For Jeb Burton, the pressure is on. With just six races remaining this season in the Camping World Truck Series, he's running out of time to make up the 70 points that stand between him and leader Matt Crafton.
"It's a long way," the Turner Scott Motorsports driver admitted. "We're going to have to have some things go our way."
This weekend, though, brings a break from all that in the form of Burton's debut in the Nationwide Series. Saturday night at Kentucky Speedway, he'll pilot a fourth TSM entry that finished second in its most recent outing, in July at Daytona with James Buescher behind the wheel. On a track he's familiar with from the Truck Series, supported by regular crew chief Mike Hillman Jr. and the rest of his usual team from his No. 4 truck, Burton will make laps in what he hopes is a tune-up for more events like this next season.
"I'm not trying to put so much pressure on myself to where it's like, if I don't run good in this race, its my career. It's definitely not," he said. "This is just to help us for next year, and into the next year, and into the next year. This is just a learning race for us, and we're just going to have some fun at it. We have no points to worry about. Our goal is to run all the laps and finish in the top 10. That's our goal for this week. Anything more than that, we'll take it. but I really feel like if we don't have any mistakes and we can get the car handling like I need it to in practice, we can be top 10."
Burton said had initially hoped to compete in seven or eight Nationwide races this season, but the funding didn't come through. He gets his chance at Kentucky thanks to an off weekend for the Truck Series, which next races at Las Vegas on Sept. 28. The 21-year-old son of former Daytona 500 winner Ward Burton, Jeb tested the Nationwide car earlier this year in Nashville, and left there confident he could be competitive on the 1.5-mile track in Sparta, Ky.
"In the truck you can get away a little more with being looser, just from the side force and stuff," said Burton, who finished ninth in the Truck Series event at Kentucky in June. "The Nationwide car, one thing I did like about it is, it seemed like it's more of a finesse game. Just being heavier, I guess, with more horsepower. More like a (Sprint) Cup car."
It's all part of a progression. Burton said his plan next season is to run seven or eight Nationwide races in addition to another full-time slate on the Truck Series.
"I really want to win that championship next year," he said. "And I think we will, because this year was the fist time I've ever seen these places. Next year when we go back a second time, it's going to be pretty stout, I think."
Burton has one Truck Series victory -- at Texas, in June -- and five poles in what's been a stellar first full-time season at NASCAR's national level. He's fourth in the standings, 70 points behind Crafton after a ninth-place run last week at Chicagoland.
"We're good. I'm happy," he said, although it's clear the points he's left on the race track -- particularly at Martinsville in April, where the South Boston, Va., native led 154 laps but ended up third -- still eat at him.
"It's just, I've probably given up probably 80 points this year just in mistakes and not having been to race tracks and stuff," he said. "Not knowing. I feel like next year will be our year. We're not out of the championship now, but I feel like next year will be our year."
First, though, comes Saturday night's no-pressure Nationwide debut at Kentucky, a race that will also feature Truck Series regulars Joey Coulter (in Joe Gibbs Racing's No. 18 car), Dakoda Armstrong (in Richard Childress Racing's No. 21), Ryan Blaney (in Penske Racing's No. 22), and Matt Crafton (in RCR's No. 33).
"Everybody's pumped up and ready to go," Burton said.
Then it's back to the Truck Series and trying to make up ground on Crafton, beginning with a race at Las Vegas that kick-starts the circuit's final push toward the championship. Also looming is a return to Texas, where Burton won earlier this year. And the Virginia native has a certain paper-clip-shaped track circled on his calendar.
"We need to win some races and have things go our way, but we're not going to give up on it," Burton said. "Third is only like 12 points ahead of me, and I think second is like 20 points ahead of me. So we can definitely get to those. Really, after Martinsville, I want to be second in points. We go to Vegas, we go to those mile-and-a-halfs, and Martinsville we're awesome at. I'm going to be really disappointed if we don't go to Martinsville and win, to tell you the truth. That's my home track. That's my Daytona 500. That's it."
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