DAYTONA BEACH, Florida – Amid a whirlwind of cross-country flights and nonstop testing (with some racing), Harrison Burton still wanted a dog heading into his rookie season in the NASCAR Cup Series.
“It’s an interesting experience, and I always was like, ‘Oh it won’t be that hard,’ ” Burton said about Remy, his new Golden Retriever puppy, during a break from the cockpit of a Mustang GT4 at Daytona International Speedway last week. “It’s pretty hard! And (Chase) Briscoe’s got like a kid, and I’m like, ‘Holy cow, that must be really hard!’ You can’t just leave your kid in the pen. I can do that with my puppy, she’ll be all right for a few hours. He must have some serious stuff going on.”
Burton, who turned 21 last October, has a lot going on himself, having barely spent any time at home during the last two weeks of January. The new driver of the No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford went directly from a Next Gen test at Daytona to NASCAR Production Days in Charlotte to a Next Gen test in Phoenix Raceway.
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He then caught a redeye to Orlando, so he could practice and qualify for the Michelin Pilot Challenge race last weekend at Daytona. This week, he headed back to the West Coast for the Clash at the Coliseum but with a few more stops on the way this week.
“It’s not overwhelming,” he said. “It’s been really easy just because I’ve got a lot of good people around me. With the puppy at home, I dumped her off with my parents and girlfriend and sister. Everyone helps me so I can do my racing deal. My support system is great. I’ve got a lot of great people around me to help on that side. Obviously, it’s busy.”
Awesome stuff! Excited to represent these great people with @woodbrothers21 https://t.co/ze0mASV7Bb
— Harrison Burton (@HBurtonRacing) February 2, 2022
Last weekend at Daytona actually offered a slight respite in that he co-drove the Mustang with fellow Cup rookie Austin Cindric, finishing ninth in a four-race at Daytona (which Briscoe also ran with Hailie Deegan).
“It was good to get my mind off everything and focus on being a race car driver and enjoying that,” Burton said. “It’s been fun.”
Cindric, who also raced in the Rolex 24 at Daytona before heading to consecutive Team Penske production days Monday and Tuesday, has been just as busy but also seemed to be holding up well.
Wrapping up day✌️of Team Penske production day!
Plenty of good laughs that you’ll enjoy throughout the year! 😊 #NASCAR | #INDYCAR pic.twitter.com/2YyFEx4Ten
— Team Penske (@Team_Penske) February 1, 2022
“It’s been pretty awesome,” he said after completing his first two stints of the Rolex 24. “I can’t really complain too much. My food intake has replaced my sleep intake. That’ll definitely catch up with me at Penske production day. It’s been a lot of fun, and I don’t think anyone would look at me straight if I complained about the week I’ve had. I wouldn’t trade it.”
The offseason laps have been beneficial for Burton and Cindric as they get acclimated to the Next Gen but also to each other (they actually attended the same high school in the Charlotte area, two years apart).
With Wood Brothers Racing and Team Penske closely aligned for team debriefs and sharing information, Burton also has worked to build a working relationship with Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney, whom he said have “really welcomed me with open arms.”
.@HBurtonRacing ➡️@AustinCindric ⬅️ pic.twitter.com/OyZecvfpn1
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) January 28, 2022
Sharing the sports car with Cindric and practicing the technique of in-race driver changes also helped improve their rapport.
“Just driving the same car and hearing (Austin) talk about how it drives,” Burton said. “Driver swaps have been a new thing for me. He taught me how to do all that. Stuff like that when you’re kind of forced to learn and talk and work with each other for getting to know him and him getting to know me well.
“Anytime you’re new to a team, getting to know the people you work with is a big deal and being able to use those people as a resource. You get a new colleague, it’s always what does this person do well, how can we help each other be better. That’s been a good thing for sure.”