This is the second in a series of 2013 Camping World Truck Series driver recaps that will be featured on NASCAR.com.
Rookies don't typically expect to contend for championships, but for much of Jeb Burton's first season in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, he was right in the mix.
A fifth-place effort in the season standings, highlighted by a series-high seven pole positions and a breakthrough victory at Texas Motor Speedway in June, would be enough to satisfy most drivers in their first go-round at the national-series level. But being so close at so many tracks over the 22-race schedule has only made Burton more motivated to contend in 2014.
"Definitely pleased and happy -- just hungry and wanting more," Burton said Nov. 18, as the truck and NASCAR Nationwide Series held their annual awards banquet."... This was our building year, just building a notebook. Just next year, we need to win those races when we have the opportunities."
The 21-year-old member of the NASCAR Next class had already gotten his feet wet in the Truck Series with a five-race schedule in 2012 to prep for his first full season with Turner Scott Motorsports. When he won his first Keystone Light Pole Award in just the second race of the year at Martinsville Speedway, not far from his hometown of Halifax, Va., it unleashed a swell of emotions.
That pole position foreshadowed strong showings in qualifying yet to come. Burton topped the pole qualifying leaderboard three times in the first five races and was the fastest qualifier at intermediate tracks, a short track and a superspeedway once 2013 was in the books.
"Qualifying, I feel like, has been a strength for me in my career," Burton said. "All the guys at the shop provided me with fast trucks, right off the truck. It just was easier to be fast when you unload and have good equipment. All the guys back at Turner Scott did a good job for us."
On June 7 in Fort Worth, Burton cashed in on the stout qualifying efforts with the first triumph of his career, sharing a stirring Victory Lane with his father, former Daytona 500 winner Ward Burton. Not only did the Texas win validate the younger Burton's racing pedigree, it also came in the heart of a lengthy 11-race span where he ranked second in the series standings.
"It means a lot. I'm just a little frustrated that that's the only one we got," Burton said. "I felt like Martinsville, we let that one go, and then there were three or four others we could've won. We've got to capitalize on that if we want to be champions next year and just got to keep getting better every week."
Burton was second in the points as late as mid-August, but a six-race stretch with just two top-10 finishes allowed eventual series champion Matt Crafton to build an insurmountable lead. Burton's rough patch was marked by a last-lap crash at Bristol Motor Speedway that dropped him to third place in the truck standings. Just 11 days later, a transmission issue at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park knocked the rookie to fourth.
Though he was removed from championship contention by the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Burton may have saved his best drive for last. While reeling in eventual race winner Kyle Busch, Burton scraped the wall in the closing laps and seemed destined for a finish in the back of the pack. But the rookie stormed from 25th position to a third-place result, masterfully picking his way through traffic to cap his season with a brilliant top-five. The result also rounded out his first experience with all the tracks on the schedule, something that bodes well for next season.
"I think just going to these tracks where I know what I need and I know what to expect before I get there," Burton said. "I feel like that's going to make us better all around the board. Going to Homestead the other day was the first time I've seen the place, so next year we've already got a good notebook and we know what we can run and what we can't run."
Burton also made a solid debut in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, taking a Turner Scott Chevrolet to an eighth-place finish at Kentucky Speedway in September. Even as he prepares to return for another full schedule on the truck tour with Turner Scott, Burton made it clear that he has a longer-reach plan for more Nationwide starts with an ultimate goal of competing in the top-level NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in the near future.
"I'm definitely thinking that far ahead," Burton said. "We've got a plan set and trying to find Nationwide sponsors to run for next year. I'm going to run full truck and as many Nationwide races as I can next year and the following year to try to go full-time Nationwide. Run that about two years and I want to be in a (Sprint) Cup car.
"We've just got to keep winning. I feel like if I don't succeed and do well and run good, I won't make it in this sport and I've just got to keep getting better."
FULL SERIES COVERAGE
SEASON IN REVIEW
- Dec. 9: Matt Crafton
- Dec. 12: Jeb Burton
- Dec. 19: Johnny Sauter
- Dec. 26: James Buescher
- Jan. 2: Ty Dillon
- Motor Racing
- Sports & Recreation
- Ward Burton