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How Long of a Leash Could Harrison Burton Get?

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Joshua Lipowski

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Harrison Burton’s future is still uncertain. He did not give a straight answer over the weekend about whether or not he would be back in the #21 car next year. Meanwhile, Jordan Bianchi reported on Tuesday that Burton is expected to return to the #21 car next year.

Regardless of what ends up happening with Burton, opinion seems to be split on what do to with him. If he does end up returning, then how much longer will he be allowed to stay with the team? Let’s take a look at all of the factors that go into that, including performance, sponsorship, and who would replace him.

Burton’s Performance/Sponsorship

Harrison Burton has struggled mightily this season. He is currently 31st in points, which is second to last among full-time drivers, with Ty Dillon being the only one worse. Burton finished 27th in points last season.

Burton also had an average finish of 24.2, which is worse than last year’s average finish of 22.8. He also only has two top-10 finishes with zero top-5s. He has been statistically worse in most categories from last season to his season.

Now, purely from a performance standpoint, it is understandable to see why the Wood Brothers and Team Penske would want to drop Burton. However, that is not the only factor at play here.

Burton brings with him significant sponsorship from Dex Imaging, who has supported Burton for virtually his entire racing career. That is part of what keeps Burton in the Cup Series. To call him a “pay driver”, however, would be a bit harsh as he has proven in the lower series that he can win.

He won four races in the Xfinity Series in 2020 for Joe Gibbs Racing, so he has shown an ability to win races. However, he has not won a race in NASCAR competition since that 2020 Xfinity Series season. The ability seems to be there somewhere, but something is holding him back.

Could it be the race team? The Wood Brothers get support from Team Penske, and they made the Playoffs on points in 2020 with Matt DiBenedetto.

Burton’s performance is definitely an issue, but his and the team’s potential gives them a silver lining. How long can that last? Well, if Burton’s performance is not good enough, then who could realistically replace him?

Who Realistically Could Replace Him?

Now, if Burton does end up getting bounced from the Wood Brothers, someone has to be there to replace him. Team Penske no longer fields an Xfinity Series program, so there is no direct pipeline from there to the Wood Brothers.

Most big-name Xfinity or Truck Series names have already been linked to other rides. John Hunter Nemechek has been linked to Legacy Motor Club. Zane Smith is a Ford driver in the Craftsman Truck Series, but he might potentially go somewhere like the Stewart-Haas Racing #10 car.

Carson Hocevar has constantly been linked to other places as well. Cole Custer and Riley Herbst are likely not going to leave SHR either. Chandler Smith and Daniel Hemric seem pretty committed to Kaulig Racing, and they are potential candidates to take the #31 car in the Cup Series.

With Burton being in 31st place with the Wood Brothers, that team is low on the totem pole amongst free agents. Why would drivers want to go to a struggling team if better options are available?

IF They Keep Him, How Long of a Leash Will He Have?

With his performance dip in 2023, Burton’s leash may not be very long if he stays in 2024. He may only be signed to a one-year “Prove it” type of deal to see if he can run in the Cup Series. However, his leash may end up being longer than one might think.

He brings in sponsorship, and, as long as that is still there, there will be a ride for him somewhere. His success in the Xfinity Series has proven that he can drive and win in a race car. There is also the issue of who could replace him.

It is impossible to totally predict how Silly Season 2024 will shake out, but, it’s possible that better options than Burton just will not be available. This would especially be true if Burton showed some significant improvement. Overall, there are a lot of factors that go into Burton’s 2024 plans, and a lot can still happen.

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Picture of Joshua Lipowski

Joshua Lipowski

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