Race Weekend Central

Harrison Burton Learning the Little Things in Growth as a Cup Driver

As the NASCAR season begins to wind down, two main focuses enthrall the current state of the sport: the playoffs and silly season.

Dominoes continue to fall on 2024 plans, with one driver being all but officially announced to return to his ride. That would be Harrison Burton, who is expected to return to the No. 21 for Wood Brothers Racing, The Athletic reported last week.

Burton is in the midst of his sophomore season in the NASCAR Cup Series, where he has earned two top 10s this season. While the stat line may not stand out to the naked eye compared to last year, the 22-year-old has shown growth in his second season. He’s displaying more speed despite getting caught up in many incidents not of his own doing.

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Frontstretch caught up with Burton at Richmond Raceway in July, where he addressed what he has learned from year one to now, discussed the differences of the Cup car and expressed confidence in a Wood Brothers return at the time.

Luken Glover, Frontstretch: You seem to have found more speed this year. What are the factors that have played into that?

Harrison Burton: I think it’s just been a slow gain all year. I feel like we started the year and ran decent at times and then went through kind of a tough stretch. We kind of have these one-off races here and there where we run well. Like at Darlington, we ran really, really well, but then the next weekend we kind of struggled.

It’s just been a slow gain and looking at all of the little details. I think that’s what makes this sport really hard. Every little thing adds up. You try to sift through what’s important and what’s not and what’s the most important thing for you to focus on. It’s easy to focus on the wrong thing.

You have so many tools at your disposal and different things you can kind of believe. Kind of narrowing down our decision-making on certain things has made us a little better I think, and just putting the work in that we need to. 

Glover: What are some of the things you have learned between last year as a rookie and now in your second season?

Burton: I think the biggest thing is how to race in [Cup]. I was expecting it to not be as aggressive as the other series, and I’ve found that it’s been more aggressive than any series I’ve ever been in. I always heard, “Hey, it’s not going to be as aggressive. The guys there are pretty clean.”

I feel like this series, maybe it’s the new car too, you have to be so aggressive.

So just upping the aggression level has been good and [learning] how to pass. This change with this car, I think the things you need to be good at have changed, so learning those things and kind of building your weekend up around those things has been a good thing to learn.

Glover: There’s obviously been a lot of talk about the short track product. Do you think there need to be improvements, and if so, what improvements need to be made?

Burton: Yeah, I think so. I think the biggest thing we need to do is find a way to be able to follow each other well. I think short track racing is good when you can put air aside and follow guys into the corners or off the corners and slowly inch up to guys. I feel like that, kind of, is gone.

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Passing is — you have to get out of their wake still at the short tracks. These cars are very sensitive to that, very sensitive to pitch change, very sensitive to add-aero situations, so I try to avoid those. We’ve kind of gotten rid of the bump-and-run a little bit, which people love.

So I think that’s the biggest thing. We’ve got really good people in NASCAR working to do it, and I’m excited to see what they come up with. 

Glover: Looking at tracks for the rest of the season, what are some tracks that you have circled that you feel like your group can excel at?

Burton: I’ve gotten in trouble when I was younger doing that, like circling tracks on the calendar. You almost put too much emphasis on those racetracks and forget the one you’re at right now. So I try not to do that.

I try to look at the race we’re at this weekend. It’s all about one weekend at a time for us right now.

Glover: A lot of drivers talk about the differences between the Cup car and Xfinity car. What are the big differences that you would say exist between those two?

Burton: I think the biggest thing that I would say is the way you attack the corner in the Next Gen car. It’s very different. What you’re prioritizing as a driver is very different. I think the Xfinity car, you could hang out a little bit more, you didn’t have to necessarily think about maintaining platform as well, as far as how the car rolls off, what you do with your feet to manage that, what tools do what.

… I found the tools that we have as a driver are kind of different. You can kind of use the brake to get your nose down, you can get yourself looser and you have all these tuning tools. Where before in Xfinity, [you] could kind of back up the entry, slow roll the entry, get to the center and carry roll speed on exit.

In [the Next Gen car], if you don’t have good entry speed, you’re going to be slow. So that focus of the exit of the corner not being the number one priority was kind of weird to get used to at first, but now it seems normal. 

Glover: Obviously, your mindset I’m sure is on this season, but have you had any discussions about next season?

Burton: Yeah, I’m really fortunate because I get to just drive and I get to stay out of that stuff. I’ve had conversations, and I feel good about where I’m at now. I would love to stay where I’m at now.

If I could pick any team in the garage to drive for, it would be the Wood Brothers car just because of the people they are and the guys that we have on this team have found that we work well together, we enjoy our time together. So my priority is to run well, and if I run good then I’ll be able to stay, so that’s my plan.

About the author

Luken Glover joined the Frontstretch team in 2020 as a contributor, furthering a love for racing that traces back to his earliest memories. Glover inherited his passion for racing from his grandfather, who used to help former NASCAR team owner Junie Donlavey in his Richmond, Va. garage. A 2023 graduate from the University of the Cumberlands, Glover is the author of "The Underdog House," contributes to commentary pieces, and does occasional at-track reporting. Additionally, Glover enjoys working in ministry, coaching basketball, playing sports, and karting.

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