By Cole Cusumano
Chase Briscoe is set for another date with “The Lady in Black” with assistance from his veteran wingman. In the midst of his sophomore season, the 27-year-old enters the Goodyear 400 dressed to impress with an emphasis of Spring cleaning on his mind.
As is the case with most second-year drivers in the NASCAR Cup Series, Briscoe has experienced the epitome of an up-and-down season. Conversely, in just his 40th start, the Indiana-born racer put the motorsports world on notice with a convincing breakout victory at Phoenix Raceway while leading the charge at Stewart-Haas Racing thus far.
Since scoring his first-career win, Briscoe only tacked on one top-10 in the current seven-race stretch, but the results don’t necessarily reflect how competitive he’s been. The aforementioned finish took place at one his worst tracks statistically (Martinsville Speedway), he won the pole in Austin and led 66 laps with a shot at a pair of victories in that span.
So what gives?
“I think the team’s done a really good job bringing really fast race cars to the racetrack week in and week out,” Briscoe told NEWS FROM THE PITS. “We’ve had such good speed and really haven’t had the finishes to go along with it. A lot of that is my own doing, just pushing too hard or not maximizing on the car that day.”
Briscoe sits 13th in points with a win to fall back on after failing to capitalize on two events. The first being Circuit of the Americas, where he won the pole and was in position for a top-five before overdriving and blowing a tire in the closing laps to 30th. Most recently was the memorable last-lap pass gone wrong at the dirt-covered Bristol Motor Speedway that resulted in finishing 22nd.
Mixed results with proven speed is often a result of the acclimation process when being promoted to Cup, where longevity and preservation are key. This could also be a product of Briscoe’s competitive nature – and how can you fault someone who won nine NASCAR Xfinity Series races in 2020 for going all-in?
As Briscoe points out heading into Darlington, some Spring cleaning is in order.
“I’m just trying to be smarter about things,” Briscoe said. “I gotta clean it up, and when we do that, I feel like we’ll hopefully be up front battling for wins like we did at Phoenix. Whenever you’re running that sixth, seventh, eighth-place, just take the [position], don’t try to win with it.”
The 27-year-old has had sporadic talks with his veteran teammates about biding time to put together complete races, but a bulk of his constructive conversations have come with crew chief Johnny Klausmeier.
The driver-crew chief combo started setting goals with Dover Motor Speedway last week in preparation for the postseason. Following practice, they knew their No. 14 was lacking, so they set an objective to place 12th. Low and behold, they ended up 13th with what Briscoe called the worst car they’ve had all year.
Looking ahead to Darlington, Briscoe feels confident in his ability to have a quality run and begin the climb out of their points hole.
“Darlington has been one of my better race tracks I feel like statistically,” Briscoe said. “Last year, I felt really good there in the Cup car. I feel like if I didn’t get into the fence with 20-or-30 to go we should’ve run top-10.”
In his first date with “The Lady in Black,” Briscoe finished 11th. Throughout three NASCAR Xfinity Series starts, he has 100 laps led and a win at what’s often referred to as the most challenging track on the circuit.
After making a good first impression, the 27-year-old is returning to Darlington as a sophomore in style. Briscoe is paying tribute to his boss, idol and fellow Indiana native Tony Stewart by rocking the same paint scheme he used in his infamous 1999 double-duty attempt of the Coca-Cola 600 and Indianapolis 500.
In preparation for his third go-around at the 1.366-mile track, Briscoe is leaning on his teammate Kevin Harvick as a wingman. The 2014 Champion was 1-of-4 who took part in a tire test with the Next Gen car at Darlington earlier this year.
Briscoe’s biggest takeaway from chatting with Harvick?
“Save your tires,” Briscoe said. “It will really pay off a ton on the long-run versus the old car, where they all kind of fell off at the same point. It seems like if you make the tires mad, they really struggle to ever come back, so Darlington’s going to be a huge challenge from that standpoint. I talked to [Harvick] a little bit and having him be able to go to the simulator after he did the tire test I feel like has been a huge advantage for us trying to learn those things.”
“I think we should be in a good position, but I guess we’ll find out when we get there.”
Confidence is sky-high for Briscoe as he looks to formulate strong and consistent runs beginning with the Goodyear 400 on May 8. He believes racing at Dover last weekend was crucial in terms of developing a rhythm for the abrasive 1.366-mile track, in reference to tire fall-off and balance, which should be similar, but slightly more aggressive this weekend.