Chase Briscoe teared up on the final lap of Sunday’s Ruoff Mortgage 500. He was 1 mile away from earning his first career NASCAR Cup Series victory and doing so for his boyhood idol Tony Stewart. Briscoe, held off his mentor Kevin Harvick on a late race restart to hold onto the top spot and looked well on his way to an easy win before Chase Elliott spun on the backstretch on Lap 303. This time, he’d have to do it again but on this occasion, he’d have to do so against two more fellow winless drivers in Cup.
“I thought on that last two restarts, I feel like that was probably the worst-case scenario for me,” Briscoe said. “Ross and Tyler are two of the most aggressive guys on restarts. Fourth you had Kevin, who obviously has been a year, year and a half since he won, so you know he’s hungry, too.
“I knew that as long as I drove in there deeper than everybody else, I probably was going to be okay. Those two other guys, they were giving everything they had, too.
“Thankfully Ross left me a lane. He didn’t have to do that. I thought I was going to plug the fence and be done. But I was committed at that point. I was kind of blown away that it stuck as well as it did and then that he even left me a lane because he was all but clear.
“Everything worked out perfect. There was one point in the race we kind of faded a little bit, but Johnny and the pit crew did an incredible job of giving me an opportunity to try to win the race. As a driver, that’s all you can ask for.
“I was committed at that point. If I lifted, I was going to get beat because then Ross has the lead. There is no way I was going to be able to pass him back.
“I thought there was no way that I wasn’t going to hit the fence. Same thing at Darlington when I beat Kyle. I felt like God was with me because there’s no way, when I won Darlington, when I hit the fence, somehow gained speed, then today.
“There was no way I wasn’t going to knock the wall down at the angle I was at. I was up in the marbles. Somehow it stuck. I was able to clear him.
“Definitely was a crazy race. The restarts, they definitely made you earn ’em. Just an unbelievable day. Like I said, thankful to our pit crew was on it, they’ve been on it all year long, gave me an opportunity to go and win the race.”
Briscoe who held off Tyler Reddick by .753-seconds in his No. 14 Ford.
“That’s unbelievable. I was crying the whole last lap. I mean, this is definitely a team win. I got to thank everyone that has gotten me to this point. Seven years ago, I was sleeping on couching, ready to give up. They gave me an opportunity and it’s led to this.
“So blessed to be driving at the organization, the team, the car that was my hero growing up,” Briscoe said. “To get this 14 back in Victory Lane, to do it with Mahindra Tractors, their first year in the sport, everybody that’s believed in me. It’s unbelievable.”
Quite the journey for the second year driver who nearly gave up around a decade ago.
You go back to 2013. February 1 to be exact. That’s the date Briscoe, shared that he packed up and headed south with a NASCAR dream. Since a majority of NASCAR’s teams reside in North Carolina, Briscoe felt it was best he pave his own path by taking a risk and moving down to the Tar Heel state alone.
So, he packed up his things, put $150 cash in his pocket and backed out of his southern Indiana driveway in hopes of being where he was at today. If only the path was that easy though.
“A lot of emotions that kind of hit when I saw that,” Briscoe said during his Daytona 500 Media Day availability last year when he saw via his Facebook that Monday was the anniversary of the day that he officially moved to North Carolina to start his dream. “I remember that day so excited to kind of start a new journey but also so nervous because I didn’t really know what I was getting into. I was fresh out of high school.”
Briscoe, said that his mom had always done his laundry up until that point of his life in 2013 and that she had to give him a crash course on how he would have to now do so himself. Also, he’d not ever had his own credit or debit card before either – hence the cash he was taking with him. He was just taking a full dive from the high dive into adulthood and moving away in hopes of chasing a NASCAR dream.
So, off he went to North Carolina knowing only two people in the entire state that he was embarking on.
