the season was suspended by the COVID-19 pandemic.

MORE: Atlanta to host two Cup races in 2021 for first time since 2010

The track will hold its first Cup race next season on May 9. That is Mother’s Day. It marks only the third time in the last 40 years the series will have run on Mother’s Day. The series last raced on Mother’s Day in 2007 when rain forced the Darlington race to be held that afternoon. The only other time NASCAR raced on Mother’s Day in the last 40 years was 1986 when the All-Star Race was held at Atlanta.

Darlington’s second date will be its Southern 500 event on Sept. 5, Labor Day weekend. That race will again open the  Cup playoffs.

NASCAR will announce the 2021 Cup schedule on Wednesday afternoon.

Darlington hosted two Cup races a season from 1960-2004. It held one Cup race from 2005-19.

The track stated that 2021 schedules for the NASCAR Xfinity and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series will be announced at a later date.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, tweeted that the Darlington races would be run with the low downforce package.

 

 

Atlanta to host two Cup races in 2021

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Atlanta Motor Speedway will host two Cup races in 2021, marking the first time since 2010 that the 1.5-mile speedway will have multiple Cup events in the same season.

Atlanta will host Cup races on March 21 and July 11.

The July 11 race will be the Quaker State 400 Presented by Walmart, moving sponsorship that had been with Kentucky Speedway. Kentucky Speedway will not be on the 2021 schedule. Its date becomes the second Atlanta date. The March race will be known at the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500.

The July race marks the first 400-mile race at Atlanta since 1966.

The track announced its dates Wednesday morning. The full 2021 Cup schedule will be released Wednesday afternoon.

Atlanta Motor Speedway stated on its website that it plans to host fans in its stands and camping areas in socially distanced, limited capacity for each of its Cup races in 2021.

“We’re beyond excited to deliver what our fans have been yearning for: a second weekend of NASCAR action in Atlanta once again,” AMS Executive Vice President and General Manager Brandon Hutchison said in a statement. “Folds of Honor and QuikTrip continue to be phenomenal partners for our spring weekend of racing and we’re thrilled to have Quaker State and Walmart on board this summer as we put together two weekends of entertainment and excitement for race fans.”

Talladega Truck starting lineup

Talladega Truck starting lineup
Photo by David John Griffin/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
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Sheldon Creed will lead the Talladega Truck starting lineup to the green flag in Saturday’s playoff race.

Creed led a race-high 89 laps last week at Las Vegas Motor Speedway before finishing second to Austin Hill. That win moved Hill to the next round of the playoffs.

Hill will start Saturday’s race second. Zane Smith, Grant Enfinger and Chandler Smith will follow him.

Click here for starting lineup

The race is the final event in the first round. Two drivers will be eliminated. Ben Rhodes is six points behind Christian Eckes for the final transfer spot. Todd Gilliland trails Eckes by 19 points.

Eckes starts sixth, Gilliland starts 10th and Rhodes starts 11th.

“We’re gonna go in there and be aggressive,” Gilliland said. “If we wreck trying to go for the win, I think we can live with ourselves on that, whereas other guys that might be able to let someone in and still make it on points, those guys are gonna be looking behind them and worrying about points this whole week. For us, it’s pretty simple.  There’s no one behind us. We can only move forward from here if we do our job right.”

The Talladega Truck starting lineup is set by using a formula based on four statistical categories: owner points position, owner final race position, the finish and fastest lap from the most recently completed race.

Performance Metrics Qualifying is a total number based on the previous race. The formula is 15% of a fastest lap time position, 25% of the driver’s final race finish position, 25% of the owner’s final race position and 35% of the owner points position. Any ties will be broken by the rule book.

NASCAR Cup Series at Talladega 

Race time: 1 p.m. ET, Saturday

Track: Talladega Superspeedway; Talladega, Alabama (2.66-mile speedway)

Length: 94 laps (250.04 miles)

Stages: Stage 1 ends Lap 20. Stage 2 ends Lap 40.

TV coverage: FS1

Radio: Motor Racing Network (also SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Streaming: NBC Sports app (subscription required); mrn.com and SiriusXM for audio (subscription required)

Lineup: Click here for starting lineup

Next Xfinity race: Saturday at Talladega (113 laps, 300.58 miles), 4:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN

Next Cup race: Sunday at Talladega (188 laps, 500 miles), 2 p.m. ET on NBC