The past few days have been less than ideal for Jeb Burton.
On Saturday (Oct. 9), he was eliminated from his first-ever NASCAR Xfinity Series playoffs, with cousin Harrison Burton beating him out for the last spot. Later that night, Burton’s beloved Virginia Tech Hokies football team lost to Notre Dame after leading late in the contest.
Two days later, Burton revealed to Frontstretch that Kaulig Racing would not be bringing him back for a second season in its No. 10 car next year.
In addition to discussing his search for a 2022 ride, Burton also discussed with Frontstretch his 2021 growing pains, life as a VT fan, commuting from Virginia and future hunting trips, including one with a popular NASCAR Cup Series driver.
Michael Massie, Frontstretch (and Virginia Tech graduate): I was gonna start out by asking you, ‘How about dem Hokies?’ but that was pretty rough Saturday night. But what do you think? Do you think we have shot the ACC?
Jeb Burton: Man, I don’t think so now. I think with the quarterback [Braxton Burmeister] being hurt, doesn’t look very good for them. That’s kind of what I’m thinking, man. Not a good situation.
Massie: Yeah, already looking to next year, huh? That’s the story of our lives as VT fans.
Burton: Yeah, man. They’re going through a rough spell. I feel like they got some really good coaches and good players right now. Just can’t put it all together.
Massie: Your dad had VT on his car after the shooting. Is that what got you into them or were you fan before that?
Thirteen years ago today, 32 lives were lost at Virginia Tech.
— NASCAR Legends (@LegendsNascar) April 16, 2020
Burton: I was a fan before that, just growing up in Virginia. I’m about two hours away from Blacksburg so not too far away. But my grandpa was a Virginia fan, and I wanted to cheer for somebody who was different. And when I started watching, Michael Vick was a quarterback, and they were definitely kicking butt then. I was a little kid, but I just kind of fell into it then.
Massie: Obviously, you race on game day a lot of the times. But once the NASCAR season ends, are you trying to get out to any games?
Burton: Man, I don’t think I’ll make it any this year. I’m a big hunter, too. So I’ll be watching some games, but just really feel like they shouldn’t have lost any this year. So it’s just frustrating.
Massie: I know you spend a lot of time in Virginia, and, obviously, everything for NASCAR’s located in Charlotte. Do you still live in Virginia and just commute down?
Burton: I do. Yeah, so I live in Halifax, Va. I’m about two hours from the [Kaulig] shop, and then I’m about two hours and 45 minutes from Mooresville. That’s kind of the race central of the world. I’m a little ways away, but I enjoy being in Virginia, and I don’t mind the drive.
Massie: So what’s that like? Do you just go down for a day trip?
Burton: So like tomorrow (Tuesday), I’m going for our team meeting. I’ll leave here probably about 7 a.m., and I’ll get there about 9 a.m. Get in there, make sure everything’s like I want it for Texas [Motor Speedway] and then go into our team meeting and then hang out there for a little bit. Then I’ll roll on. I got to go down to Downtown Charlotte tomorrow for a meeting. But the commute, it’s not bad, man. Downtown Charlotte’s about three hours away, and the race team’s about two, so it’s not bad.
Massie: And then you probably just drive down and catch the team plane Friday night?
Burton: Yeah, we’ll do that. Like this Friday, we go to Texas, and I’ll leave mid-afternoon. Get down to Statesville, and that’s where we fly out with the team. Most time, when it does suck is when we land and it’s 12 o’clock and we don’t get home till 2:30 in the morning.
Massie: So you mentioned you’re gonna be hunting a bunch coming up. You got any big hunting or fishing trips planned?
Burton: Not really right now. We have a pretty big farm here in Virginia, we hunt a lot, but I don’t really have any big trips planned. But I might go on a duck hunt with some of my racing partners just to build those relationships and have a good time. So I might do that here in the winter.
Massie: I’ve seen you take Ryan Blaney out there before. Are you taking any other drivers out there with you?
Burton: No, not really. Ryan, he’s shown some interest in the outdoors, so it’s been fun taking him. I think he’s gonna come back down this winter, come down and drink some beers and go hunting. So that’ll be fun. But man, we just like introducing new people to the outdoors. My wife and I hunt a lot. Just a good way to relax.
Massie: We’ve got to talk a little bit of racing. You got eliminated from making the Round of 8. But how are you looking back on this season and your first time in the Xfinity playoffs?
Burton: I feel like I’m better than that. And I feel like our team’s better than that. And to get eliminated was just unfortunate. We have one DNF all year long, and that put us in a hole. I finished pretty much dead last in Vegas with no stage points. If I could have finished 20th in Vegas, I would have moved on, no problem. So it put me in a situation where I went to a brand new racetrack Saturday I’ve never raced at, a road course. So I just didn’t have the speed that I needed this weekend. I knew Harrison wasn’t going to be much better or any better, but I knew we were going to be probably right on top of each other and that wasn’t gonna cut it.