Briscoe, worked hard and went to every teams shop trying to find his way in somehow. He was looking for a job just to work inside one of those facilities with a goal to eventually becoming a driver for them. After two years of nothing really ever turning up, he decided to come back home to Indiana and do something else. It was time to move on from his dream. This Indiana boy just wanted to follow his idols but the doors weren’t opening in his favor.
So, Briscoe returned to the Hoosier State as he was going to run his Midget on that upcoming weekend then head back to North Carolina to gather his things and come back to find a new career.
That’s when this whole story takes a turn. This is the first turn in what would shape who Briscoe is today.
“Literally, the day I was driving home, I remember I was in Kentucky,” Briscoe continued. I called my mom. I was in tears. I told her I was moving back home. I was over it. I had been down there for two years and didn’t have anything. I told her I was going to run a midget that weekend then on Monday was going to drive down and get my stuff and come back.
“2 hours later, I got a call from an ARCA team asking if I was interested in coming to do a test. That was the Cunningham Motorsports team. I went there that following Monday. I had been sleeping on couches for two years at that point. Just trying to hanging out in trying to be the first one to be there and the last one to leave. I volunteered for a full 9-10 months before I even got in a race car and I don’t know why but somehow they thought I was a missing piece for them.”
The Cunningham Motorsports opportunity led to this ride today, but again, that’s not where this story ends. Briscoe, made his ARCA debut in his homestate at the Lucas Oil Raceway in 2015. He finished 10th that day. He’d race another race later on in the season, again in Indiana, Salem this time. He finished fifth.
Those results produced a full time opportunity in 2016. It turned into a six win season en route to a championship. That then got him an opportunity in 2017 which took him to the Truck Series with Brad Keselowski Racing. That time in ARCA led him to a Ford development deal and he was placed with BKR. He won the season finale at the Homestead-Miami Speedway that year and finished sixth in the final standings.
The door though almost closed again though. BKR shut down at seasons end unexpectedly and Briscoe was left searching in a same situation where he didn’t know what he was going to do. Ford saw the talent still and kept him for another year. He would now though step up to the Xfinity Series on a part time basis with Roush Fenway Racing. His season wasn’t going to planned, but he credits his win on the ROVAL in Charlotte that Fall as the main thing that led him to a full time opportunity a year later with Stewart-Haas Racing.
He felt like being part time in NXS was going to end his deal with Ford. That win helped secure another year though.
See, no top five finishes in his first 13 races appeared that the stage was too big, too soon. Briscoe knew it wasn’t but just needed some luck. The luck finally happened on the ROVAL and the next door in which was almost closed was slammed back open.
2019 with SHR was going well and he even found out in October that he’d be retained for the next season. Then, funding fell short and a month after that, his future was in doubt again.
In January of last year, literally three days before the deadline for having a ride or not for 2020, High Point stepped up their funding and Briscoe returned for a third year in NXS competition. The goals were high and he fulfilled them.
Briscoe, won nine times and marched all the way to the Championship 4. In the middle of that came a pandemic. It also caused heartbreak to he and his wife as they got pregnant but unfortunately lost the baby. He’d win at Darlington a few days later in emotional fashion.
Now, after nearing everything that could go wrong did, Briscoe scores his first Cup win with his favorite boyhood team. Remember, I said he was an Indiana native, right?
Well, Briscoe’s favorite driver was Tony Stewart. They had similar on track backgrounds. USAC stars from Indiana hoping to make it in the NASCAR world.
Stewart’s path was forged into a Hall of Famer. Briscoe, not only drives for Stewart in the Cup Series but is doing so in his old car (No. 14 Ford).
“I just told him thank you for believing in me and giving me an opportunity to drive that car,” Briscoe said on what he said when talking to Stewart after winning a race in Cup for him. “That car is obviously his, and he has a lot of passion and drive for that car and to take a chance on another guy, kind of like himself, a dirt sprint car. We grew up 45 minutes apart. My dad raced against Tony Stewart in sprint cars. I was literally a diehard Tony Stewart fan growing up and diehard 14 fan, so for me to add my name to the list of guys that have got the 14 car to Victory Lane is definitely special for me.
