Although Harrison Burton wasn’t able to turn a front-row start in Saturday’s O’Reilly 300 into a top-five or even a win, he still views it as a momentum builder heading into his rookie XFINITY Series campaign in 2020, where he is set to take over the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20 as Christopher Bell moves into the Cup Series.
“It helps a lot,” said Burton of his run. “It’s not exactly the run I think we wanted. I wanted to run better. I wanted to get a top-five, top-three, contend for the win, which was my goal. We didn’t quite get there tonight due to some adversity.”
“We control our own destiny so we got to get a little bit less sloppy and could do a better job. I mean I’m part of that for sure so it’s not only on pit road but on the race track as well. I made a couple of mistakes that cost us some positions. When you lose spots here [at Texas], it’s just so big. But it was a challenge tonight and I learned a lot, so that’s what it’s all about.”
The seventh-place was Burton’s fourth top-10 this season, which includes a season-best fourth-place finish at Iowa in his second start of 2019. But despite only scoring top-10s in half of his starts driving a Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, his finishes in the other four races haven’t been indicative of his runs this season.
Despite running near the front at Loudon, Burton’s No. 18 Toyota tangled with Paul Menard’s Ford, which sent Burton into the wall and out of the race with suspension issues. A 13th-place at the Charlotte Roval was actually a respectable result considering the Roval’s nature, especially since Burton started the race in 22nd. His first-lap crash at Dover negated the fact that he started the race in fifth.
Yet although Burton will be taking over No. 20 that Bell has driven to eight victories this season, he won’t be with Bell’s Crew Chief Jason Ratcliff, who’ll be following Bell into the Cup Series. Burton’s 2020 Crew Chief hasn’t been announced yet, however, considering he’s posted some good runs in the No. 18 with Ben Beshore, there’s reason to believe Beshore could take up that mantle.
Burton and Beshore have put together a solid limited campaign in 2019. Considering the entire reason for the campaign is to prepare Burton for the 2020 season and to help him better learn how the cars handle, he’s performed as expected given his experience and the equipment he’s been put in.
Burton should expect to put together some strong runs in the 2020 campaign and could very well be the front-runner in the Sunoco Rookie of the Year race. Given that the JGR Toyotas are virtually untouchable in the XFINITY Series, expect Burton to visit Victory Lane at least a couple of times on his way to a Playoff appearance.