Burton Victimized in Daytona Melee; Finishes 29th

Feb 17, 2014

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Jeb Burton’s ThorSport Racing debut in his No. 13 Smokey Mountain Herbal Snuff Toyota Camry in Saturday’s Lucas Oil 200 presented by MAVTV American Real at Daytona International Speedway was a rollercoaster of emotions.

You want irony? Burton’s car was as fast — wrecked — halfway through the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards season-opening race as it had been in qualifying Friday.

You want the definition of heart? You spell it T-h-o-r-S-p-o-r-t R-a-c-i-n-g and J-e-b B-u-r-t-o-n after crew chief Jeriod Prince and his team rebuilt Burton’s ripped-up racecar and returned it to the track in only 19 laps.

Ten laps later Burton, who had started 21st after qualifying with a lap in 50.462 seconds, 178.352 mph; turned a lap that was better than that while simply making time on the track to run out the 200-mile distance.

He was making laps because in the process Burton passed six cars and gained more than 30 points by returning to the racetrack. That might be critical if this team, which is the defending ARCA championship squad, runs the whole schedule to defend that title.

And you want a pro — his young 21 years aside? That’s Burton, who was man enough to go on FOX Sports 1 and calmly tell the viewers his side of the accident when the netwpork couldn’t locate several of the other protagonists.

On the 13th lap of the race, while running 22nd Burton’s prediction three laps earlier that “I need to get outta this (mess) — they’re gonna wreck” came true when a couple cars near the front of the field lost control.

Burton’s spotter, Kevin Hamlin, was attempting to guide him through the smoky mess when Burton’s car was speared from behind, spinning it out. Burton made a lap and returned to pit road, and then the garage where Prince and his men leaped on the car and began repairs.

On lap 32 Burton was back on track and Prince engineered a careful, methodical trip to the race’s end, pitting when the snarling lead draft approached them, ultimately resulting in a 29th-place finish.

That patient perseverance certainly will serve Burton well next week when he attempts his second race for ThorSport, driving the team’s No. 13 Toyota Tundra in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series’ opener, the NextEra Energy Resources 250.

“This is pretty disappointing because these guys worked really, really hard,” Burton said to FOX’s Jim Tretow, even as the sounds of hammers beating on twisted metal reverberated in the background. “It’s a shame, man, and some of those guys really don’t need to be out there, but (getting wrecked) is just part of it.

“I just have to thank Mr. and Mrs. (owners Duke and Rhonda) Thorson for putting me in the car and truck, and Smokey Mountain Snuff for coming on board with State Water Heaters, Toyota, Puryear Tank Lines, Pacific Equipment and Rocky Ridge Trucks.”

The Daytona ARCA race was a one-off outing with new sponsor Smokey Mountain, which plans a six-race Truck Series program with ThorSport teammate Johnny Sauter later this season.

“Hopefully we can get a better run in the truck,” Burton said. “This was so disappointing — though I can’t give Jeriod and the guys enough credit for putting a car back together that was actually better than it was early in the race. I’m really looking forward to racing that Tundra (truck).”

Smokey Mountain’s ThorSport debut also had its bright spots.

“We were fortunate to partner with Jeb Burton and ThorSport Racing for the ARCA Race at Daytona,” said Dan Fennerty, regional sales director, Smokey Mountain Herbal Snuff. “I was able to spend some time with Jeb (Saturday) and he seems like a great guy, hungry for success and driven to succeed.

“What happened (in the race) was an unfortunate circumstance, out of Jeb’s hands. We couldn’t be more proud of his performance (Saturday) — he got back out, finished the race and never gave up.”

Collateral damage in the mishap was the end of ThorSport’s 31-race top-10 finishing streak in ARCA, which stretched back to the New Jersey Motorsports Park race in July 2012.

“Championship teams don’t quit and that’s certainly who we are at ThorSport,” team manager David Pepper said. “We’re not sure where this ARCA program is headed because we need more sponsorship to continue to race, but this team’s heart and determination were never more evident than (Saturday) and I’m proud of all of the guys — and Jeb for sticking with it until the end.”

Burton returns to the track at Daytona next Wednesday for the first Truck Series practice for next Friday’s NextEra Energy Resources 250.