Jeb Burton notches first Xfinity victory

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 25, 2021

By John Zenor

AP Sports Writer

TALLADEGA, Ala. — The rain came at a good time for Jeb Burton, helping him end a years-long personal winless stretch that had left him at times doubting his future in racing.

Burton got his first NASCAR Xfinity Series victory Saturday when heavy rain halted the action with 23 laps left, securing his first high level win since a truck race in 2013.

“The rain didn’t hurt my feelings at all,” Burton said. “Everything I’ve been through in my career, to get one, we didn’t really care how we did it. But we ran up front all day. It definitely wasn’t a fluke.

“We led a lot of laps and it was a blast to drive.”

He said he was “a little bit in disbelief” when told that he had been declared the winner. The disappointment at not getting to finish it passed when he remembered his own career struggles at finding rides and sponsors — much less wins.

Burton passed cousin Harrison Burton on the inside on Lap 82 and stayed up front before a seven-car wreck forced a caution and the downpour sent the cars to the pits.

Burton, the son of former NASCAR driver Ward Burton, had opened the season with three straight top-five finishes.

“I definitely broke down talking to my dad and mom,” the younger Burton said. “They told me to dry it up and stop crying and enjoy it. They were crying too. We just wanted this for so long.”

It was the third straight win at Talladega for Kaulig Racing, with teammate Justin Haley sweeping the two 2020 races.

Series points leader Austin Cindric was second after starting in the pole position, followed by Burton’s teammate, AJ Allmendinger.

“Ward and Jeb and that whole Burton family have fought hard to stay in the sport and be a part of it,” Allmendinger said. “I just told Jeb when he got here — it’s not like shut up and do the work — but it’s like, ‘Man just put your head down and let’s do this together and we’re all going to benefit.’ ”

Noah Gragson won the $100,000 Dash 4 Cash prize after finishing sixth.

Penske drivers hoping to avoid Daytona repeat in today’s race

Roger Penske doesn’t want a repeat of the Daytona 500, when teammates Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski took each other out racing for the win on the final lap.

Penske, owner of Team Penske, convened his drivers for a Zoom session ahead of today’s Geico 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on the importance of balancing the collective good of the team with individuals’ competitive desires.

“Just trying to find the best way that if we are in a spot where we’re 1-2 coming to the end of this thing, how do we go about that?” said Ryan Blaney, who won at Talladega last June. “How do we go about to make sure and do our best that we finish 1-2, no matter who wins?”

It would be a nice problem to have at Talladega, which staged its longest and most caution-filled race last October.

Penske drivers have won seven of the last 11 Cup races at Talladega. But the most recent speedway memory is a sour one.

Blaney watched the finish from his couch after getting involved in a 16-car crash 14 laps into this year’s Daytona 500. The crash with Logano and Keselowski helped open the door for 100-to-1 long shot Michael McDowell to win.

Another Penske car, driven by rookie Austin Cindric, was also destroyed. Penske spoke individually to his drivers in the aftermath and collectively too. He knows tensions can escalate in the heat of the moment as they did at Daytona.

But he wants them to remember that everyone   can lose in those situations.

“I don’t think there’s anything new that will happen, but I think we just have to make an agreement on just exactly how you want to play ball if you get into that same situation as we had with two of us running as well as we had with a half-mile to go, and then end up with three cars in the trash bucket,” Penske said.