Harrison Burton expected to return to Wood Brothers in 2024, per sources: What’s the significance?

Harrison Burton is expected to return to Wood Brothers Racing in 2024 as the full-time driver of the No. 21 Ford it fields in the NASCAR Cup Series, sources briefed on the decision told The Athletic on Tuesday. An announcement is expected soon. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Whether Burton, 22, would return for a third season with the Wood Brothers — one of NASCAR’s oldest and most successful teams — has been a lingering question all season.
  • Burton said on Aug 25. he wanted to continue with the Wood Brothers and was hopeful that he would, but was focused on improving his on-track performance.
  • “I’m trying to focus on the team we have now and the guys we’re working with now and trying to build that and act like that’s going to be the future,” Burton said. “If I could do anything, the goal for me would be to be back here so I’m just going to continue down that path and try and keep building in the right direction. I feel like we’ve had some decent weekends recently.”

The Athletic’s instant analysis:

What does this mean for Burton?

When the Wood Brothers signed Burton, all involved knew the learning curve would be steep and that he would need to gain some experience before he would be expected to run consistently toward the front. That bared itself out during his 2022 rookie season where he finished 27th in points and didn’t finish races seven times due to crashes.

While on the surface this season his performance has looked similar to last year’s, Burton is running better — albeit without the results to necessarily show for it. He was running 13th in Sunday’s race at Darlington Raceway when he was collected in an accident caused by Alex Bowman and Daniel Suarez, for example; Burton finished 35th.

The belief within the Wood Brothers is that Burton has shown considerable improvement and with additional seat time will take the next step. With this in mind, the team announced last week that veteran crew chief Jeremy Bullins was taking over leading the team for the rest of this season and would continue in that role next year.

What’s the significance of this move?

The No. 21 Wood Brothers ride is viewed as a coveted seat within the garage due to its close affiliation with Team Penske, one of NASCAR’s top teams, with the consensus being a driver should have the opportunity to contend for wins. That Burton’s status was unknown created speculation as to whether he would return. Such speculation has ramped up in recent weeks with Zane Smith, considered a top prospect within the Ford camp, seeking a full-time Cup opportunity and not yet securing one.

Now, Smith will have to pursue Cup opportunities elsewhere while Burton gets another year to prove himself worthy of a long-term contract.

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(Photo: Rich Barnes / USA Today)

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