So it’s frustrating because I feel like we could make it to the final four. I’m really good at Texas. Kansas [Speedway] is kind of a wild card. I haven’t raced there in a while. But Martinsville [Speedway] is one of my best tracks. I feel like we could do some damage.
It’s frustrating, but I think we can still finish fifth in points. That’s kind of my goal now is to try to get as much stage points as I can, try to win another race and try to finish fifth in points. That was kind of my goal going into this year. My goal was to win more than one race and make it to the final four. That’s not going to happen, so the next best thing is finish fifth in points and win multiple races would would be a great way to end the year. I feel like we should have already won multiple races. We’ve been really close. We’ve got one win, I feel like we should have two or three, just haven’t worked out.
Massie: You mentioned the one DNF came at the worst possible time. Had that happened just a couple of weeks earlier, you’d still be sitting pretty. Can you take solace at all in knowing that it was really just bad luck that kept you from moving on?
Burton: It was bad luck, but if I would have been better this weekend, that had nothing to do with luck. If I could have ran top five this weekend or even if I could’ve finished eighth, it would have been close. If I could if I could have just ran fifth to eighth, I think it would have probably moved me on. I thought at the beginning of the race I was in good shape. I was in. I was running like sixth and Harrison was like 15th. I was like, ‘Okay, this is perfect.’ I think that was on like lap 9. If that would have been the end of the stage, that would’ve gotten me a bunch of points and put me in position to capitalize on that. So it just didn’t work out.
Massie: The thing that struck me about your year is you were super consistent. How have those past experiences where you were driving worse equipment or driving part time prepped you to not really overdrive the car or try to get more than you can get out of it and put yourself in a bad spot?
Burton: I feel like that’s helped a lot. That’s why I’m finishing the races. I wish we had more speed a lot of the times on this year. I feel like we’ve struggled on some tracks I didn’t think we’d struggle at all. I feel like now, like going into this weekend, we’re taking a little bit different package for me I’m really excited about. I’m really interested to know if that gets my mile-and-a-half speed where it should be, because if it does, it’s gonna be really frustrating that it’s ended the year, now we figured it out. And everybody I’m racing against has been with their race teams more than a year, every single one of them. And every year, I’m with a new race team. It’s really difficult to build anything like that.
Massie: It’s kind of been your rookie season in Xfinity, because it’s the first time you’ve ever ran all the races. Have you felt like a rookie this year, and have there been growing pains?
Burton: Yeah, for sure. That in itself is like a rookie and then some of the tracks I haven’t raced at. Road America, Mid-Ohio [Sports Car Course], a bunch of tracks like that that I don’t have the experience. It doesn’t help me any.
So now I do have that experience, and just a sucky situation that I’m in now is the partner’s leaving. I will not be in the [No.] 10 car next year. I don’t see a path there for that to happen. There’s other people who have funding. It is what it is, it’s just frustrating.
Massie: How close are you to finding anything for next year? Do you have a couple of potential leads?
Burton: I’ve got some opportunities. There’s some Cup opportunities. There’s some Xfinity opportunities. I’m just trying to figure out what’s best for me and all my partners. That’s where I’m at. I just want to stay in this sport for 10-15 more years at least. I know I can do a good job. I just need to build something, find a home and stay there for a while.
Massie: You’ve proven this year that you can be competitive in a good ride, and it seems like you’ve had some of the same sponsors stick with you for the past five or so years. How helpful has that been in the search for new ride?
Burton: Oh, it’s everything. State Water Heaters has been with me a long time. Years and years and years. LS Tractors is coming to be one of those partners, too. They’ve been with me since 2019. Rocky Boots, too. There’s a bunch of partners that are stepping up to try to help me. Everybody’s trying to help. They know that it takes funding to get this done. They’re all working together to try to figure it out to try to put me on the racetrack.
Massie: So it seems like we’ll see you in some type of ride, right?
Burton: I don’t think I’m done, just not an ideal situation that I’m in right now, thinking you got something and then it kind of gets up in smoke. It’s just one of those things that’s went on in my career over and over and over, so I’m hoping that will come to an end at some point so it doesn’t have to keep happening.
Massie: Are you happy you took this ride with Kaulig even if it’s just a one-year stint?
Burton: Yeah, 100%. I feel like it’s rejuvenated my career. I really enjoy being at Kaulig Racing. I want to be there. Matt and Chris and all those guys, they do a really good job. They’ve got Cup opportunities and different things. We’re exploring other ways so that we can still work together. I feel like they know I can do a good job for them, and they want me to still be around. As far as the Xfinity side, I just don’t have the funding to run full time, and that’s what it takes to run. So it’s still a business, and that’s just the side of the sport that isn’t fun sometimes.
About the author
Michael Massie is a writer for Frontstretch. Massie, a Richmond, Va. native, has been a NASCAR superfan since childhood, when he frequented races at Richmond International Raceway. Massie is a lover of short track racing and travels around to the ones in his region. Outside of motorsports, the Virginia Tech grad can be seen cheering on his beloved Hokies.
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