Jeb Burton couldn’t wait to remove his rookie stripe and attack the track Monday.
Not surprisingly, he and new teammate Ben Kennedy drove two of the first three trucks on the course. And after the first practice session, the Turner Scott Motorsports racers were on top of the speed chart.
"When I come to the racetrack I always want to be first on the racetrack," said Burton, who posted a lap of 182.083 mph, just 0.023 seconds slower than Kennedy. "It’s something I like to do when I get here. I’m ready to go.
"That’s kind of the reason we come here, to get things done and get to rolling. If we can be first on the racetrack it says that we’re really prepared and we’re ready to go."
After offseason changes from the front windshield down to the lower fascia the 20 drivers who tested Monday were curious how the 2014 trucks would react in and out of the draft. Since the bottom of the nose and the rear of the trucks are identical on Chevys, Fords and Toyotas, Burton believes the trucks will line up better and that there will be fewer possibilities to turn a fellow driver.
And after his Talladega wreck was included in the highlight reel of Monday’s safety meeting, Burton is delighted NASCAR has banned tandem drafting at restrictor plate tracks.
"I got in a really bad wreck at Talladega because of the tandem stuff, just got turned sideways," Burton said. "I’m not a fan of it. I like the pack racing. The bump drafting is fun, but when you’re hitting somebody in the corner, if you hit the guy and he gets loose and the back guy slides up and then he comes back down, it catches him and turns the guy right into the fence.
"That’s what happened to me at Talladega. Definitely, not a fan of the tandem, but I like the pack racing like it used to be."
Burton maintained a quick pace throughout both Monday sessions — in the draft and out. He credited the crews at Turner Scott Motorsports for being "always ahead of the ballgame with new stuff." And that has Burton very encouraged about 2014.
"I think it could be an advantage for us," Burton said. "I feel like our guys are working really hard with this new body style in the wind tunnel and testing a lot trying to make it better. I’m really excited to be back with these guys. My team is pumped up, we’re ready to go. I feel like we’ve just got to be a little bit better this year and we can contend for the championship. … We’ve just got to be a little bit better so we can go win some more races."
Burton won his first truck race in just his 12th career start. He remains supported by his Mike Hillman Jr.-led No. 4 team, which guided him to a record-tying seven poles by a rookie in a season and a fifth-place finish in points. Although Burton is solidly locked into TSM — and has the support of Arrowhead for his sponsor — the 21-year-old son of former Daytona 500 winner Ward Burton believes he’s "still trying to compete for a job."
"I’ve got to go perform and make my sponsors happy and my team happy so I can get to the next level," Burton said. "That’s the goal next year. I want to go full time Nationwide, and I feel like I’ve got a good opportunity here, and I need to go win a bunch of races, and I feel like if we can do that it’ll help my case. I’m trying to take my career to the next level next year."
If Burton secures sponsorship, he could run the non-companion Nationwide races for Kyle Larson in the No. 32 TSM Chevy this season. He finished eighth in his NNS debut at Kentucky Speedway last year. But for now, he’ll concentrate on the season opener at Daytona.
"There’s so much history behind Daytona, and it would be really cool to get a trophy here," Burton said. "It’s only my second time here, so pretty excited. Last year we finished fifth and we always have a lot of speed at restrictor plate, so I’m excited for 2014."
ALL THE PIECES IN PLACE
NASCAR truck series director Chad Little was pleased with the early results from the test.
Little, who oversaw modifications to the trucks over the past six months, was comparing last year’s lap time to Monday’s and gathering team feedback to ascertain whether any further changes need to be made.
"There was a lot of changes to that truck, so we’ll rely on the teams a lot and what they’re telling us what they get on the track," Little said."
"Suspension starts moving and we start seeing what kind of speeds they’re running. Mainly it’s the speeds on the track, the cooling of the motor and so on."
Although 20 teams showed up for the test, Little expects nearly twice that number Feb. 21 for the NextEra Energy Resources 250 truck race.
While most of the Nationwide and truck drivers are thrilled NASCAR is banning tandem drafting at Daytona, Matt Crafton is not one of them.
Crafton, the 2013 truck champion says he’s ‘disappointed’ with NASCAR’s decision.
"I think the tandem deal, you can get away from people," Crafton said. "But now you’re going to have those packs of 20 trucks. It’s going to be crazy to watch, but I think that now you’re going to be able to bump draft, and that’s one of the harder things to do is trying to judge it. "There’s going to be goods and there’s going to be bads, like I said, but it will be good racing."