The NASCAR Xfinity Series has the weekend off. But, one driver isn’t relaxing at his home in North Carolina though. See, Stewart-Haas Racing’s Chase Briscoe is going racing still. It’s just that he won’t be in his familiar No. 98 Ford for the normal team. He will be in the PF Racing Ford Mustang GT4 with co-driver James Pesek as part of the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge race in Road America. It will mark the first of consecutive weekends that he’ll race on the road course as the NXS cars will be there on Aug. 8.
Briscoe, is doing this because he so badly wants to win the season championship. Yes, he won on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course back on July 4, but with two straight road course races on the season now with Road America (Aug. 8) and the new one at Daytona (Aug. 15), he knows he has to hone his skills making left and right hand turns in order to gain max points over the next couple of weeks for his day job.
“It was pretty last-minute, I would say,” Brisoce said of his opportunity this weekend. “I want to say about a week-and-a-half ago Pat DiMarco over at Ford Performance had called and asked if I had any interest in even running the Mustang and he felt like it would be a good opportunity for me just to get some laps at Road America, especially with us not getting any practice on the NASCAR side, so I felt like it would be a great opportunity.
“Any time you can go to Road America I enjoy going. I think it’s one of the nicest facilities in all of motorsports, and then just getting laps, trying to get better for the NASCAR stuff I think will certainly help.”
Briscoe, needs help right now. He’s a free agent at seasons end and would love nothing more than to be back with SHR. The problem is, where does he land with them? He’s showing that he’s a Cup Series caliber of a driver. Does it help him to be back with the team for a third NXS season? If he moves up to Cup, who does he replace?
First things first though, this season. He feels like success on track this year will open up more doors for 2021.
“No, not yet truthfully,” Briscoe said on if he’s had talks yet with SHR about 2021. “I’m just trying to still focus on everything this year and how we’ve run these last couple weeks. We need to be running better and that’s been our main focus.”
Briscoe, set a lofty goals of race wins this year and he’s almost reached it. Currently, he’s won five times already. But, he says that their recent performance is troublesome to him and that he and his team are all-in with trying to get their pace back.
“Typically, we have our debriefs on Tuesdays and they last 45 minutes — our debrief today lasted two hours just trying to figure out how to get better,’ Briscoe said. “So, that’s our main focus right now. I’m not even worried about next year. I’m trying to focus on winning this regular season championship first and then also winning the actual championship.
“So, we’re putting all of our eggs in those baskets and just trying to do the best that we can. Obviously, if we’re winning races week in and week out, then those Cup talks are gonna take care of themselves and you’re gonna be more valuable to more teams, so that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Briscoe, also says that part of the longer debriefs now is to be sure that they don’t let Austin Cindric get away. They know how crucial it is to win the regular season championship because you get an additional 15 playoff points which carry with you for the duration of the playoffs.
Briscoe, held onto the overall points lead for weeks, but with Cindric winning three of the last four races, he’s caught and passed Briscoe for that distinction. Briscoe, wants his spot back. But, in order to do so, he has to be consistent on the next couple of road courses because these are the circuits where Cindric shines.
“I think the biggest thing for us is these last three weeks have not been super characteristic of our team,” Briscoe said of the situation. “We just haven’t necessarily had the speed. A perfect example last weekend at Kansas, we were gonna win the race there last year and got wrecked by a lapped car with 10 or 12 to go and then this year we have a hard time running in the top 10 with practically the same setup.
“We’ve just been off for whatever reason. I don’t know what that reason is. We had about a 35-40 point lead in the regular season championship and that all went away this past week and now we’re down four points.
“So trying to win that regular season championship is a huge deal and now (Austin) Cindric is in the lead and we’re going to all these road course where he’s probably the favorite, but I feel like we can beat him still.
“Obviously, at Indy I don’t think anybody expected us to win and we were able to go there and win. Road America is gonna be a little bit different with how the pit stops are gonna be and the strategy is gonna be a little different I think.
“And then the Daytona road course we go there the following week and Cindric is really, really fast there in the IMSA car, so he’s gonna be hard to beat. I think we just have to get back on how we were at the beginning of the year as far as just having speed in the race cars and, like I said, I don’t know what happened these last three weeks. It’s just not been our normal team and we just have to get back to how we were at the beginning of the year.”
Briscoe, does have four top two finishes in his last six starts on the season. Also, he has five top four finishes in that time frame. It’s just that Cindric has four straight top two finishes and entering this season, all five of his NASCAR wins spread across K&N, Trucks and NXS were on road courses.
See, Cindric has a road racing background. Now that his No. 22 Ford has race winning pace on ovals and enters this week off with so much momentum, wouldn’t he be the favorite to win in each of the next two races with both being on road courses?
That’s why Briscoe can’t let his points deficit to Cindric grow bigger. He’s lost 30+ points in the last few weeks and has done so with top five finishes. What happens if Cindric keeps winning?
That would make the regular season championship almost out of reach.
Then, factor in a possibility of Talladega being added to the playoffs, well this all has Briscoe on edge.
“Yeah, absolutely,” Briscoe said if the addition of Talladega changes the dynamics of the postseason. I’m praying that we don’t go to Talladega in the playoffs just because it’s so many unknowns when you go there.
“You can have a 40-point lead and that could go away so quick. Typically, on these mile-and-a-half racetracks or a short track or even the road courses you’re at least gonna normally run in the top 15-20 if you have a bad day, where Talladega you can end up 30th on back and that’s a huge points swing, especially if you don’t get any stage points.
“So, I would be all for not going to Talladega. I understand the schedule situation that we’re in it’s gonna be tough to navigate all the schedules and making all the series work together, but if I had my choice, I would absolutely love to not go to Talladega, just because there are so many variables that are in that race and so many things that can happen.
“You can be in a great points situation and leave there and be outside the playoff bubble for the next round. Anything can happen at Talladega and when you throw in the Roval in that same round as well, there’s a lot of stuff that could go wrong really quick.”