Only a few months into his new role, Harrison Burton has hit the ground running. Tabbed as the latest wheelman for the iconic Wood Brothers Racing team in the NASCAR Cup Series, the 21-year-old legacy driver is eager to continue making his own name in the sport.
It’s no secret, the Burton name carries a long history in professional stock-car racing. Harrison’s father, Jeff, and uncle, Ward, combined to win 26 races in the premier series, while cousin Jeb is finding success in the Xfinity Series. But the youngest Burton now has an opportunity to do what none of them have before: win a race for NASCAR’s longest continually operating team.
“It’s definitely a cool opportunity and a big responsibility to carry on that legacy and do it the right way,” Burton said. “That’s not lost on me, but I think the biggest thing for me is that I’ve kind of always put that same pressure on myself to perform and do well. External pressure doesn’t really change my mentality about things. I think all drivers want to be the winner. We all want to do the best we can and I think that personality is the same with Wood Brothers and we’re all aligned with our goals.”
A win for Burton and Wood Brothers this season would mark two milestones for the newly formed pairing: the first top-flight victory for Burton and the long-awaited 100th for the Wood Brothers’ team. And they each have the confidence they can get it done.
“That’s the biggest thing is having a team that believes in you, that surrounds you and wants to go to work with you,” Burton said. “I’ve gotten nothing but confidence from the people around me. They believe that we can go and be successful and that’s from our crew chief level to the people at Ford, all the way down to just saying ‘hi’ to the people in the shop. It’s nothing but excitement and that’s been cool to see.”
Burton’s exciting career took off at a young age, with dominant performances in a variety of touring series.
He quickly climbed through the ranks, highlighted by a successful five-win stint in the K&N Pro Series East (now ARCA Menards Series East) in 2017 and four Xfinity Series victories in 2020. At the age of 21, he becomes the youngest driver to ever run a full-time season with the organization and youngest since Ryan Blaney’s full 2016 campaign at 22.
“It gets back to his demeanor and his willingness to learn,” team co-owner Eddie Wood said. “He just seems to really fit in with everyone. I think he brings some energy that only youth can bring. I’ve seen it before and there’s just something special about a kid that’s 20 years old just getting started and already driving race cars.”
Though experienced, the 2022 season will undoubtedly be one of the biggest shifts in Burton’s career — joining a new team in a new series, all while leaving the Toyota Racing Development (TRD) pipeline where he spent many years to transition to Ford.
“I was really nervous because I had been in the Toyota camp for a long time and I had this amazing opportunity here,” Burton said. “I was nervous to kind of change everything that I had done and it’s been a really gratifying change just because of the open arms that everyone at Ford and the Wood Brothers and Penske has welcomed me with. It’s been a pretty easy change for me. I feel right at home and where it also helped was the people at TRD were excited for me.”
In addition to the comfort offered by the family-like environment in the garage, Wood Brothers’ technical alliance with Team Penske provides Burton with a chance to develop alongside fellow rookie Austin Cindric. On track for the first time together for the Next Gen test session at Daytona International Speedway, the young pairing started to find their groove and enjoy the experience.
“I think Austin and I both are really trying to gear up for our first season and being as ready as we can,” Burton said. “For me personally, it’s just such a cool feeling to roll into Daytona, to see your name on the leaderboard with the guys that you’ve always wanted to race against, the guys my dad raced against – some of them. I always thought that it was the coolest thing in the world that they were able to do that and what they did was awesome and now looking back on how bad I wanted to be in the opportunity that I have now, to have it is really neat.”
In spite of the bright lights and biggest stage of his career, Burton remains focused on capitalizing on his hard-earned chance.
“The biggest thing for me is to kind of understand that it’s a huge blessing to be here and an insane opportunity for me to be here and also understanding that I have to make the most of it,” Burton said. “There’s a very limited amount of seats in this sport and you have to earn your keep.”
Burton is scheduled to make his full-time Cup Series debut Feb. 6 at the Busch Light Clash in Los Angeles, followed by his first points-paying races: the Bluegreen Vacations Duels and Daytona 500. His lone premier series start came last spring at another superspeedway, Talladega, where he finished 20th with Gaunt Brothers Racing.