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Successful Rookie Xfinity Season Quieting Doubters of Teenager Burton

Harrison Burton entered the 2020 NASCAR Xfinity Series season as an underdog with big shoes to fill by jumping into the car in which Christopher Bell scored 15 wins over the last two years.

Burton was coming off a successful rookie campaign in the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series. While he didn’t find Victory Lane, Burton – the son of former NASCAR Cup Series star Jeff Burton – scored seven top-five and 11 top-10 finishes for Kyle Busch Motorsports.

Immediately, Harrison Burton said he felt a lot of the NASCAR fan base was against him and struggled to understand why he was picked to drive the No. 20 Toyota.

Burton didn’t let those frustrated with Joe Gibbs Racing’s decision get to him. Instead, he used it as motivation and won the third race of the season, at Auto Club Speedway, leading 40 of 150 laps and outdueling his fellow rookie teammate Riley Herbst.

“To get a win early was like: ‘Yes! That’s right!’” he said. “I was pumped up about that. What I did do was use it for fuel and try to motivate myself based on what people were saying or what they thought, and every time I’m in the gym I think about it and every time I’m about to go race I think about it, that people are doubting me and I have to go prove them wrong.”

As Burton continues his first full-time Xfinity Series season, he has been remarkably consistent. He has scored a top-10 finish in every race except last weekend at Talladega Superspeedway, a pack-racing event that is a product of the unknown. Burton wrecked and finished 32nd.

Burton scored his second career win at Homestead-Miami Speedway on June 13 in a thrilling overtime dash. It was his seventh top-five finish of the season, and he sits fifth in the Xfinity Series points standings.

While Burton’s rookie campaign has proved successful and more eyes are watching to see what the teenager can accomplish, he said he hopes people continue to doubt his abilities as a race car driver. He grew up in NASCAR and watched his father score 21 career wins before retiring in 2014 and knows the criticism that comes with the territory. Rather than let it bother him, he encourages it.

“I want to think that I’m still being doubted, because that’s been motivation for me,” he said. “It’s kind of how I think a lot; take what people say that’s negative and turn it into a positive. I’ve been using that for fuel, and I think it’s been working, so I’m going to keep doing that. Even if there aren’t people doubting me, I’m going to pretend there are and hopefully use it for an advantage.”

When Burton entered the Xfinity Series full time after a nine-race campaign in 2019 that saw him score one top-five and five top-10 finishes, the doubts centered around his limited success in other series.

Burton hadn’t scored a multi-win season since 2017, when he earned five wins and the series championship in the K&N Pro Series East. Since then, he had three ARCA Menards Series wins across three seasons and no Truck Series wins, a series in which he started competing on a limited basis in 2016.

Burton said his Truck Series campaign was a growing time for him during the formative years of his life. Burton was balancing school, growing in life, growing as a race car driver and making continuous transitions to more challenging series.

“I think I’ve just matured a lot, honestly,” he said. “At the end of the Truck Series season, I had learned a lot about myself and a lot about racing. I felt really confident about my driving ability even though I hadn’t won and hadn’t been running good enough. I knew that I could do it. I just needed time.”

Burton admitted he lacked the confidence needed to be successful in 2019. But over the course of the season, and especially in the offseason, Burton learned to believe in himself. It certainly helped that one of NASCAR’s powerhouse teams believed in him enough to put him in the No. 20 Dex Imaging Toyota.

“I had time over the offseason to see what went wrong and what went right and focused on that and understood how much work it takes to do good in races at this level,” he said. “So, it’s a big jump there with not only talent level, but with I think just the difficulty of the tracks and the situations you’re put into. I struggled with that a little bit, and I wasn’t as confident as I needed to be. Now, I think I go into this year a lot more confident and a lot more mature as a driver. I think the results are showing that.”

In less than two weeks, Burton and the rest of the NASCAR Xfinity Series field will embark on a new journey at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway with the Pennzoil 150 at the Brickyard on Saturday, July 4. The first-ever stock car road course race at IMS, live at 3 p.m. (ET) on NBC, will present a new set of challenges to a field of drivers who have never raced on the thrilling 14-turn, 2.439-mile road course.

While Burton has never competed at the Racing Capital of the World, he’s not lacking confidence because nobody has experience on the new course. He said he is looking forward to the race, and he anticipates that it will be must-see television, especially at the start.

“That’s going to be wild,” he said. “I realized I didn’t know any different, and it levels the playing field between me and the veterans of the series. No one will really have that leg up on me this time around at Indy, and hopefully I can capitalize on that. It’s going to be a crazy race, for sure.

“(Turn 1) is going to be a hard corner. On restarts, the initial start, every lap you’re going to have such a big braking zone. Stock cars are so much heavier than Indy cars, and it’s going to be tough to slow us all down and not slam into each other, but that should be fun for the fans to watch, so let’s go do it.”

Another layer will be added to the July Fourth weekend events for Burton, which features a historic NASCAR-INDYCAR tripleheader. After retiring in 2014, Burton’s father joined NBC Sports as a NASCAR analyst and often calls NASCAR Xfinity Series races.

In Harrison Burton’s limited Xfinity Series schedule in 2019, his dad reported on and covered a majority of his son’s races on NBC Sports. The balance of father-son and reporter-subject is a topic that the two haven’t discussed much, but the wise-beyond-his-years teenager said he understands that it’s part of the business.

“I think me and my dad are pretty good at handling that, and I’m understanding of the fact that he has a job to do and so do I,” he said. “It’s nothing bad or anything. I think we have a good time with it. We kind of just let it happen. I kind of expected it because I knew that he couldn’t really compromise being biased on the broadcast. That wouldn’t be fair to the fans and his colleagues.”

Thus far in 2020, Burton has slowly filled the big shoes left by Bell in the No. 20 and his dad with the family name. And in two weeks he has a strong chance to do what neither Bell nor Jeff Burton have done: Kiss the bricks.

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