Burton spices up team dynamics at ThorSport
June 05, 2014, Zack Albert, NASCAR.com
New teammate Sauter calls 21-year-old a 'ball of fire'
FORT WORTH, Texas -- The veteran tandem of Matt Crafton and Johnny Sauter has been a constant at ThorSport Racing since their initial full-time pairing in 2009. Enter into the mix a young buck in Jeb Burton and the chemistry naturally changes.
But to hear Burton tell it, the foundation for the new partnership was laid even before their three-truck merger officially began.
"Me, Matt and Johnny raced like we were teammates last year," Burton said Thursday from Texas Motor Speedway, site of Friday night's WinStar World Casino and Resort 400 (9 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1). "We never had a fender touch each other, so we've got respect all of us together. Our personalities are a little bit different off track, but on track we've got the same goals -- race each other clean, share notes and be good teammates. We're still getting better every week, but hopefully we keep getting better, we can start winning some races."
A solid starting point would be in the Lone Star State, site of Burton's breakthrough victory in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series last June. That win came under different circumstances, during Burton's time with the Turner Scott Motorsports team in a successful rookie season in which Burton topped the qualifying board seven times.
But when sponsorship woes left Burton empty-handed in the offseason, he found a soft landing place with ThorSport -- first on a race-by-race basis, then full time with an infusion of sponsorship at the end of May. Though Burton was not on the sidelines long, the sudden shift to uncertainty was a reminder of his father, Ward, and how his racing career unfolded.
"He didn't have to warn me really, because I saw the things that happened with him and his racing career," the 21-year-old Burton said. "He was with some good teams and was really loyal to some car owners and he didn't get the same thing back. I know how the sport is -- it can eat you up and spit you out. I know kind of what the deal is, and I just try to treat people like I want to be treated."
Thus far, Burton's treatment has been an open-arms welcome from the Ohio-based team. Instead of upsetting the comfort of the Crafton-Sauter dynamic, Burton's eager attitude has meshed well with his veteran teammates in a mutually beneficial relationship of information sharing and feedback.
"Jeb's a really good dude," Sauter said. "Obviously, you see guys at the race track and you talk to them, but you don't really get an opportunity to know them until they're a teammate. I've been teammates with Matt now for five years or so, so I pretty much know the ins and outs of how all that works as far as working together at the race track. But Jeb's been, he's a ball of fire, there's no question. He's a pretty motivated young man, which is cool. I don't know that he totally reminds me of myself, but I feel like I thought about things a lot the way that he does, 10 years ago.
"It's cool to see. He adds some enthusiasm to the organization, there's no doubt, and I look for the rest of the season to be pretty fun."
The first order of business is the return to the 1.5-mile Texas track, which brings back fond memories for the former NASCAR Next driver. Burton took command on the final restart and fended off Ty Dillon's last-ditch charge in the final laps to score his first national series win.
Since then, victories have been hard to come by, but Burton said he knew even then on that memorable night that there was more work to be done.
"Right when I left this chair last year, I knew I needed to win some more," Burton said from the front-and-center seat on stage in the Texas Motor Speedway media center. "That's been a frustrating part of what happened with the sponsor leaving, but the way I look at it is that everything happens for a reason. If that would have never happened, I wouldn't be with this new sponsor in Estes Express Lines, which is a great company and I'm excited for the future with them. But ... winning one time doesn't get the job done. I need to get better as a driver and win some more races."