Skip to main content

Harrison Burton: 2022 NASCAR Season Preview and Prediction

Harrison Burton

Burton, the driver of the No. 21 Ford for Wood Brothers Racing, is ranked No. 22 by Athlon Sports

The Wood Brothers No. 21 — the pride of NASCAR's longest continually operating team — is back in the hands of a rookie this season. It's the third time since 2011 that rookie stripes will be on the rear of the famous Ford — this time as Harrison Burton makes his full-time debut in NASCAR’s top series.

Burton, 21, is the son of 21-race winner and current "NASCAR on NBC" analyst Jeff Burton. He's the most recent addition to a burgeoning field of second-generation, full-time racers at the Cup level, including Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott and Todd Gilliland. Burton replaces Matt DiBenedetto in the No. 21 Ford Mustang GT after a two-season run that fell flat and missed expectations.

"Since I began racing quarter midgets, the hope and goal was always to become a full-time driver in the NASCAR Cup Series," says Burton. "Now, I get to do this with one of the most storied teams in NASCAR history in the Wood Brothers and with an association with Ford Motor Company and Ford Performance. I don't think I could have dreamt of a better situation to put myself in when it comes to the start of my NASCAR Cup Series career."

2022 Athlon Sports Racing Magazine

While Burton enters the seat with a performance grace period that is typically allotted to all Cup rookies, the need to run up front — and win — will come quickly. Wood Brothers Racing hasn’t visited Victory Lane since Ryan Blaney’s 2017 Pocono win, and the team has missed the Cup Playoffs in three of the last four seasons. Those numbers simply don’t cut it for a team that has its cars prepared in and by the same shop as Team Penske’s three flagship cars.

Burton will get to work on breaking the winless streak alongside crew chief Brian Wilson, also a rookie in the Cup ranks. Wilson is taking the lead of the No. 21 Ford after three remarkable seasons with Austin Cindric in the Xfinity Series. Together, Cindric and Wilson piled up 13 race wins and 55 top-5 finishes in 99 starts. Overall, Wilson has 23 wins as an Xfinity crew chief.

It’s an interesting twist for Wilson, considering Cindric was initially supposed to be in the No. 21 this season. However, Brad Keselowski’s departure from Team Penske and the No. 2 Ford opened another seat in the Cup Series for Cindric — and ultimately a spot for Burton.

That No. 21 seat became Burton’s thanks to his ability and connections on and off the track. For the last two seasons, Burton drove Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 20 in the Xfinity Series, where he scored four wins in the DEX Imaging-sponsored car in 2020 before going winless in 2021. DEX Imaging, long a partner of Burton’s during his ascent in the racing ranks, will be a co-primary sponsor of the No. 21 Ford this season alongside longtime team partner Motorcraft.

Burton’s family background also helped WBR decide to take another chance on a rookie at NASCAR’s top level.

“Harrison is young but comes from a family full of successful racecar drivers. The advice and support they can offer to Harrison as he makes this transition will be very important to his success,” said WBR team president and co-owner Eddie Wood in a statement. “What a lot of us forget is that he is [only 21 years old] and has only been racing in both the Truck Series and Xfinity Series for a couple of years. So when we looked at the future and finding someone to build our program around, Harrison seemed like a great option.”