At the end of last summer, Jeb Burton was in a familiar position, being without a ride once again. It‘s a place he‘s all too familiar with.
Ahead of the Xfinity Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway last September, Kaulig Racing announced Nutrien Ag Solutions wouldn‘t return to sponsor the team in 2022. Team president Chris Rice and Brett Griffin, owner of SpotOn Activations, a marketing company with Nutrien Ag Solutions as a client, informed Burton of the news.
“That sucked,” Burton told NASCAR.com over the weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway. “That was not good. We didn‘t have the best year last year, but we were building something and the brand fit me great. I wanted to stay there another year, but it just didn‘t work.”
Ultimately, Kaulig Racing announced ahead of this year‘s season opener at Daytona that Nutrien Ag Solutions would sponsor AJ Allmendinger for part of the season.
Fortunately for Burton, Chris Our, owner of Our Motorsports, immediately reached out around the Bristol weekend. As a team owner, 2022 is Our‘s third year in existence at the Xfinity Series level, and the team wanted to expand its program by adding a third car.
With Burton‘s experience and track record, Our wanted to center the new team around the Virginia native. It wasn‘t a hard decision.
“It seemed to work out,” Our said. “He was one of the first picks we looked at; there were quite a few that talked to us, but that‘s the one we honed in on at first.”
In mid-December, the team announced Burton would join the team on a two-year deal. For the first time in his career, the driver now has multiple years of stability with a singular team.
And the fact that the team sought out Burton was an added boost of confidence for Burton.
“Chris tracked me down and wanted me to come here,” Burton added. “That‘s the first time that‘s ever happened; I don‘t have all the funding to be here. But he wanted me to be here and try to grow. Everybody here believes in me, and they never questioned my ability.
“Contracts are contracts in today‘s world, but it means something that they want me here. Chris Our believes in me, and he wants me to wheel the race car. It means a lot.”
Competing against Our for the past two years, Burton knew the team‘s success would be hidden on the stat sheet. Entering the year with a combined 96 starts, Our finished inside the top 10 on 24 occasions (25% of the time), highlighted by Brett Moffitt‘s 10 from last year.
Through the opening five races of the season, Burton is the lone Our Motorsports driver that hasn‘t cracked the top 10 in the running order, despite having top-20 finishes in every race. His 15.8 average finish is two positions lower from his single year at Kaulig (13.6).
“We‘re not winning races right now by any means, but we‘re a top 15 car and I see a path to get better,” Burton said. “That‘s all I want.”
Over the offseason, Our moved his team into the old Richard Petty Motorsports building adjacent to Richard Childress Racing‘s shop. However, of all the Xfinity Series teams on the RCR campus — Kaulig Racing, Big Machine Racing and Our Motorsports — Our is the only organization to not have a technical alliance with RCR.
Burton hopes that changes soon, noting that will get his No. 27 team over the hump.
“Our motors are just as good as I had last year because they‘re the exact same motors,” he said. “The only difference is we don‘t have a technical alliance with Richard Childress Racing, and it would be really nice if we could get that one day. That‘s going to separate us from being 12th to competing for a win every week. We‘re the best team without an alliance.”
Nonetheless, Burton wants to see the team keep progressing. If it can do that, he believes the team will have a fighter‘s shot at making the playoffs this season.
“There‘s going to be some growing pains,” Ward Burton, Jeb‘s father, said. “They‘re having all of those conversations now, but they‘ve come a long way in a short time. It‘s going to be a work in progress. But there are a lot of people that are behind Jeb and Mr. Our to get them to where they need to be.”
Burton has brought three new companies into the sport in consecutive races, including this weekend‘s race at Circuit of The Americas. Not bad for someone who spends his days sending emails of sponsorship proposals to various companies, hoping to expand current relationships while making new ones.
But the battle of finding funding has haunted Burton‘s racing career. For the majority of his career with powerhouse teams, he‘s only garnered enough sponsorship for a partial season, including 2019 and 2020 with JR Motorsports.
“I‘ve got more partners now than I ever have,” Burton said. “People are behind me; I‘ve got a good group behind me that wants me to succeed. I‘m missing a partner with a zero, that‘s the difference. If I had a partner with another zero, we can have whatever we want.
“We‘ve got things moving in the right direction, it just takes funding to get it over the edge. And people. If you could buy a Hendrick Motorsports but didn‘t have the people, why would you want it? You need both: money and people.”
Through five races, Burton sits 15th in the championship standings, best of the Our Motorsports trio. He‘s also just 10 points below the coveted 12th position, currently held by Sheldon Creed.
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As the year progresses, Burton‘s goal is to have zero DNFs. If the No. 27 team can crack the top 20 each week, he believes it will be a tight battle for the final few playoff positions in a deep Xfinity Series field.
“Those other guys are going to crash,” he said. “The thing that hurts us some is when we‘re running 12th to 14th, we don‘t get the stage points and those guys do. I think we can do it. I feel like if we make the playoffs, that‘s a big deal for this team. They‘ve never done it, they‘ve never won a race. If I can win a race and make the playoffs this year, it would be a big deal.”
In the inaugural race at COTA last year, Burton rounded out the top 10 in the running order. Another positive is Talladega looms in the next month, a place he‘s proven he can get to Victory Lane, given he‘s the defending winner.