Saturday, Oct 01

Ford Performance NASCAR: Virgina Native Harrison Burton Ready for Richmond Return

HARRISON BURTON, No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Mustang – IF YOU CAN’T MAKE THE PLAYOFFS, WHAT IS A REALISTIC GOAL FOR THE REST OF THE SEASON?  “The part of the year hasn’t gone how we wanted it to.  There’s no denying that.  There’s no rose-tinted glasses for that.  There have been a lot of missed opportunities on our end.  I think of cars that we had that were fast and I made mistakes or just missing opportunities throughout the weekend to get decent finishes.  For us, the biggest goal is just to maximize our weekends and show up to the racetrack and unload with a lot of speed.  There’s been a few weekends this year where we’ve unloaded and been super-fast off the truck and those are like when you look back over the year those are all of the favorite ones that we have to look back at.  I think about Gateway, unloading off the truck and being fastest in practice for a little bit there and finishing well in practice, qualifying in the top 10 at kind of an intermediate, short track hybrid.  Places like that and runs like that we need to have more and more often and even at the Indy road course getting our first top five, it was kind of a weekend full of missed opportunities throughout the first half and then all of a sudden the second half of the race comes and we take advantage of a lot of different things.  We just need to get better and better every week and show progress at the end of the day.  Show lap time.  That’s the biggest goal for us.  We’re working day and night.  There’s no pointing fingers on our team, which is amazing.  All of our team members at Wood Brothers Racing are all kind of pointing fingers at themselves at what we can all do better, and I’m in that same boat and working as hard as ever to do this.  It’s an honor to drive the 21 car and get it out front.  It’s a priority for us and at the end of the day we’ve got to put the work in to do that.”

 

WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED THE MOST IN YOUR ROOKIE SEASON?  “Just learning these cars in general has been a real big challenge.  They’re a lot different to drive than the old generation car and they’re different setup and the priorities are different, the philosophy is different.  For me, as a driver, I’ve learned a lot.  I feel like I’m getting more comfortable in uncomfortable situations and I think that’s the key to being a great race car driver.  At the end of the day I’m just trying to find a way to be comfortable being uncomfortable and getting better and better at that.  These cars are gonna drive poorly.  They’re gonna be on the edge of control and being on that edge and driving it hard through that edge had been a good lesson I think I learned the first third of the year and trying to apply that to these racetracks we go to a second time is gonna be super important to show some signs and get up front.”

 

HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THESE NEXT THREE TRACKS?  “It’s always tough to win at any level.  It’s really tough to win in the Cup Series.  I feel like we’ve been making good strides the last two weeks to have good speed and show up to the racetrack fast and I think Daytona is a good opportunity for almost everybody in the field to try and bust off a win there.  We led laps there earlier in the year at the Daytona 500, so there are some things I can see, ‘Hey, that could be a track for us.’  I feel like Richmond was one of our better races earlier in the year when we compare to our alliance partners with Team Penske.  The goal is to run as good as those guys do, so that was a race where I felt like we did that.  We had a decent run there and had some speed and showed a lot of speed in the race, but we just didn’t execute properly on a few things and that bit us in the butt.  Those are two good ones (Richmond and Daytona) and obviously anything can happen at a road course and coming off a top five, so there’s a case you can make for any of them, I guess.  We’ve just got to go and show the speed in practice and in qualifying and the early parts of the race to get that, so really it’s one day at a time and one practice at a time to get to that level and we’ll get there eventually.  I’m pretty sure of it.”

 

HOW WOULD YOU GRADE YOUR SEASON TO DATE?  “I think it’s definitely been a let down for me personally.  I wanted to come out and do a really good job and I feel like I made a lot of mistakes early.  Some things I feel like I did well early, but I don’t know.  I don’t know what the grade would be.  I haven’t really thought a lot about that.  I think the biggest thing is just trying to build off of every weekend.  Last weekend at MIchigan was so tough because we just missed it in practice and qualifying and then you get into the race and get crashed early and don’t have a chance to really build off of anything.  I’m just trying to get better and better each weekend.  If I could give it a grade, I wouldn’t give it a good one.  I think we’ve got to run better.  There’s no secret about that and there’s no one on our team that believes what we’re doing is enough.  We’ll get it done.  It’s just a matter of how and I know we’re working hard enough to do it.  That’s for sure.”

