DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Making the first of a handful of starts for the JR Motorsports team Jeb Burton won the first stage of Saturday’s NASCAR Racing Experience 300 Xfinity Series opener at Daytona International Speedway and led a race-best 26 laps only to get tangled in a late-race accident that derailed his shot a career-first victory.
He was so close – only to see his afternoon end in a multi-car accident a few laps from the end – derailing at least a top-five effort while his younger cousin, Harrison Burton avoided two wrecks in the final handful of laps to record his career-best Xfinity Series finish – runner-up to the first-time winner – Jeb’s JRM teammate, Noah Gragson.
On a restart with seven laps remaining, Burton got collected in a typical Daytona late-race steamroll that included several of his fellow frontrunners.
“Going down the back I had a really good run on the 9 [Gragson] so I decided to push him and I pushed him and the 98 [Chase Briscoe] was kinda blocking and doing his thing,” Jeb Burton said. “I had to check up just a hair because I was already into the 9 and then the 22 [Austin Cindric] hit me in the right rear quarter panel and that sent me down into the 19 [Brandon Jones] and then I couldn’t save it. I needed a couple more feet.”
“He just hit me in the wrong spot and it just sent me, just sent me, I couldn’t save it,” Burton said. “These things are already on edge and dirty and moving all over the place and you’re going to see it tomorrow too [in the Daytona 500]. There are some places you can bump draft and some you can’t.”
The 27-year old Burton, son of 2002 Daytona 500 winner Ward Burton, is slated to make 11 starts in the No. 8 JRM Chevrolet this season, sharing the seat with Daniel Hemric. And he was especially disappointed in the big Daytona outing because he and his team had been strong all day – out front more than any other driver.
He was patient and crafty throughout the afternoon – the kind of smart driving that has given him this opportunity. He earned six top-ten finishes in seven starts in this same JR Motorsports car last year and was eager to prove himself a stellar candidate for a full-season. Although exiting from the speedway’s Infield Care Center, Burton took a breath and conceded, the day had upside even if the result did not.
“It was fun all day,” Burton allowed. “But you know you work all day for those last five laps and to not even have a chance. … right when we were about to make things happen, that’s when we got crashed.”
For what it’s worth, Burton’s team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. was very impressed with the effort. He acknowledged after the race that Burton is racing hard and highly-motivated.
“I don’t know a lot of drivers that work harder than Jeb does to cultivate relationships, partnerships and create opportunities and chances to drive,” Earnhardt said. “I don’t know that many guys work as hard as he does to obtain the opportunity to be in the car, and I think that’s why it matters to him so much because he knows he puts so much effort into just being there getting in that car.
“He knows he has to succeed to see more opportunities. He knows he can’t sustain this work ethic and not have results. He has to get himself into Victory Lane to realize a full season in a car or the opportunity in Cup whatever his dreams are.
“So he’s living and dying by every lap and he’s very emotional about it and wants it very badly. He wants to go out there and win like his uncle and his dad and we’re trying to help him do that. He’s such a great guy.”
And as his work has indicated in recent seasons, he’s plenty talented too.
“We had a really good shot to win this race,” Burton said. “And the guys worked hard. We won a stage today and led a lot of laps and had a shot to win and that’s all you can say.”