Big day at Team Penske as the news that’s been rumored gets revealed that Austin Cindric will be driving the #2 and Harrison Burton will jump from the Toyota camp for a chance in Cup in the famous #21.
While the Cindric news wasn’t a surprise, Burton heading over to the Wood Brothers wasn’t even on the radar until Tuesday when Freddie Kraft dropped the hint on Door Bumper Clear. While this is an exciting day for Burton fans, I’m afraid I have to rain on the parade a little bit.
Harrison Burton is the son of 21x Cup Series winner Jeff Burton. Being the latest in second generation drivers to make the jump to Cup gives him a big following and a lot of people who want to see him succeed. I think that his development has been paced efficiently, but I don’t think he is ready to take the next step.
In 2019 he started his first season in trucks with Kyle Busch Motorsports and performed below expectations. Instead of staying in trucks, he was then promoted to Xfinity, where to his credit he performed much better.
His first Xfinity season saw him show his true potential. With 4 wins, 15 top fives, and 22 top tens with an average finish of 10th. He went into this season as a championship favorite, but so far he’s underperforming and hit a sophomore slump. Yet to get a win, on pace to have fewer top tens, and currently has an average finish of 14th. This digression isn’t ideal for anyone who is about to make the jump to Cup.
In my opinion, hiring a 20-year old who is having a worse Xfinity season from his last for a Cup ride is a bad idea. Burton is young enough that another year of Xfinity would not have hurt him. The most underrated portion of young driver’s development is to keep their confidence high. Going into a rookie Cup season after you’ve underperformed in what was expected to be a championship-caliber season is not going to be good for Harrison’s resolve.
I understand the Burton camp’s frustration with Toyota. Harrison was expected to be next in line for 23XI Racing but with Kurt Busch more than likely getting that ride they probably feel cheated. However, I think Toyota knows none of their young drivers are ready for that jump.
Ford, however, doesn’t have the development pool to turn down a young driver with potential that comes with his sponsorship. Dex Imaging has been a major player in Burton’s career, and already has a relationship with Penske. The paring makes sense, but it still feels rushed.
Fans should keep their expectation for Burton low and allow him to develop. I think Harrison himself should keep that in mind as well. His goal should be to grow and take things slow. With Ford’s depleted development ranks and Dex Imaging backing him, he will have time to develop. He has the potential to be as good as his father, but this move I think may hurt more than help in the long run.