Jeb Burton walked into the Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway Infield Media Center last Saturday evening for his official “Race Winner’s Press Conference” about an hour after he’d taken the NASCAR Xfinity Series race checkered flag, hoisted a huge race trophy, done broadcast interviews and called home to share in the celebration with his parents – 2002 Daytona 500 winner Ward Burton and his wife Tabitha.
Journalists in the room were busy on deadline and typing into their laptops, reporting on the 30-year old Burton’s incredible double overtime win – just the second of his career – after a truly epic and long afternoon of competition.
It was also a hugely significant maiden win for Burton’s team, Jordan Anderson Racing so there were big storylines to tell.
Burton was grinning and paused on the way to the stage to coax the journalists to look up and smile. His excitement, joy and relief were all very palpable and he wanted to share it all. It had all the makings of someone just so genuinely happy. And reinvigorated.
He was all that and with good reason. A win may be just a day’s work for some. Last Saturday’s victory in the No. 27 Chevrolet was a game-changer for both Burton and his Jordan Anderson Racing team
The win gives Burton that all-important ticket to compete in the 2023 NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs – big for the second-generation driver who has raced for three different teams in the last three seasons and equally notable for the small, family-owned race team.
“It’s been tough, the last couple years just being in the right situation,” said Burton, whose first career win came in this race at Talladega in 2021. “Today, when I woke up and opened my eyes, I told my buddy Ethan, who does our PR, I was coming here to win that race. I just love racing at Talladega and Daytona, it’s a lot of fun.
“It’s just so huge for our team to be locked in the playoffs. A small team. We ran up front all day too. It wasn’t a fluke.”
When I woke up and opened my eyes, I told my buddy Ethan, who does our PR, I was coming here to win that race.
Anderson was all grins too when he came to sit alongside Burton at the microphones. This is his team’s first ever victory in three years competing in the series. And his second car – driven by rookie Parker Retzlaff - finished seventh to give the team its first Top-10 team sweep.
“So, this past week I told the guys in the shop, I’ve just got a good feeling about this weekend, everybody’s been working so extremely hard,” said Anderson said.
“This is one of those races we’ve had circled on our calendar all year because it’s an opportunity race for a team like ours,” he continued. “We do our homework and put the effort in, give Jeb a good piece and let him do the rest. These are races that teams like us can win.”
“… This definitely proves what we’re trying to do here. We want to be here for the long haul.”
This victory was huge not just for Burton who had so often been asked to over-achieve earlier in his young career. But it was also an emotional moment on several levels for Anderson, who was involved in a scary accident driving in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series on those very same Talladega high banks only six months ago.
Anderson’s truck caught fire from a malfunction early in the race and as he slowed it down and moved toward the infield wall, he literally jumped out of the window to avoid being trapped in the flames. Unfortunately, he still suffered burns to his arms and neck but was airlifted immediately from the track to get medical attention.
He recovered from the burns on his neck and arms but the experience understandably affected him and he has chosen to be race team owner presently, not race team driver.
“I think it’s been almost six months since what happened here at Talladega last fall,” Anderson said. “My wife is here with me today and she was here back then. We were just talking, what a roller coaster of emotions of this place. Last time, I didn’t even drive out of the tunnel, I went out of here on a helicopter.
“To overcome all that stuff and just think about that and all we went through all the emotions,” he continued. “From day one, when this team started in 2018, it was kind of an opportunity to keep my racing career going. I want to race but whenever it was time to hang up the helmet I want the team to keep growing bigger than what I am.”
We were just talking, what a roller coaster of emotions of this place. Last time, I didn’t even drive out of the tunnel, I went out of here on a helicopter.
This was certainly a popular win – both in the garage among the sport’s participants and for NASCAR fans who are typically always open to cheering for a small team, the underdog story. For both Burton and Anderson, however, the ultimate goal is to no longer be the underdog, but the top dog. And that comes with time, performance and commitment – traits this team has adopted.
Now it has not only captured its first ever-victory on one of the most iconic race tracks in the world, but Burton and team are also eligible for an extra $100,000 paycheck courtesy of series sponsor Xfinity in the Dash 4 Cash incentive program. Burton will race against Sheldon Creed, Cole Custer and Parker Kligerman for the money in Saturday’s A-GAME 200 at Dover (Del.) Motor Speedway. The highest finisher among the four will claim the big check.
It's actually a perfect opportunity for a team that has already shown what opportunity and a huge dose of talent and commitment can do.
“Five years later to win a NASCAR race and to accomplish that first goal of many more things I want to accomplish, I feel like has a way of silver linings,” Anderson said of Burton’s Talladega victory.
“I tell my guys all the time, you just have to embrace the journey. …The way I look at life, if something bad ever happens, you learn from it and be a better person. I look at what happened last year wasn’t a bad thing because it made me stronger, my family stronger, made me stronger in my faith. I believe God has everything happen for a reason.
He paused and smiled, “Of all places, our first win here at Talladega. That’s pretty special.”
-Photo credit: James Gilbert/Getty Images