By: Zach Catanzareti, Staff Writer
Harrison Burton is making the “big jump” in 2022. That being the infamous step into a rookie NASCAR Cup Series season.
And as if that isn’t intimidating enough, the 20-year-old will be representing the oldest team in the sport, Wood Brothers Racing and their famed No. 21 Ford.
Announced in July, Burton has since developed a relationship with the team while competing full-time in the Xfinity Series for Joe Gibbs Racing.
And though 2022 will be the challenge, and opportunity, of his career, it’s not taking precedent over his current endeavor for an Xfinity championship in 2021.
“It’s kind of a tough spot to be honest because you want to remain 100 percent committed to your Xfinity program,” Burton said. “But when you’re making a step to Cup, you got to know it’s the hardest series in the world. Anything you can do to get more and more ready for that is important.”
Grabbing his seventh top-five finish Saturday at Watkins Glen International, Burton’s ’21 Xfinity season has been middle of the road, nearly mirroring the statistics of teammates Brandon Jones and Daniel Hemric. With the effort being shown from his Xfinity team, Burton wants to fulfill that obligation to the very end.
“My No. 1 commitment is to the No. 20 team. Those guys work their guts out and I owe it to them to work hard for them,” he said. “We will cross the bridge for next year when we get there. Everyone at Toyota, DEX Imaging… all the people who have helped me get to where I am now, they deserve my best effort now.”
And that best effort begins as soon as each Xfinity race ends.
“I’ve adopted new things,” he said. “On the flight home, I’ll watch film from last year’s race from wherever we’re going. Or when I get home. I’m trying to get better, forget about this weekend and build on next weekend. As soon as I leave the track, it’s on to next week.”
— Harrison Burton (@HBurtonRacing) July 15, 2021
With his priorities in place, Burton has not forgotten what is in store for him in 2022. The relationship with Wood Brothers is alive and well mid-week and Burton plans to attend select Cup races this year to educate himself with how the team operates on Sundays.
“There are times in the week where I can talk to people [at Wood Brothers] and try to build that relationship,” he said. “It depends on when I think it’s best for me to focus on the Xfinity team and when it’s best to learn the most I can. At Watkins Glen, you can’t really watch as much as you could anywhere else. If you go to Bristol, you can see the whole race and follow along. Here, it’s so big that it’s hard to learn every little detail I need.
“There will be weekends where I stay behind and try to learn the most I can from watching the Cup guys race and how they race each other. I hear it’s a lot different from how the Xfinity guys race. Our races are a lot shorter than theirs are so watching how they manage that.”
With one Cup start to his name back at Talladega in the spring (a 20th-place finish for Gaunt Brothers Racing), Burton got a taste of the elevated competition of the Cup Series.
“Even [at Talladega] I could tell,” he said. “I was like, ‘Gosh, we’re not racing as hard as I was yesterday.’ And then at the end of the race, oh my gosh, these guys are insane. They just know when to turn on that switch.”