By Cole Cusumano
There are few drivers to come up through the NASCAR Xfinity Series who compiled a season like Chase Briscoe did in 2020. While falling short of the title, he scored nine wins, the most at the level since 2016. Fast forwarding to the current day, many expected the 26-year-old to continue his torrid pace after inheriting the No. 14 from Clint Bowyer in the NASCAR Cup Series.
It’s been an adjustment to say the least for the highly touted talent through 12 races in 2021. Still in search of his first top-10 at the premier level, Briscoe has done a serviceable job thus far in his rookie season.
Aside from the fact Cup cars have much more finite handling than that of Xfinity, Stewart-Haas Racing as a whole has been sluggish all season, and that’s been one of the biggest headlines all year. The four-Ford stable has a collective 11 top-10s, nine of those coming from Kevin Harvick.
While Briscoe may be the sole competitor without one, he’s been knocking on the door as of late. Over the last three weeks, he’s placed inside the top-20 with two of those finishes — including most recently at Darlington Raceway — matching his career-best of 11th.
“I feel like for sure being able to run closer towards the front definitely is good for confidence and momentum,” Briscoe told NEWS FROM THE PITS. “These last couple of weeks we just executed and we haven’t dug ourselves in a deeper hole. Obviously, right now as a company we’re still off a little bit, so we just have to be perfect, we can’t make mistakes.”
Briscoe took accountability for his team’s misleading results in 2021, citing his difficulties in keeping it clean on pit road. For the most part, he believes the speed has been consistent in his cars all season, but he’ll succumb to penalties while his No. 14 is being serviced or take too long when entering or exiting his stall.
Making the jump from another series is tough as it is, but throwing in the element of no practice and qualifying magnifies that tenfold, as seen with the rookie class in 2020 as well. Almost halfway through the regular season, Briscoe feels execution as a whole has improved gradually and indicative results are on the horizon.
“We just gotta keep trying to do those things and as we continue to run farther up front, our starting position gets better and all those things compound and make everything easier, in general, in the race,” Briscoe said. “We just gotta keep doing the little things right and all year long. We need to crawl, then walk, then run — just keep making baby steps week in, week out.”
Truthfully, Briscoe is the victim of untempered expectations. It’s easy to get lost in his glowing stats from the Xfinity Series, but in the end, this is the highest form of racing and he’s still got yellow rookie stripes on the rear of his Mustang.
Instead of being criticized, Briscoe should be garnering praise. Sitting 25th in the standings may not sound appealing, but he’s the second highest ranked Stewart-Haas Racing driver as it stands. With 14 races until the regular season finale, the Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender is 70 points back from the cutoff, and with the competition as wide open as it’s been in recent years, that’s a more than manageable gap to close in the Summer months.