 

WHAT DOES THAT RUN AT THE INDY ROAD COURSE DO FOR YOU GOING INTO WATKINS GLEN?  “It’s cool.  I really worked hard in the offseason to be a better road racer.  I feel like that’s something I struggled with in Xfinity, trying to run with guys like Austin Cindric.  That guy is quick on a road course, so learning from him I feel like has been good.  I’ve run a lot of races thanks to our friends at Ford.  I ran a GT4 race earlier this year.  All of the Cup road course races and doing a lot of time at home on the simulator and on the Ford simulator, and I feel like that has paid a dividend to getting faster on those and qualifying pretty decent at the Indy road course.  We qualified 12th or 13th, so decent qualifying there and decent speed.  If you have that, you can execute a race a lot easier and things come to you a lot easier, that’s for sure.  My confidence on those is higher on those than it has been in the past, but I still know there’s work to be done there and I think that’s what is good.  You know where and how and it’s just about doing it, so there’s no stone unturned.”

 

WHEN YOU GO BACK TO DAYTONA DOES ANY OF THE CRASH YOU HAD IN THE 500 SIT IN THE BACK OF YOUR MIND AT ALL?  “Obviously, when you flip or anything like that it looks really dramatic and scary.  I think the people outside of the race car were more worried than I was.  I’ve got this video that NASCAR sends us where we can look at our safety equipment and see what we could have done better to be safer inside these race cars and you watch that and we learned some things.  The coolest part was I felt like I was upside down still trying to drive and then once I landed the first thing I did was trying to start it up and drive off again.  I didn’t really have any fear in that moment.  I felt fine and that definitely hasn’t carried over either.  Honestly, that’s one of my favorite races I’ve run all year.  I showed up early.  It’s the Daytona 500.  My first one.  I felt like I made the right moves.  I felt like I was aggressive enough and at the end of the day it didn’t work out.  I always try and see what I could do different and there was maybe a few things I could have done differently, but at the end of the day I was proud of that performance and proud of being aggressive.”

 

WHAT ARE YOUR EXPECTATIONS FOR THE NEXT THREE RACES?  “I feel we to demand a high amount of expectation for ourselves to have that happen.  We have to show up and qualify well, practice well.  I really want to be in that top 10 in qualifying at Richmond.  I feel like we can do that.  I feel like I’m a driver that can do that.  I’ve led a lot of laps in Xfinity at Richmond and had a win slip away there.  I really love that racetrack and feel like that place suits me well, so I want to be a top 10 guy there in qualifying and build off of that for the race.  Then we go to Watkins Glen and just want to show similar speed and get a good result like we did at the Indy road course.  I’d like to try to build off of that result and see what we learned.  I feel like we have some good directions from our post-race meetings there that we learned from what we could do to make our car better, and then Daytona my expectation is that my team shows up with the same level of aggression as we did in the 500 and try and go and lead laps in that thing and be aggressive and try to take advantage of that opportunity.”

 

DO YOU WANT TO CONTINUE WITH THE WOOD BROTHERS IN 2023?  “I think it’s all up in the air at the moment.  I feel like we’re at a good point right now and there’s a lot of faith in me within the group and in the Wood family.  I’ve felt nothing but support from them.  I get a lot of really cool texts from those guys and they seem to believe in me quite a bit, so I’m excited about that and hopefully something comes together where I can announce it soon.  I don’t have anything to announce yet, but if I could run the rest of my career in the Wood Brothers 21 car, I would be pretty happy.  It’s an amazing team to drive for and I hope we can continue for sure.”

 

WHAT IS A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A DRIVER LIKE FOR YOU?  “It’s a pretty busy life, for sure.  There’s a lot of travel and all that, but, normally, with Xfinity it was nice because I normally had Sunday off.  Well, now pretty much every day of the week is booked.  For example, today I was in the simulator starting at 7:00.  I was there until 11 o’clock.  Left there and started watching some Richmond SMTs and got to watch some Beta before I got on this call.  I’m on this call and then I’m gonna leave here and go to the gym and work out, and then go home after that and take a shower and go talk to my dad about some other racing stuff.  That’s just today, for example.  Tomorrow, we’ve got a lot of meetings with our group.  It’s really structured.  We always have a pre-race film meeting.  We always do a post-race meeting debrief and then after Monday we’re full steam ahead on the next week.  Today, Tuesdays are usually not super busy for me as far as scheduled meetings go, but I tend to fill it up with simulator time every week from 7-11, and then from there to the gym and kind of bouncing all over.  It’s a busy life, for sure, and you’ve got to love it to do it, that’s a guarantee.”

