Flat Tire Blunts Burton’s Kansas Charge; Rallies for Sixth

May 10, 2014

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For lack of a few pounds of air pressure — and a rubber bladder to hold it — Jeb Burton Friday night at Kansas Speedway missed out on his first top-five finish in only his third NASCAR Camping World Truck Series start with ThorSport Racing.

Burton had a competitive night in the SFP 250 with his No. 13 Carolina Nut Co. Toyota, but saw an opportunity to compete for a potential win vanish when he had to make an extra pit stop, with a flat tire, after he’d pitted to top-off his Tundra’s fuel tank just past the halfway point of the race.

Burton fell back to 15th — the only time all night he was scored outside the top 10 — with only about 70 laps remaining. But he charged back to a sixth-place finish, his career-best at Kansas in three starts at the high-speed 1.5-mile venue.

“We had a really good Carolina Nut Tundra all night and on that second-to-last caution we were coming to the green and I thought the track bar was broken,” Burton said. “But we figured out the left-rear tire was down — we’re thinking we must’ve picked up a piece of debris from that big accident on the backstretch.

“So we came down pit road but we went a lap down. But our Tundra was still good and man — Jeriod (Prince, Burton’s first-race crew chief after winning the 2013 ARCA Racing Series championship at ThorSport) never stopped working on the truck all night and the (final) caution finally came out and we got the (free pass).”

In the season’s first knockout qualifying session Burton lined-up sixth for the race but quickly raced up to third. In the first 90-plus laps of 167 he was never scored outside the top-seven positions as his crew gave him great pit work.

But when his ThorSport teammate Johnny Sauter was swept into a four-truck wreck on the backstretch bad luck reared up in the form of the flat tire — though Prince’s final adjustments nearly made the difference. In the final run, Burton’s Tundra was at times faster than eventual winner Kyle Busch and Burton’s second ThorSport teammate, runnerup Matt Crafton.

“We just needed another caution right there at the end, as good as the guys had our Tundra tuned for that last run,” Burton said. “It was really hard to pass (Friday) night — it took me a couple laps to pass people when I caught them. I’m hoping this place has a hard winter and loses some grip, because it was really hard to pass even if you were faster than people.

“I almost had fifth and fourth positions right there as we came to the line. I almost had them, but it gives us a lot of optimism going to Charlotte (this) week.”

The best aspect of the night — in which Crafton grabbed the point lead from Sauter and Red Horse Racing’s Timothy Peters, who were tied coming to Kansas — was that Burton moved up two spots in the standings, to seventh. He’s only 22 points behind Crafton and seven points out of fifth.

What enabled that was an impressive, measured, patient night in which Burton consistently gave valuable feedback and Prince constantly replied with technical changes he would make to correct their Tundra.

It was critical on a night in which the race was slowed nine times by yellow flags — including one on the race’s first lap — though unfortunately the critical one Burton needed at the end never came.

“Some of these guys just aren’t using their heads,” the second-year driver Burton said with a veteran’s savvy. “They’re just trying to win the race on lap one it seems like, and I just had to let out of it a couple times when I got took three-wide going into the corner.

“I was like, ‘what are we doing — it’s lap five?’ But they just kept on doing it. That’s what they’re going to do, it seems like, so you just have to survive these races and keep doing what we did (Friday) night.”

The Truck Series’ next race is on May 16, when the series again races at night, on the similar 1.5-mile Charlotte Motor Speedway. ThorSport several weeks ago tested at Charlotte, which makes Burton optimistic.

“Here at Kansas, we were much better than we were at Martinsville,” Burton said of his frustrating 21st-place finish on his home track. “Our pit stops were a lot better and we’re just growing as a team. Don’t forget — this is only our third race together as an organization and it’s the first race I worked with Jeriod as my crew chief.

“I can’t thank Mr. and Mrs. Thorson (Duke and Rhonda, team owners) enough — but this deal came together right before the season. Last year, we had the whole winter to get prepared. Right now we’re just building, we’re doing a good job and I’m really pumped to take this same Tundra to Charlotte.”

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ThorSport Racing, based in a state-of-the-art 100,000-square-foot facility in Sandusky, Ohio, is the longest-tenured NASCAR Camping World Truck Series team. ThorSport, which has run in the Truck Series since 1996, in 2014 will run the No. 88 Menards Toyota Tundra driven by 2013 drivers’ champion Matt Crafton, the No. 98 Nextant Aerospace/Smokey Mountain Herbal Snuff/Carolina Nut Co./Curb Records Toyota Tundra driven by Johnny Sauter and the No. 13 Carolina Nut Co. Toyota Tundra driven by Jeb Burton in the Truck Series and the No. 13 Toyota Camry in the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards.