Harrison Burton knows that 14th place in the Darlington Raceway race is the highest of the season for Wood Brothers Racing may not be described as a good thing, but he sees it as a small victory.
“And more than finishing, I think the speed we had in this race,” Burton said. “There was part of that race when we came out after the pit stop and didn’t start the race very well and then the car woke up. We made the right changes on the pit road. Joey [Logano] and Danny [Hamlin] were second and third, and I ran away and caught them. I think Joey had old tires on one lap, so we were pretty much equal to them. I caught them and said, “Okay, now we’re riding.”
“Looking at the lap time data, it was our strongest race compared to the leaders and this particular segment, we matched the leader lap time. So it’s like, “Okay, we’re going in the right direction.” Sometimes we have the speed to be a car in the top five, we just need to go and spend the whole race. We had one segment where we were very good and then we got a little out of it. I think it was a big win – run away with these guys – catch Danny, catch Joey. “
Burton was not on the same lap with Logan or Hamlin when he caught them because he was chasing Brad Keselowski for a free pass. But the rookie still felt it was the biggest win of the day to show that the 21st Ford has speed.
“Then the finish was probably worse than what we had at lap time,” Burton said. “It wasn’t representative for our best runs. We had flat tires after a big accident, had to go into a pit and lost some position on the track. So the finish was not so exciting, but I think the speed we had was more exciting. “
To say that this was a difficult start to the year for Burton’s team is an understatement. In a matter of moments, he went from leading the Daytona 500 to flipping on the back stretch. There were mistakes and teams, and drivers, and the misfortune to be caught up in other people’s incidents.
Darlington was Burton’s first finish in the top 15 and only his fifth in the top 20 in 12 races. He has three DNF.
Every week is a new chance to learn, and Burton kept his head high, trying to get better. Crew Chairman Brian Wilson, who is himself new to the Series Cup in this position, preached the importance of scoring points and giving Burton a car with which he can be confident in the package.
“I told Brian when we went through that race in Darlington that I mentioned earlier that I feel comfortable,” Burton said. “It was the first time I wasn’t uncomfortable in this race car, which, if you think about it, is pretty wild. It’s a heavy racing car that I think is great for our sport. But if you hit it right, it rides really well.
“We have some notes that we now have based on things I like, especially based on this run. Some changes I like. Hope this can be transferred. For me, it was like, “My God, I can finally be aggressive with this car.” I did not feel it, and now I feel that we will be able to repeat it and follow it more. “
Burton also learned something about himself through the pain of growth and appreciating small victories.
“I won’t quit,” Burton said. “I will never quit. I think some of the good things about this start are that you build confidence in your work ethic and desire. If all goes wrong, then you will know who you are. You are going through life’s hardships – everyone has them – and I feel it makes you better.
“The schedule is harder for me personally than ever. The Cup schedule is quite exhausting. So I learn about myself as a work ethic. My love for sports is as high as ever because I appreciate what the Cup is and hopefully I am preparing to succeed in it. It’s exciting. “