 

IS THE SIM TIME HELPING THE FORD TEAMS AS MUCH AS FOR YOURSELF FOR THE UPCOMING RACES?  “A little bit of both.  One of the hardest things about the simulator this year has been not having gone to the racetrack before the race in that race car, so our simulator is kind of a guess that we kind of have to make.  A lot of my Tuesdays are post-race kind of tire to track adjustments for grip and trying to make that as accurate of a program as we can.  It’s getting better and better as we go and the effort that we’re putting in there has been really cool to see.  It’s a really hard project because all of the ways that this car makes grip is so different than the old car.  The tires are different and we’re really starting from scratch on a program that has been running pretty well for a long time and so, yeah, I’d say it’s probably 50 percent last week and 50 percent this week when I’m in there and trying to move the ball forward and start the Ford program out as much as I can.”

 

ATHLETE FILM STUDY HAS BEEN A TOPIC THE LAST COUPLE OF WEEKS.  CAN YOU GIVE A SENSE OF THE EXTRA WORK IN THAT AREA YOU DO AND WHAT DO YOU LOOK AT?  “We’ve got a really cool process where the crew chief, the spotter and engineers all sit in and we have a film room that we can go and watch race film in, so we kind of start that meeting and go over some baseline things and setup ideas – normal race meeting kind of stuff – and then we just put on the race and talk about it as it goes on.  We’ll watch the whole race and skip through to restarts and things and just talk about it and that’s kind of in the facility, where it’s just the whole team and it’s kind of not super structured.  And then when I get home I like to watch a lot of the SMT data, where it’s all modeled cars in there and you can see steering, throttle, brake traces – see what guys are doing well, what guys aren’t doing well  You can kind of zoom in on guys or zoom out and watch the whole race.  What I tend to watch for in that is kind of trying to understand what guys are fighting and understand what they do better than others.  You go to Martinsville and see, ‘Hey, why is this guy faster than other guys?’  And his car is a couple feet higher.  At this point in the corner he’s leaving low, so whatever it might be.  I look for small details by myself and I don’t really have a super structured way to do that.  I kind of just go through and pick through the data, watch different guys that I know are really great at certain racetracks and try and take off of them.  It’s gonna be really nice when I can go back and watch myself.  This weekend at Richmond I’m just gonna watch the 21 car go around the racetrack and see everything I could have done better – every single moment, every single decision you make as far as restart selections – all of that you can watch back and understand what you did and didn’t do.  Those are the main things that I kind of look for.  It’s what works for guys and what doesn’t, and then I get to watch myself go around the racetrack for a whole race and see what I could have done better.”

 

WHAT HAS BEEN THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE FOR YOU IN REGARDS TO WORK ETHIC?  “I think the biggest challenge is trying to find a way to be proactive to issues, instead of reactive to issues and it’s always hard to look in the mirror.  As a race car driver, you want to be the fastest guy ever to step in a race car.  You want to have the most natural talent that anyone has ever had.  That’s what you want to be and so when you have to look at yourself in the mirror and say, ‘Hey, I’m not doing this right and I’m not doing that right,’ sometimes that can be a little hard because all race car drivers have an ego.  I think everyone knows that who talks to us long enough, so it’s hard because you want to be confident going to the racetrack.  You don’t want to pick yourself apart, but you also need to know what you could have done better.  That’s a balance.  I tend to be really hard on myself and want to be the best I can be, so every mistake I make I kind of wear it on my sleeve.  My girlfriend, Jenna, has to deal with if I qualify bad, I’m probably gonna be mad for all of Saturday.  If I qualify good, I’ll be in a good mood.  For me, I try not to take it so harsh if it’s bad or take it so good if it’s good is a challenge.  To try and stay in the middle of that roller coaster and not go up or down too much is really important for me, personally.”