“Looking back, when I was six, seven years old and wearing the Tony Stewart helmet and uniform, I never in a million years thought I would get the 14 car in Victory Lane in the Cup Series, and it was cool for him to call and hear how excited he was.”
Cunningham’s door opened. It led to BKR which saw a door almost shut. That led to RFR in NXS which almost shut. Which led to SHR which almost shut. Which now led to SHR in Cup with his favorite driver signing his paycheck in NASCAR’s highest level and taking them to their first win of the 2022 season.
“Just to get there, just to win a Cup race, I never thought I would win a single Truck race, let along a Cup race,” he said. “To be the 200th winner as that. Some incredible guys on that list. To be one of 200, it’s humbling, it’s unbelievable. I was literally two days away from giving up racing, at least on the pavement side.
“There were many times along the way my career could have been over, even in the last four or five. To now be a winner in the Cup Series is unbelievable. To be one of 40 guys week in, week out is special. To say you were the best guy that day. These guys are incredible race car drivers. To be on the racetrack with them is humbling, and to beat them is definitely humbling.
“The Cup Series is the pinnacle. You dream of getting an opportunity to run in the Cup Series. It’s the most elite guys, the best race car drivers in my opinion in the world, especially in stockcars.
“To win a couple race is nothing I dreamed in a million years I would get to win one of them. To be on that list of only 200 people. I don’t know what I am now in winning all three series. I never thought I’d win a Truck race, let alone win in all three series now. It’s super special. Can’t believe it. I don’t think it’s sunk in yet. I don’t know if it will for a while.
“We’ve been very, very fast all year long, one of the best cars, you but W haven’t been able to put a full race together.”
Reddick Does It Again, Are He Briscoe And Chastain For Real?
Most said that the parity with this new car would stick around for a while. Since most of the west coast cars were already planned for, there wasn’t much you could do to learn, adapt and put that into your equipment.
Well, after four races though, one has to wonder if Chase Briscoe, Tyler Reddick and Ross Chastain are in fact for real. Are they legitimate championship contenders already?
Briscoe finished third in the Daytona 500, led 20 laps in the second race at Fontana and now led 101 in his Phoenix victory. That’s a hell of a start for him.
What about Reddick? He was 24th in Fontana but that’s only due to a late race cut tire. He swept both stages and led a race-high 90 of 200 laps. In Vegas, he spun early but rebounded to finish 7th. On Sunday, he was there again with a third place run in his No. 8 Chevrolet.
Then you have Chastain. He was third last week and second this one.
As we head back east, these three have to be among the top ones to beat right now. Plus, last year’s spring race was a very big indicator for the Fall race. 8 of the 10 cars in the top 10 last March was there again at the checkered flag last November.
That’s great odds that at least 1 or 2 of these three will do so again this November. The thing is, will any be competing for a title in the process?
Briscoe says their dirt background is to why these three are starting off so strong.
“I mean, I think you see the dirt guys, I mean, Ross isn’t a dirt guy, but a lot of the dirt guys, when we go to a racetrack, you get three laps, three hot laps and you better figure it out quickly.
“I think this car, being new, not a lot of practice, the dirt guys have always had to figure that out quickly. The guys that grew up late model or pavement racing, they don’t necessarily have that. They go and test and run hours of practice. The dirt guys, you got to figure it out quickly, adapt.
“I think that’s why you’ve seen dirt guys run earlier in this Next Gen car. It’s an equalizer to a certain extent. More comers and goers throughout the race. The old car, you saw one guy be fast. He was just fast the whole time. Couldn’t really catch him.
“This car you have really fast short-run guys, really good long-run guys. It’s interesting to see how that plays out throughout the race. I can’t speak to the setup side of it, but from a driver standpoint, I feel like we’ve done a lot better finding that limit and being able to ride on that limit. At first, you couldn’t find the limit, and then it was gone.
“I don’t think we’re better race car drivers or better teams, but I do think it’s an equalizer to a certain extent because it’s a new opportunity and guys to have figure out and adapt.”
