Harrison Burton silences doubters with California win

FONTANA, Calif. – Harrison Burton had competed in 47 national series races before the 2020 season and couldn’t finish better than third.

And don’t think he didn’t hear about it in addition to not even making the Truck Series playoffs, despite having the best equipment at Kyle Busch Motorsports last year.

An athlete shouldn’t need bulletin board material as incentive – would an athlete try any less if no one criticized? But for a 19-year-old whose family has enjoyed success in racing, Burton couldn’t help but notice as he had a roller-coaster 2019 at KBM, as well as a handful of races in a Joe Gibbs Racing car in the Xfinity Series.

Burton earned his first national career series victory on Saturday afternoon by wheeling his JGR car to victory lane in the Xfinity Series Production Alliance Group 300 race at Auto Club (California) Speedway. Leading 32 of the final 33 laps, Burton won by nearly a half-second over teammate and fellow rookie Riley Herbst.

“My team, my company, always believed in me and I always kind of used [those comments] as motivation,” Burton said. “Even Jimmie Johnson gets hate on Twitter. The guy is probably one of the best of all time and Kyle Busch wins every week and people tell him he sucks.

“That’s just how this sport is. If you use it right, it’s super powerful. It can motivate you to be better.”

It really was no surprise Burton won. Burton had finished second in the season-opening race at Daytona and fifth at Las Vegas. The win on Saturday vaulted him into the points lead early in the season, which should silence any doubters, which he said didn’t include those at JGR.

“I was coming off a rough year last year and they knew we could do it as a team,” said Burton, whose father (Jeff) and uncle (Ward) enjoyed successful Cup careers. “It was good to have them behind me.

“I never really believed them. It just gets frustrating after a while not to win.”

The victory wasn’t just meaningful for Burton.

Burton’s crew chief, Ben Beshore, won four races last year with Kyle Busch while working on a car that had Burton among its lineup of drivers. JGR thinks so highly of him that he was among those in the mix to replace Cole Pearn as Martin Truex Jr.’s Cup crew chief, but the team opted to elevate Truex’s engineer, who was more familiar with Truex.

So the victory was potentially as big for Beshore as it was for Burton. It was his first win with a driver who doesn’t have an established record of winning.

“Harrison is a rookie, but he’s good,” Beshore said. “We saw a lot of his talent last year. It doesn’t feel like a rookie win. It doesn’t feel like we shocked the series.

“We expected him to come out and compete for wins every week. … There’s a huge void in competitors, and we wanted to be one of those guys that steps up and grabs a couple of wins.”