 

IS IT JUST TIME AND HAVING A CAR AND THE OPPORTUNITIES THAT ALLOW YOU TO LEARN THE DIFFERENCE OF WHAT IT TAKES TO RUN UP FRONT COMPARED TO MIDPACK OR THE BACK?  “It’s all of it.  I mean, Kevin Harvick has been in this season forever and he just won last weekend.  Obviously, he’s got a lot of talent.  Obviously, he’s been around for a while and has all the experience and it’s cool to see him win, but all of those things come into play with a guy like that.  This guy has won races at every level he’s been at.  He’s been up front in Cup races for 20 years and he knows what’s gonna happen.  He’s been there, done that.  So there’s part of that and part of it that, really, the racing in 15th is a lot different than racing for the lead.  That clean air component of kind of fighting for that clean air and being able to do things that maybe you wouldn’t be able to do in 15th that you can in first.  There’s a lot of things that are different about that and I’ve gotten to be up front a few races and race for the lead and it’s definitely a different level of intensity because it’s so important to get that track position and maintain that track position as long as you can.  Say you’re staying out on old tires or whatever it might be, that definitely picks up the intensity, so I don’t know if there’s like a one thing as a driver you have to do this different when you’re out front.  It’s kind of just a tempo change.  It’s a feeling change and it’s pretty apparent when you’re in the car and doing it.  I think that’s why you hear guys like Dale Jr. or my dad in the booth kind of say that because they’ve been there and raced for wins and know what it’s like and know the kind of place you have to be in your head to do it.  It’s a lot different.  You really think differently when it’s for the lead, so I don’t know personally about Bubba in particular.  I can just speak to myself and say that it’s gonna come with time and it’s gonna come with effort.  You don’t get up front without putting effort in.  You have to put the effort in to get from 15th to first, but once you get there – say you have six chances to win a race, I’d say you’re probably win one or two in this field.  If you’re up front late with a chance to win, the odds are you’re not gonna win your first time having that opportunity, so being up there and having chances is kind of the key.”

 

AT MICHIGAN WHERE SOME GUYS AREN’T USED TO RUNNING UP FRONT, THERE IS AN ART TO IT.  “Yeah, for sure.  I think the situation there is a little different too with Bubba having a really fast race car.  They were really good this weekend and he was doing a good job all weekend.  You can kind of wear that on your heart harder, I would think, because whenever you have a great car and don’t win, that hurts more than say you have a not-so-great car and a mistake happens.”

 

WE’VE NOT SEEN YOU THROW A HELMET.  YOU ALWAYS SEEM TO BE SMILING, SO HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH SITUATIONS WHEN THEY DON’T GO WELL?  DO YOU GET UPSET?  “They definitely know how much I care.  I have meetings with them and show them that it matters to all of us the same.  I never felt like that was a question.  The biggest thing is I’m not miserable.  I don’t leave the racetrack hating life.  I just care so much.  I want to do well in this car.  It’s a great chance for me.  It’s everything I’ve ever worked for in my whole life, so when a mistake happens and I have someone like my girlfriend, who I’ve dated for five years and been together with since we were freshman in high school, and someone like my dad who I can talk to, I tend to open up more.  Personally, I don’t really throw stuff.  I don’t show it a lot, but the people that know me know how much it matters and I think that’s kind of just how I am.  I’ve never been super outspoken about much.  I’ve never been the guy to jump up and down and scream and yell in the public eye, and sometimes when you get home and you have a chance to talk with someone you care about about it, sometimes you kind of let your emotions go and that’s kind of how I operate at times.  As far as the team goes, I feel like they know who much it matters to me because I think you get to know these guys like your family and they become in the same light.  You can have lunch with my crew chief Brian and my engineer, Matt.  We have lunch every week.  We all talk about how much this matters to us and what we need to do to be better, and then we show that commitment to being better.  There’s a difference in talking about it and doing it and it’s not one or the other, it’s both.  I don’t feel that way about my team and I don’t think they feel that way about me.”

