DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Harrison Burton knows he’s not necessarily regarded as one of the top road course racers in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, but he’s working to change that.
He finished eighth during the series’ inaugural visit to the 3.61-mile Daytona Int’l Speedway road course last August,and hopes to build on that mark Saturday during the Super Start Batteries 188 at Daytona.
The upcoming round at the Daytona road course is the second race of the Xfinity Series season and Burton comes into it fresh off a third-place finish during the season opener on the 2.5-mile Daytona oval last weekend.
At one time, Burton admitted road racing might not have been a vital skillset for NASCAR drivers to have. Now, however, with road courses in both the regular season and the playoffs, Burton knows the discipline is important to success and to the pursuit of a championship.
Burton told SPEED SPORT Thursday during a media conference call that he’s spent a lot of time preparing for improvement at the road course races on the schedule with Joe Gibbs Racing.
“There are a ton of road races, so it makes being good at them super important for playoff points, for race wins, for whatever your goals are. Road courses are something now where you’re going to have to find a way to win at them,” Burton noted. “It’s really important. Recently, I’ve been working really hard on road races. I went to COTA in a Trans-Am car — a TA2 car — to try to get better. I raced there with some Toyota teammates. That was a good time. We didn’t race, but we tried to race in practice. That was good.
“My dad (Jeff Burton) and I actually both got go-karts. We are both ripping around road courses in go-karts all the time. I’m trying to get better and he’s trying to stay in shape and have fun,” Burton added. “I’m trying to be fast, so it’s a good mix of father-son rivalry. We have a good time with that. A lot of it has been in-person seat time and a lot of it has been watching film, trying to get better that way too.”
As he’s been absorbing information and trying to improve, Burton explained his biggest challenge as far as learning the art of road racing has been becoming more aggressive under braking.
“The guys that separate themselves are amazing in the braking zones. If you watch in the Clash; Chase Elliott is the road racing guy now. He’s the favorite to win at all of the road races. You could see him in the braking zone just slamming the car in there, using all of the brakes but not locking up, aggressive things like that,” Burton said. “That’s the biggest challenge — getting yourself past that next level.
“If you look at the data, I’m just as fast as anyone from center to exit, but those guys that have that braking technique and have dialed that down over years are very good. They are very hard to beat and they are always getting better like you are,” he added. “If you show up to the race track and you think, ‘Hey, I’m better now, I’m going to come in here and whoop everyone’s tail,’ well, everyone else got better too, so you’ve got to be almost doubling their rate of growth.
“It’s a big challenge but it’s fun.”
He knows he’s not the favorite to win, but Burton wasn’t quite ready to put a grade on his road-racing acumen yet, either. He admitted that designation is still to come.
“I’ll tell you better after this weekend, but I’ve been working really hard to be better,” said Burton. “I think last weekend was my best superspeedway race I’ve ever driven. I felt like I made a lot of gains in that regard. I really hope I made a lot of gains in the road racing regard too. I’ve been working really hard on it. I think last year I was fast. I was kind of in contention for the best of the rest of last year.
“You had your road racing ringers and then there are the guys like me and Riley Herbst, Noah Gragson — the guys that were not quite as fast as Chase (Briscoe) and Austin (Cindric), but guys that were close and pretty quick on lap time and were able to contend in the end,” Burton continued. “I put myself in there as of last year but, hopefully, this year I made that jump to be better, contend for wins and lead laps.”
While he’s busy trying to lock himself into the Xfinity Series playoffs this weekend, Burton hopes to be able to enjoy his return to Daytona’s iconic road course layout — nearly identical to the course used for the Rolex 24 At Daytona endurance race by the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.
“It’s a fun race track. It’s a place that was really, really cool to run at, just because I never thought I would,” tipped Burton. “I’ve always seen the Rolex race there and I always dreamed of racing at Daytona, but I was never dreaming about racing the road course at Daytona as a little kid. To do that was a cool experience and something that I never thought I would do. The race track in and of itself is so fun. It’s a low-grip infield with a high grip outside of the track. It leads to a lot of great passing zones, a lot of great opportunity for good racing.
“We saw that in the (Busch) Clash. The Clash this year was a crazy finish at the end and I expect more of that this year.”
The Super Start Batteries 188 is scheduled for a 5 p.m. ET start Saturday, with live coverage on FS1, the Motor Racing Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, channel 90.