Long: Even as Jeb Burton moves to Sprint Cup, his mother will not be far away

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The realization struck Tabitha Burton on Monday’s drive from the family’s Halifax, Va., home to the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Her “little boy” Jeb will drive a Sprint Cup car for the first time Saturday at Daytona International Speedway.

A whirlwind couple of weeks saw Ward Burton’s son lose his Camping World Truck Series ride because of sponsorship issues and then land a Cup seat with BK Racing. It happened so fast that it wasn’t until Monday’s trip for Jeb’s press conference that Tabitha realized she needed to make plans to be in Daytona this weekend to watch her son practice and qualifying.

Some will question if Jeb is ready for Cup or if BK Racing can provide a good enough car for Jeb to be competitive. Jeb has raced only two full seasons in the Camping World Truck Series and two races in what is now the Xfinity Series. He has a three-year contract with an organization that failed to have any of its four cars finish in the top 30 in owner points last year.

Jeb’s parents understand the challenges he faces. While this moment arrived sooner than expected, it has been quite a journey to get to this point.

Tabitha was there when Ward, the 2002 Daytona 500 champion, couldn’t be because he was racing. Tabitha accompanied Jeb to races, shared late-night drives, and cheered him on each lap.

When Ward’s career slowed, he had more time to train his son. Jeb always wanted to race and had success in go-karts, so the family got him a Late Model stock car for Christmas when Jeb was 14 years old.

Tabitha soon saw Jeb’s desire to race, by surviving his father’s taxing test sessions.

“They went everywhere and practiced,’’ Tabitha said of her son and Ward. “(Jeb) made almost 3,000 laps before Ward would let him race. He just said, ‘If you want to do this, you’ve got to prove to me that you can do it.’

“His dad was really hard on him. Really hard on him. He just expects perfection, and if Jeb would make a mistake like anybody would, he would let him have it. He’s just really, really tough on him. He’s doing it for his own good.’’

Ward, who won five races in NASCAR’s top series including a Southern 500, admits he can be “kind of overbearing sometimes’’ but he had a purpose. He knew how tough it is to get to NASCAR’s top series and being soft wasn’t going to be helpful.

“What I was wanting to do is to get him to understand two things,’’ Ward said. “Once you learn how to drive a car properly, that’s one of the steps, but there’s a lot of learning that is taking place. It’s not all about driving. It’s communication, telling your team what the car is doing, it’s all the work and dedication that goes into it. I about jerked that car away from him and others twice. You either are going to do it 100 percent or don’t do it at all.’’

It was during those tests that Ward saw his son had the ability. He noted that Jeb drove a car like a go-kart. A driver doesn’t need to turn the wheel much in the corners in a go-kart but does in a stock car. Jeb was not turning the wheel enough when he first started driving a Late Model.

“I saw the right side of the number on that (dang) car … how many times I can’t tell you,’’ Ward said. “It finally got to the point where I started realizing what he was doing to make that happen. How he saved it every time. He never overcorrected or spun the thing one time. I saw the right-side number, I’m talking about it was a common occurrence. So just having that raw ability to have that car control was unbelievable to me. You can’t teach that.’’

The more Ward talks, the wider his smile grows, a father’s pride resonating with each word. Even today, Ward recalls that number – 27 – on the side of the car.

Still, Ward needed convincing that his son was focused on racing. Ward said that he spent more time in the garage with the car that first year than Jeb.

“That was kind of getting under my goat a little bit,’’ Ward said. “The second year I stopped going to the shop. A dad just needs to step back at some time and let the kid either do it or not.’’

Jeb began showing up at the shop more.

“I didn’t realize the dedication it takes to make it work,’’ Jeb said. “Once I got really dedicated to it, I started to having success. It’s been a tough road, and it’s still going to be tough.’’

It might be tougher on his mom even after watching her husband race for years.

“It’s emotional,’’ Tabitha said. “It’s a different level of anxiety being your child out there. I think it’s hard because I’ve always been there.’’

She will be again with him this weekend at Daytona.

“I can’t imagine not being there,’’ she said.

X44 Racing win 2022 Extreme E championship as Abt Cupra score first race victory

2022 Extreme E Uruguay
Extreme E
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Abt Cupra Racing’s Nasser Al-Attiyah and Klara Andersson scored their first win in the Extreme E Energy X Prix in the 2022 finale in Uruguay as Lewis Hamilton’s X44 Vida Carbon Racing drivers Sebastien Loeb and Cristina Gutierrez survived a chaotic finale to edge the 2021 champion Rosberg X Prix team of Johan Kristoffersson and Mikhaela Ahlin-Kottulinsky, by two points.

“There are so many emotions,” Andersson said in Extreme E’s coverage. “I’ve been waiting for this for so long. In my second race, first full weekend to be at the top of the podium: it’s big.”

Andersson was behind the wheel at the finish.

Rosberg Racing entered the event with a 17-point advantage over X44, but the standings were close enough that four teams remained in contention in Round 5.

“It’s a crucial weekend for us,” Loeb said in Extreme E’s coverage prior to the race. “We are not in the best position to win the championship, but the only thing we can do is try to win the race and score as many points as possible.”

The top two title contenders each crashed in qualification and were relegated to the Crazy Race, Extreme E’s version of the Last Chance Qualifier (LCQ). For the moment, they had the steepest hill to climb, but then the other two championship contending teams, Chip Ganassi Racing and Acciona Sainz Racing failed to advance from their heats.

Only one team advances from the Crazy Race, so the X44 drivers were in a must-win situation to simply keep hope alive.

More: Extreme E 2023 schedule

Ahlin-Kottulinsky and Gutierrez ran wheel to wheel into the first turn at the start of the LCQ.

The Rosberg racer experienced crash damage in that turn that damaged her front steering, but managed to limp back to the pits at the end of her two-lap stint. The team attempted to fix the steering, but incurred a penalty for having too many mechanics in the pit area.

Meanwhile, Gutierrez took the early lead, but knew she would need to sit through a five-second penalty for an incident earlier in the weekend. The female half of the gender equal pair erased the penalty by entering the Switch Zone with a five-second lead before turning the car over to Loeb.

That was all the nine-time World Rally Championship titlist needed to give him the advantage needed to win the Crazy Race.

But the championship was not over yet. X44 Racing needed to finish third or better in the five-car finale to earn enough points for the title and after advancing from the LCQ, they were forced to take the worst grid position.

A chaotic start to the Finale saw Loeb run as high the lead and low as fourth after getting pushed off course during his first lap. And that is how he entered to Switch Zone.

On her first lap, Gutierrez slammed into Molly Taylor. With one lap remaining, X44 and Gutierrez were still in fourth and the title hope was quickly evaporating, but it was announced halfway through the lap that the third-running Andretti United team would suffer a penalty for a Switch Zone infraction. The seven-second deduction for Timmy Hansen braking too late in the zone made the difference in the title.

Coming off a disappointing Copper X Prix when Tanner Foust and Emma Gilmour crossed under the checkers first, but were relegated to fifth by penalty, the McLaren pair scored their first podium of the season in second.