 

WHAT DOES IT LOOK LIKE WHILE BEING SELF-CRITICAL?  “I’ve done it all.  I’ve sat in film meetings and said what I did in that scenario was dumb.  I’ve thought about how I give feedback to my team – if I’m not aggressive enough or too aggressive with my comments and we end up over or under adjusting.  I’ve thought about what does it take to be a great competitor and have that competitive spirit.  I’ve talked to a lot of really interesting people about that.  I’ve done almost every exercise in the book, for sure, and it’s a cool experience because you know a lot about yourself by the end of it.  We were flying home somewhere and we fly with the Penske group.  I was sitting next to Joey and talking about just racing in general and how hard it could be and he’s a guy that has turned into a Cup champion from a guy that had kind of a bad rookie season, I guess.  I don’t really know the stats, but you talk to him and that’s how he talks about it is he’s gotten better through hard times and turned into one of the best to ever do it.  He was talking to me about, ‘Hey, it’s pretty awesome when you think about what are other 21 year olds doing and how tough are you gonna be from this?’  It was pretty early in the year that we had that conversation and it’s definitely true.  It’s a hard sport emotionally, physically and mentally.  It takes everything you’ve got and that doesn’t guarantee success.  I think in some other sports you can shoot free throws all day and you go to the game and you’re probably gonna be a better free throw shooter.  A lot of the things you do in this sport don’t guarantee success and you can be wiped out at any moment.  You think about this weekend for us.  We were in a crash early and don’t have a chance.  It’s hard to say you could have done anything different other than be in front of it, so it’s a hard sport.  I’ve thought a lot about what it takes to be a great competitor and trying to implement some things that I do in my day-to-day life and I think it’s been working and showing signs of progress.  It’s been cool.”

 

DO YOU FEEL YOU’VE MADE PROGRESS AS A DRIVER SINCE DAYTONA?  “Yeah, most definitely.  I feel a lot more confident now.  Every time I get in the car I feel like I can push it.  I feel like I know the limit of the tire.  There was a time when I first started this Next Gen car experience where I really didn’t feel that way.  I got in the race car and was uncomfortable with a lot about it.  I never really knew where the limit was and through experience I’ve been able to find those limits — make mistakes but learn from them.  Every time I get in the race car I’m more and more confident, so, yeah, as a driver I feel I’m a lot better in this car in particular.  I feel like I’m a smarter driver now having raced against Cup competition for two-thirds of a year now.  That’s only gonna bring the most out of you is when you’re around people like this.  You see guys like Ty Gibbs that are lighting up the Xfinity Series and he just got a top 10, but it’s hard for everybody.  You race these guys that in the outside looking in maybe they don’t get the credit they deserve at how good everyone in this series is and how much they deserve respect.  It’s a hard series and that’s how it should be.  That’s what makes it awesome.  That’s what makes it fun to watch.  That’s what makes it fun to do.  I definitely feel like I’m a better driver from being around that and being around my alliance partners and talking to them about driving and racing.  I feel like I’m a much better driver now than I was last year or the year before that.  That’s just part of growing and learning every year.  Even when you look at a guy like Harvick.  I think he’s getting better every week.  You hear Rodney Childers talking about that they haven’t changed much, but Harvick has gotten better with this car and he’s doing some things different.  It’s kind of a testament to how challenging this is that a guy like that doesn’t just wake up and roll out of bed and do it.  He’s got to put a lot of effort behind it and does that week in and week out.”

 

WHAT HAS THE RACE FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP PRODUCTION BEEN LIKE?  WERE THEY WITH YOU AT INDY?  “No, they weren’t there for those weeks.  They were there at different times.  They’ve been at my girlfriend’s parent’s house.  They’ve been at races and they’ve seen me mad, happy, sad – all of the above.  It’s been kind of a strange experience for me.  I’m kind of a reserved guy and having a camera around is a weird thing for me.  I never felt scared or shy around cameras, but I also never thought I’d be in a reality show.  It’s been an interesting experience.  I got to know the camera crew pretty well for that group, so that made it easy.  It was a cool experience.  I think the fans are gonna love it.  I feel like it’s something that we’ve needed to show.  I can sit in this interview and talk about how hard it is, what we do, what it’s like emotionally, physically what the drivers are going through, but you don’t see it so it’s kind of easy to say, ‘He’s just talking about it.’  I’m excited for the fans to see what the drivers do and what we go through.  I think it will make some fans of the sport that maybe haven’t been in the past.  If they tune into that and see what it’s like, they’ll probably get behind it, so it’s gonna be cool to see how it turns out.  I haven’t seen any clips other than the trailers that have been released.  I know what they filmed me doing and that’s about it, so it’s a cool deal.”

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