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Harrison Burton continues to learn through a tumultuous rookie season. (HHP/Tom Copeland)

Burton Growing ‘Comfortable In Uncomfortable Situations’

To say Harrison Burton’s maiden NASCAR Cup Series season has been a crash course would be an understatement. 

Burton started off the season upside down on the roof of his No. 21 in a spectacular crash early in the Daytona 500. He also crashed out the next week at Fontana (Calif.) in a late-race pileup. 

To add insult to injury, Burton’s first career top 10 in the Cup Series didn’t come until July at Atlanta Motor Speedway. 

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Burton (21) flips during the Daytona 500. (HHP/Chris Owens)

In what he considered to be a disappointment so far, the 21-year-old admitted he had higher expectations heading into the season. 

“I think it’s definitely been a let down for me personally,” Burton said. “I wanted to come out and do a really good job and I feel like I made a lot of mistakes early. Some things I feel like I did well early, but I don’t know. I don’t know what the grade would be. I haven’t really thought a lot about that. I think the biggest thing is just trying to build off of every weekend.”

Like every team in the garage area, a big emphasis for Burton and the Wood Brothers Racing organization has been attempting to dissect and figure out the Next Gen car. 

Burton believes the learning process of racing the new car has been one of the toughest challenges throughout the season.

“They’re a lot different to drive than the old generation car and they’re different setup and the priorities are different, the philosophy is different,” Burton said. “For me, as a driver, I’ve learned a lot. I feel like I’m getting more comfortable in uncomfortable situations and I think that’s the key to being a great race car driver.

“These cars are gonna drive poorly. They’re gonna be on the edge of control and being on that edge and driving it hard through that edge had been a good lesson I think I learned the first third of the year and trying to apply that to these racetracks we go to a second time is gonna be super important to show some signs and get up front.”

As Burton continues to learn and push through the uncomfortable situations on-track, the driver of the No. 21 has noticed a swing in other areas that he’s had to adjust to over the course of the season.

Amidst his leap to NASCAR’s highest level, Burton has been challenged with working through self reflection as he tries to grow as a driver without being too hard on himself.

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Burton scored his best career finish at Indianapolis, earning a 3rd place result. (HHP/Chris Owens)

“I think the biggest challenge is trying to find a way to be proactive to issues, instead of reactive to issues and it’s always hard to look in the mirror,” Burton said. “As a race car driver, you want to be the fastest guy ever to step in a race car.

“You want to have the most natural talent that anyone has ever had. That’s what you want to be and so when you have to look at yourself in the mirror and say, ‘Hey, I’m not doing this right and I’m not doing that right,’ sometimes that can be a little hard because all race car drivers have an ego. I think everyone knows that who talks to us long enough, so it’s hard because you want to be confident going to the racetrack.

“You don’t want to pick yourself apart, but you also need to know what you could have done better,” Burton continued. “That’s a balance. I tend to be really hard on myself and want to be the best I can be, so every mistake I make I kind of wear it on my sleeve. My girlfriend, Jenna, has to deal with if I qualify bad, I’m probably gonna be mad for all of Saturday. If I qualify good, I’ll be in a good mood. For me, I try not to take it so harsh if it’s bad or take it so good if it’s good is a challenge. To try and stay in the middle of that rollercoaster and not go up or down too much is really important for me, personally.”

As Burton looks to stay the course and find a balance within the race car, the four-time Xfinity Series winner believes he’s seen tremendous growth since the season opener at Daytona. 

“I feel a lot more confident now. Every time I get in the car I feel like I can push it,” Burton said. “I feel like I know the limit of the tire. There was a time when I first started this Next Gen car experience where I really didn’t feel that way. I got in the race car and was uncomfortable with a lot about it. I never really knew where the limit was and through experience I’ve been able to find those limits — make mistakes but learn from them. Every time I get in the race car I’m more and more confident, so, yeah, as a driver I feel I’m a lot better in this car in particular.

“I feel like I’m a smarter driver now having raced against Cup competition for two-thirds of a year now. That’s only gonna bring the most out of you is when you’re around people like this.” 

As the final three regular season races loom, a more confident Burton feels the No. 21 team can be on the upswing with tracks he has more experience at. 

“We have to show up and qualify well, practice well. I really want to be in that top 10 in qualifying at Richmond,” Burton said. “I feel like we can do that. I feel like I’m a driver that can do that. I’ve led a lot of laps in Xfinity at Richmond and had a win slip away there. I really love that racetrack and feel like that place suits me well, so I want to be a top 10 guy there in qualifying and build off of that for the race. Then we go to Watkins Glen and just want to show similar speed and get a good result like we did at the Indy road course.

“I’d like to try to build off of that result and see what we learned,” Burton continued. “I feel like we have some good directions from our post-race meetings there that we learned from what we could do to make our car better, and then Daytona my expectation is that my team shows up with the same level of aggression as we did in the 500 and try and go and lead laps in that thing and be aggressive and try to take advantage of that opportunity.”

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