Burton hoping first time's a charm at Gateway

Jeb Burton took advantage of four hours of NASCAR Camping World Truck Series practice Friday at Gateway Motorsports Park to find a comfort zone in his No. 13 Estes / Carolina Nut Co. Toyota Tundra.

On Saturday, Burton hopes to put that comfort into practice as a contender in the evening's Drivin' For Linemen 200, NASCAR's first national event at the unique, 1.25-mile oval since July 2010 and the 14th Truck Series race here since 1998..

Burton has only 33 starts in his three-year NCWTS career but enough of them have come on tracks with at least some resemblance to Gateway, a relatively flat racetrack -- to give Burton a certain amount of optimism.

 

"Practice Thursday -- actually, driving into the racetrack that morning -- was the first time I'd ever seen Gateway," Burton said. "I managed to find some video that I watched, but it was nice to have a couple hours of practice to get warmed-up.

 

"The best part of the day was we just kept getting better. That's something that Jeriod (Prince, crew chief) and me and the guys have been able to continue doing -- and that's really important for keeping our program growing and improving and getting faster every weekend."

 

Thursday's opening two-hour practice, held in conditions that will be close to Saturday afternoon's Keystone Light Pole Qualifying session, was a real positive for Burton.

 

Gateway has been likened to Burton's home track, the half-mile Martinsville (Va.) Speedway. But since it's three-quarters of a mile longer, the speeds are obviously higher and setup tweaks more critical.

 

"Jeriod made sure we made a lot of laps on used tires," Burton said. "Doing that we were able to get a good handle on a couple things -- how the tires fell off, what we could do to adjust for that and just what it takes to be fast here.

 

"We made gains all day so it gave us a good baseline for qualifying and we'll really have something to tune on Saturday morning."

 

Burton ran 27 laps in the first two-hour practice, which was the fourth-most of the 27 drivers that took times. A lot of his runs were on older tires but on his last lap of the session Burton turned his fastest lap of the day and the third-best of the session, in 33.232 seconds, an average speed of 135.412 mph.

 

"That was a good effort because we had some speed in our Estes Tundra and that our adjustments were having positive results," Burton said. "We're looking forward to Saturday, for sure."

 

In the second two-hour session Burton ran 36 laps and turned his fastest, 33.445 seconds, midway through the practice on his 21st lap. He ended the session running three to four laps in close contact with Kyle Busch Motorsports' highly-regarded teenager Erik Jones, who was unable to pull away from Burton in that run. 

 

Saturday's schedule opens with a 90-minute final practice, from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. ET, with no TV scheduled. A one-hour public NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver autograph session -- which will include Burton -- is scheduled from 2:15-3:15 p.m., in the infield with access to the public

Then, the Truck Series' fourth elimination-style, three-session Keystone Light Pole Qualifying event of the season goes green at 5:10 p.m. ET to set the starting lineup of up to 36 trucks. Live coverage is scheduled on FOX Sports 2 and Burton will be trying to extend his string of making the "pole round" in all three sessions held to date.
 
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Steven B. Wilson

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