Harrison Burton is taking his lumps as a NASCAR Cup Series rookie.
Burton felt he and Wood Brothers Racing came out of the gates strong with speed at the L.A. Coliseum and Daytona 500. The No. 21 Ford Mustang was 12th in the Coliseum, third in its Daytona Duel race, and briefly led the Daytona 500 before being sent for a tumble on the backstretch.
It’s been a struggle since Burton landed back on his wheels. Two DNFs in the first two races and only two top-20 finishes in the last four have Burton 30th in the point standings.
But Burton felt like his weekend at Circuit of The Americas was a step in the right direction and showed flashes of what his group is capable. Burton was fourth fastest in practice, earned stage points and finished 17th Sunday afternoon.
“It’s a building process and I think everyone at the Wood Brothers and myself understands that this is going to be a building process,” Burton said. “Obviously, the good start we had at L.A. and Daytona, we wanted to continue that, and that hasn’t quite happened, so we’re working really hard to make it happen, and I think we’ve got a great racetrack for us coming up at Richmond.”
Burton took well to Richmond Raceway in the four starts he made as an Xfinity Series driver, putting together an 8.8 average finish. But the Xfinity Series is much different from what a driver experiences at the Cup Series level, and Burton is finding out the same thing many other young drivers who came before him have. It is the toughest series, and no matter how much a driver thinks they’re ready for it, that’s never the case.
“I think every rookie has some days like that, where you feel like you’re driving really hard and what would be enough to be top five in Xfinity is not top five in Cup, that’s for sure,” Burton said. “I think this weekend (at COTA) was something that was similar to that for me just with the stage points. We kind of sold our whole strategy to get stage points and it worked pretty well, and then you get buried in the back for the last stage and it’s so hard to pass through those guys. I thought we had a pretty decent car, and they’re just really good. So you find yourself really battling to get to 17th, which is where I ended up.
“Overall, it’s certainly a challenge and it should be a challenge. I think that’s what makes it awesome. I have a lot of things that are going on that I think are good and I’m learning a lot; but also, there are those days that can humble you really quick, and that’s good. That’s part of the learning process, and it’ll make you better over time.”
With six races down and many more to go, Burton has already recognized where he needs to change his game.
“I feel like I need to be a little more aggressive understanding how important track position is,” Burton said. “As soon as the race starts, it’s time to go. It’s easy to say, ‘I have 500 miles to go figure it out.’ Well, if you lose a couple of spots, those guys that pass you are really smart, they’re really good, and they’re hard to pass back, so you end up spending more time trying to pass them than you would trying to move forward. That’s been my focus — to get a little more aggressive over time and get a little bit more on the offensive instead of defensive against these guys. Just go take the fight to them and see what we’ve got.”