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Racing against relatives is nothing new for the Burton family.
For more than a decade starting in the mid-1990s, brothers Ward and Jeff Burton showed up to the same NASCAR track weekly to race against each other in the Cup Series. Before that, it was Busch races. And before that, it was competing in Late Models at South Boston Speedway near their home in southern Virginia.
There were 1-2 Burton finishes, frustrating comparisons and sometimes ugly wrecks.
“Almost every other family, you’re really able to pull for each other,” Jeff, 53, told The Observer. “You’re able to get behind each other and give each other incredible support, and in this it’s so hard to do that because you’re competing against each other.”
Jeff wasn’t talking about racing Ward, 59. His comment applied to a different generation with the same last name.
Jeff’s son, Harrison, and Ward’s son, Jeb, are driving in NASCAR’s Xfinity Series this year. Both drivers are in full-time rides but with different teams — Harrison, 20, is in his second year racing the No. 20 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing while Jeb, 28, is in his first full-time season in the No. 10 Chevrolet for Kaulig Racing.
The cousins have raced each other before, but this is the first time they’re competing as full-time drivers in the same series. Jeb said his deal with Kaulig, a three-car team owned by entrepreneur Matt Kaulig, came together last fall after Ross Chastain made the jump to full-time Cup competition this year for Chip Ganassi Racing, which opened up the No. 10 seat.
Jeb put together part-time schedules in Xfinity since 2016 and entered a few Cup events. Last season, he ran a third of the races on the Xfinity schedule with JR Motorsports, but said he feels like this year is his big break with a full-time deal for Kaulig. The team also fields entries driven by Justin Haley, a three-time race winner and Championship 4 driver in 2020, and A.J. Allmendinger, a two-time 2020 Xfinity race winner and former full-time Cup driver.
“(I’m) certainly not wishing anybody bad luck, but I’m obviously pulling for my son,” Ward said. “I think it’s just a different situation than Jeff and Harrison are in than me and Jeb. It’s been a five-, six-year span trying to find this opportunity for Jeb.”
He and Jeb said they’ll “cherish” the chance to race for Kaulig and its sponsors, with the team’s biggest primary partner being Nutrien Ag Solutions. The team recently announced that it was bringing another partner, homestyle restaurant Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen, on board for two races starting at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Saturday. Having the sponsorship secured and a full schedule aligned with crew chief Bruce Schlicker, Jeb said his goal for the season is to win multiple races and be part of the Championship Four in Phoenix. He said his team has momentum and some good tracks coming up to help make that possible.
“It might be a steep goal, but I know I can do it,” Jeb said.
It’s highly possible his younger cousin will be in that championship conversation. Harrison won four races last year, two of which came in the final three races of the season at Martinsville and Texas, but those were after he was eliminated from the playoffs before the Round of 8. He’s looking for an alternate ending this year after a full-time Xfinity season under his belt. Harrison left no doubt about his intentions for 2021.
“It’s a cliche answer, but my goal is to win the championship,” Harrison said. “I’ve got the team and equipment to do it.”
Although only three races have been completed this season, Harrison noted that he’s been racing around Jeb more this year. The cousins finished in third and fourth place at the Daytona oval, with Harrison a spot above; and in fifth and sixth place at the Daytona road course the following weekend, with Jeb out front.
“Harrison and I always seem like we’re running on top of each other,” Jeb said.
Both drivers said their relationship has developed more this year running the same schedule. The eight-year age gap, differing career paths through NASCAR and living a state apart — with Harrison in North Carolina and Jeb in Virginia — have kept them at a distance. But racing around each other this year is changing that.
“It’s a cool experience to be able to race your family member,” Harrison said. “There are challenges to that. So far, we’ve done good. We’ve played nice and haven’t wrecked each other yet, so no awkward family dinners or anything yet.”
They are not the only related drivers in NASCAR. The Busch brothers, Kurt and Kyle, are the most recognizable family members currently competing at the Cup level full-time. The Dillon brothers (Ty and Austin) competed full-time in Cup together last year.
Jeb said he and Harrison are looking to collaborate more off the track. They’re working together on a to-be-announced project that includes the cousins appearing once or twice a week on social media platforms.
On the track, however, it’s tough love, all father-and-son combinations agreed. Both Harrison and Jeb said there’s a little more “trust” between the two and that they race each other “hard but clean.” Still, family means little on the last lap.
“You have to pass him and race him and get after it,” Harrison said. “But there’s a level to that that I think we’ve got figured out pretty good to where we’ll race each other just about as hard as anyone else and we’ll try not to wreck each other.”
In almost identical phrasing during separate interviews, Jeb and Harrison said that if it comes down to a neck-and-neck finish for the final playoff spot, the hierarchy is competition before cousins — as their fathers would expect.
“I wouldn’t crash him, but I would probably move him a little bit,” Jeb said.
“I’ll never intentionally spin someone out to pass them,” Harrison said. “I’d give him a little bump and run for sure to take a playoff spot if it came to that.”
Harrison guessed Jeb’s response matched his.
“He’d probably move me out of the way to get it,” he said. “That’s fine with me and that’s how I would want it.”