He’s not wrong. Kyle Larson is a dirt guy and won Fontana and runner-up last week. Christopher Bell is another and he won the pole last week. Alex Bowman is also a dirt guy and he won last week.
Fontana, Vegas and Phoenix were all won by dirt guys. Larson and Bell won 2 of the 3 poles too.
Blaney’s Pit Crew Costing Him Wins
Ryan Blaney was set up for the win this weekend in Phoenix. He was second quick in practice on Saturday and backed that speed up with the pole minutes later. It was Blaney’s seventh career Busch Light Pole Award but three of them have occurred at this very race track.
Also, Blaney had 5 top 10’s in his last 6 at Phoenix including 4 of which being in the top four. With a pole, was this his time?
It was until it wasn’t. Pit road was the culprit.
Blaney, led the first 27 laps but while pitting during the competition caution, he was caught speeding. He’d have to go to the back. On Lap 45, the second caution came out for the tire falling off Corey LaJoie’s No. 7 Chevrolet. Blaney, would use strategy on this sequence. He was one of five drivers to pit on Lap 48. With the first stage ending on Lap 60, why not?
It worked. He’d finish 13th in the first stage but cycle to the top spot once everyone ahead pit on Lap 63. Despite having 15 laps older tires, he’d hold everyone off for the next 57 laps. He’d pit from the lead but this time have a solid stop. When Chase Elliott pit on Lap 132, Blaney went back to the top spot and would win the second stage.
Unfortunately, that’s where his race changed again. He entered pit lane with the lead but a slow stop took him from first to fourth. He’d fall to fifth before a caution for Martin Truex Jr.’s crash on Lap 220. When they’d pit again, he’d go from fifth to 11th.
Blaney, lost nine spots on pit road which is why despite leading a race-high 143 of 312 laps, he’d only muster a fourth place run.
“I lost the lead there on pit road and just could never get back,” Blaney said. ‘I don’t know. I just didn’t have quite the speed and was kind of too tight. I could drive up through the field and make good spots and nobody could really do that. You would just get really tight behind people. Not a bad day. A good recovery from last week. We had a fast car, just a shame we couldn’t contend more for the win. It is cool to see Briscoe get his first win and we will go on to next week.”
Take the pit road miscues away, which has happened for two straight weeks now, and he’d likely have a win heading back east. Still he’s now led 100 or more laps in nine races over the course of his career but has won none of them.
Rough Outings For Last Year’s Championship 4 Drivers
Last November, Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson, Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. came to Phoenix knowing that one of them was going to win the 2021 Cup Series championship. Well, as we returned for the first time since that day, all four had rough outings in the Arizona desert on Sunday.
Truex Jr. crashed on Lap 220. He’d finish 35th. It’s not like he was great prior though in being only 11th and 14th respectively in the pair of stages. A few laps later, Kyle Larson had an engine problem and went behind the wall with 69 to go. Larson, was 7th and 5th in the two stages. He’d come home 34th with a DNF.
Denny Hamlin’s problems started early and often with a speeding penalty and a couple of pit road issues. He was 24th and 18th in the stages and finished 13th.
Chase Elliott had the best of the days in being third and second in the stages but spun towards the end to finish 11th.
None of the four were in the top 10.
Solid Day For Stewart-Haas Racing
What a vastly improved season that it’s been thus far for SHR. They had 1 win over the 36 races last season. Now, they’ve have their first of 2022 in just the fourth race. Briscoe was second and eighth respectively in the two stages and led 101 laps in his win at Phoenix. Kevin Harvick was a top five car all day in being eighth and third in the two stages and restarted on the front row for the second to last restart but faded to sixth in the end. Still, it was his second top 10 in the last three races run and while it wasn’t a win or even a top five, there was a lot shown there.
Aric Almirola’s top 10 streak ended but barely. He finished 12th.
Cole Custer was 16th but in the top 13 in the closing laps.
