By Toby Christie, NASCAR Editor
It wasn’t that long ago that Jeb Burton was mentioned in the same conversation as drivers like Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney and others as being considered one of the brightest rising stars in the sport.
Burton, the son of former Daytona 500 winner Ward Burton, exploded onto the NASCAR National Series scene with a tremendous 2013 season in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. Burton collected a victory at Texas Motor Speedway, to go along with an impressive seven pole positions en route to a fifth place finish in the overall championship standings.
After a rookie effort like that, and considering Burton was driving for Turner Motorsports (at the time one of the most stable teams in the Truck Series and XFINITY Series), it looked as if the footing for Burton’s career was very solid. However, sponsorship dollars shriveled up just weeks before the start of the 2014 season and Burton was left scrambling for a ride. Burton would ultimately land a place at ThorSport Racing, but the deal came together so quickly that Burton never had the chance to gel with the team.
Burton struggled through the 2014 Camping World Truck Series season, and by 2015 he was again looking for a ride.
A ride at BK Racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series wasn’t the optimal option, as it’s not a top tier team that also lacks great equipment, but it was an option none the less, so Burton took it.
Burton failed to make it into the race eight times in his rookie Cup season, and he finished the year with an abysmal average finish of 36.3. That’s about as unimpressive as a rookie season in the Sprint Cup Series could be.
This off season, BK Racing opted to move forward without Burton’s services for 2016, and it appeared that Burton’s career had stalled out before it had full opportunity to fly. It truly appeared to be the beginning of the end for a once promising driving career.
Then came news Monday that Burton has a new home at Richard Petty Motorsports for the 2016 season. It’s a fresh start with a much more competitive race team at a level of racing that Burton should experience before moving to the Sprint Cup Series again.
Burton will pilot the No. 43 Ford Mustang for the organization in the NASCAR XFINITY Series. Drew Blickensderfer will turn the wrenches for Burton. I personally feel this is a slam dunk for all parties involved.
“I’m really excited to be competing full time in the XFINITY Series for Richard Petty Motorsports this season,” Burton said in a team release. “When you think NASCAR, you think Richard Petty, and I’m really looking forward to continuing their winning tradition and contributing to the legacy that is Richard Petty.”
Burton will again have a chance to prove he can win races, and Richard Petty Motorsports now adds Burton to their developmental program. Burton should be able to elevate the performance of the No. 43 team, which was only able to muster one top-10 finish with Dakoda Armstrong behind the wheel last season.
Armstrong is an admirable driving talent, but has struggled in transitioning to stock cars from his open wheel background. Burton on the other hand is a stock car driver through and through and I fully expect him to be in the running for some wins in 2016.
He doesn’t really have any other option, Burton has to be running for wins or this could be his last shot at forging his path to being a superstar in NASCAR. With his back against the wall, my money is on Burton to pull through and impress this season.
Image: Sean Gardner/Getty Images