A Burton returns to The Rock

First Posted: 4/11/2012

ROCKINGHAM — Fathers and their teenage sons rarely see eye-to-eye on many things.

“You know how dad and son relationships are, especially when they are teenagers,” said Ward Burton, a five-time winner on the Sprint Cup Series. “The father will call it giving advice and the son thinks it is criticism.”

Whatever anyone wants to call it, Ward is happy to give it to his 19-year-old son, Jeb, who will compete in Sunday’s Camping World Truck Series’ Good Sam Roadside Assistance 200 presented by Cheerwine.

“It’s exciting to be a part of it,” said Jeb about NASCAR’s return to the track. “I just want to go out there and drive great.”

Rockingham will mark the second start of his career in the Truck Series. Jeb hopes to take the lessons he learned from the Martinsville race, where he finished 13th after qualifying seventh, and apply them in Sunday’s contest.

“I can run with those guys,” Jeb said. “It should have been a top-five finish.”

Jeb will become the third Burton to compete at the Rockingham Speedway. The Burton family has fond memories of “The Rock,” Ward won his first race on both the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series there. Ward’s brother, Jeff, also found Victory Lane at the track in both series as well.

“He (Ward) hasn’t talked to me about the track yet,” the youngest Burton said. “I know he’s going to help me, I am going to try to take a look at one of his old tapes from one of his races there. I think the Sprint Cup cars need to be running there too.”

Like other drivers who have felt the wraith of Rockingham Speedway’s abrasive surface, Ward knows Sunday’s race will come down to one thing — tires. He hopes he will be able to pass on a few words of wisdom to his son about the track he enjoyed coming to each year.

He started 20 Sprint Cup races at “The Rock” with one win and nine top 10s, three in the top five. In the Nationwide Series, Ward competed 10 times with a victory and four top five finishes.

“I never really took it easy on any laps at Rockingham, I ran hard,” Ward said. “When I ran good there and most of the time I did at Rockingham and Darlington if I could get the nose to turn without getting the car to spin. If the balance is right, you can get car or truck to not spin, then you can save your tires.”

Jeff also enjoyed the same success Ward did at Rockingham Speedway. He had eight top-five finishes in 21 Sprint Cup races at the track, including a win. Jeff agrees with his brother, it’s all about tire strategy.

“It’s one of the coolest race tracks we ever ran on,” Jeff said to the Associated Press. “It was one of the hardest tracks we would go to. You would take off and have new tires on and you would feel like Richard Petty. And a few laps later you would feel like you had never been on a race track before in your life.

“It was one of those race tracks that I got a chance to race on when I was growing up and moving into the larger divisions. And it’s really cool to see the Truck Series going back there. I actually contemplated trying to run the race.”

Living up to the family name

Ward had success as a driver, including winning the 2002 Daytona 500, while Jeff has 21 Sprint Cup victories and is currently 15th in the points standings.

While the Earnhardt name is recognized across the country, the Burton name is known throughout the NASCAR community. Jeb understands there are fans who expect big things for him.

“I used to put pressure on myself, but I don’t anymore,” Jeb said. “I know I can run with the guys out there.”

Ward sees the passion his son has for the sport and has taken steps to make sure he does things the right way.

“Jeb takes it very serious and that it’s not a game,” Ward said. “He’s making the sacrifices he needs to make so he can make a career out of it.”

At Daytona, Jeb was not cleared by NASCAR officials to take the track in the Truck Series’ opener, so the father stepped out of retirement to help his son. In his first competition in five years, Ward posted an eighth-place finish.

“After the race, I just sat in the truck,” Ward said. “It felt like home in the truck. I just haven’t had the opportunities to race and be competitive. I’m just as healthy as I have ever been and I still have the fire in my belly.”

Jeb was thrilled to see his father behind the wheel again.

“He showed everyone he can still do it,” Jeb said. “I wish we could do it together.”

Sports editor Shawn Stinson can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 14, or by email at sstinson@heartlandpublications.com