After sponsorship fell through, Jeb Burton lands new NASCAR Trucks ride for Daytona

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Less than a week ago, Jeb Burton experienced one of the harshest realities of NASCAR.

Just as he was preparing for his second full season on the Camping World Truck Series, Burton learned that primary sponsorship for his ride had fallen through.

Bye bye sponsorship, bye bye season, bye bye Turner Scott Motorsports.

Burton took to Twitter to express his emotion: “Really hard time for my team and my family. My future is unclear right now, but we’re doing everything we can to be on the track in 2014.”

But on Thursday, Burton also experienced some of the largesse within the NASCAR family when it was announced that ThorSport Racing had stepped up and offered Burton a ride in both the season-opening Camping World Truck Series and ARCA races in two weeks at Daytona International Speedway.

Burton, 21, the son of 2002 Daytona 500 winner Ward Burton and nephew of soon-to-be NASCAR on NBC TV analyst Jeff Burton, will drive the No. 13 Toyota for ThorSport in the trucks race.

And if things go well and additional sponsorship steps forward, Burton may wind up doing additional races for ThorSport, which won championships last season in both the trucks series (Matt Crafton) and ARCA (Frank Kimmel).

“The opportunity to come to ThorSport is a big deal for me, my career and my family,” Burton said. “It’s an honor to me that (team owners) Duke and Rhonda Thorson would make the call to put me in their vehicles — the best there is in both series.

“Mr. Thorson has proven his commitment to the Truck Series — he’s a racer, that’s what it’s all about and it feels good to be here. I feel like it’s a place where I can race, and win for many years.”

Burton, who finished fifth in the trucks standings for Turner Scott Motorsports last season, will be part of a three-driver ThorSport juggernaut including returning champ Crafton and Johnny Sauter, who finished one point and one spot ahead of Burton in last year’s standings.

Burton has been looked upon as one of the most promising young drivers in NASCAR today. He won his first race last June at Texas in only his 12th career start and earned an outstanding seven pole positions during the season. He also finished eighth in a one-off Nationwide Series start at Kentucky.

“I can’t tell you how great it is to get this deal done in a very short amount of time,” ThorSport team manager David Pepper said. “This gives us a great driver that can win both the Truck and ARCA races over the next couple weeks.

“We’ve had our eyes on Jeb the last few years and one thing that really stands out is how well he gets along with Matt and Johnny and the respect they have for each other. To have the opportunity to get Jeb into our ThorSport family of drivers is a great move for both parties.”

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Haas F1 tussling in middle of pack in 2nd season

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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) For a second-year Formula One team, Haas F1 should be all smiles.

The only U.S.-based team on the grid has faster cars and has already scored more points this year behind veteran drivers Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen than it did in all of 2016.

Yet it’s that sort of success that can both please and frustrate team principal Guenther Steiner and test the patience of industrialist owner Gene Haas: Despite the better results, Haas hasn’t moved any closer to the front of the team standings as it scraps around the middle of the pack while Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull grab all the glory.

“There are so many people fighting for the crumbs,” Steiner said ahead of the U.S. Grand Prix. “I didn’t expect the competition in the midfield to be so brutal this year.”

Still, it’s better to be in the middle of the scrap than left behind.

“It’s been an up-and-down season,” Magnussen said. “When we’re quick, we’re very quick, but our lows have been perhaps a bit too low.”

For Haas F1, this race weekend is a homecoming of sorts. While the team is based in North Carolina, the Texas race is the only one on the calendar in the U.S., making Haas F1 the home “favorite” with American fans even if it really has no chance of winning.

“It would be nice to put a whole weekend together, have good practices, good weather, not wreck your car… kind of like we did in Japan,” Haas said.

The Japanese Grand Prix two weeks ago delivered Haas F1’s best overall performance this year. It was the first time this season both cars finished in the top 10 and put them at seventh in the team standings with 42 points, one place and already 13 points better than their 2016 finish.

While Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton are closing in on another team and drivers’ championship, only 24 points separate the team standings from fifth through eighth place. The most exciting battles and daring drives over the final four races could come from the middle of the pack as teams scuffle for points and the season-ending money that comes with them.

“We’re in that tight pack that ebbs and flows from race to race,” Gene Haas said. “It’s a constant dance around each other for position.”

Haas is still getting used to a Formula One reality that only a few teams have a realistic chance of winning each week and others just dream for a shot at a podium finish. He came to Formula One from NASCAR – where he is still a partner in Stewart-Haas Racing – and a track environment where “at any race, every team has a chance to win.”

Haas F1 impressed the rest of the teams just by not finishing on the bottom in its first season in 2016. That only raised expectations the team could fight its way to the front of the second tier this year. This season began with a thud when both Haas cars failed to finish the first race in Australia. That hasn’t happened since and the team has scored in three of the last five races.

Gene Haas figures reliability problems – a failed suspension system recently knocked Magnussen out of a top-10 finish – have cost his team dearly.

“Right now I feel like our drivers are better than our cars,” he said.

Haas got into F1 with an admitted goal of boosting his commercial enterprises as a high-tech tool manufacturer and he says that’s paying off away from the track. The trick is staying long-term in a very expensive sport that sees heavyweight manufacturers like Ferrari and Mercedes sometimes double or triple the budgets of other teams.

Formula One has not been kind to small teams that join the grid only to go bust within a few years. Haas is the first American-owned team in the series in 30 years. Three other teams that tried to start from scratch since 2010 – Caterham, HRT and Manor – all collapsed and went out of business. Haas said he as a five-year plan in F1 to see if he can stay longer.

“If you do the five-year plan and you look at (those) teams from the past, their five-year plan was they went out of business. You want to avoid that one,” Haas said.

Grosjean, who signed with Haas from Lotus, said he expects the team to be on the grid for the long haul.

“He’s the best team owner I’ve ever had,” Grosjean said. “He’s passionate about racing and really loves it to a high extent. We know the gap is big right now, but that’s where the patience is.”