Harvick Needed This But Restarts Still Plaguing Him
Kevin Harvick still doesn’t have a win in this new reconfiguration of the Phoenix Raceway. He’s 0-for-7 in fact. In fact, in a second year span between 2012 and 2017, the Stewart-Haas Racing driver had seven of his track record nine wins including two more runner-ups.
Furthermore, in those 14 races, he had 12 top five finishes. But, over the last seven, he has just two top fives including none in his last four.
However, a sixth place finish for the second straight year in Sunday’s Ruoff Mortgage 500, is more encouraging than you’d think.
Harvick won nine times in 2020 but all came in the first 29 races. In fact, if you go back to the end of the 2019 season, he had 10 wins in 32 starts. But, over his last 47 starts, he’s been shutout. He was only 30th, 7th and 12th so far this year entering this weekend, so Phoenix would tell a lot about the rest of 2022.
Harvick, only qualified 16th but quickly moved his way forward. He was eighth at the end of the second stage and third at the conclusion of the second one. He was in striking distance.
The California native restarted second on the second to last restart but was passed and went to third. Then, that caution for Chase Elliott came with nine to go and instead of being fourth like he was at that point, he faded to sixth.
“It was a good day for us,” Harvick said. “Restarts weren’t 100% our strong point. We had a bit of a brake shake issue that kept pulling the car to the right under braking so I couldn’t get into corners like I wanted to. Still a good day and the car ran good. I just couldn’t really connect all the corners altogether through the day. Putting a (Stewart-Haas Racing) car in Victory Lane and running inside the top five all day for us is always a good day.”
A word I circle there is restarts. He said the same after the Vegas race too.
“We struggled with traffic on the restarts, but we worked through it and everyone on the crew did a good job,” Harvick said then.
He now has 18 straight top 10’s on this racetrack and if he can figure out the restarts, watch out.
Kurt Busch Squeaks Out Top 5 In Phoenix
Kurt Busch didn’t expect this. The Toyota camp seemed down this weekend again and he qualified his No. 45 Toyota Camry in 15th on Saturday. But, as the checkered flag flew in Sunday’s Ruoff Mortgage 500, there he was in the top five. He crossed the finish line fifth in his 23XI Racing entry.
“It was surprising, and it was fun,” Busch said. “We were the top Toyota today, which is somewhat of a surprise. We were just trying to get to 10th, but we will take a top five. It’s really cool for our program, this car number, No. 45. To get a top five, check mark done. This was a good West Coast Swing. Not so much on points with stage one and stage two, but our finishes were there, and we will keep chiseling away.”
He was only 12th in the first stage and 19th in the second one. Busch, hadn’t had a top five in each of his last 10 Phoenix starts either. But, he kept chipping away at it and there he was inside the top 10 coming to the final two restarts.
Busch, said a change in driving style in terms of tire preference helped get him there.
“I’m normally a sticker guy,” he continued. “I need sticker tires and this car reacted really well to scuffs today, so that’s good for our notebook at 23XI (Racing). The restarts – I was able to find the right spots to be. Thanks to MoneyLion, Toyota.”
Busch sits 12th in points heading to the place he won the last time out at in Atlanta last July. This was his second top eight finish in the last three races. He’s doing exactly what he was brought in to do.
Bubba Wallace was runner-up in the season opening Daytona 500 to give 23XI Racing a top 10 in 3 of the 4 races thus far. Busch, has out paced Wallace in each of the three west coast races too.
Joe Gibbs Racing With A Lot Of Work To Do
As we head back east, Joe Gibbs Racing is honestly reeling. Martin Truex Jr. has only led 12 total laps and while he swept the two stages in Daytona, was 13th, 13th, 8th and 35th on the season in finishes. Denny Hamlin had issues in the Clash, wrecked in the Daytona 500, had overheating issues in Fontana, made a costly mistake shifting after his final stop in Vegas and was plagued by pit road problems in Phoenix. He has no top 10’s all season (37th, 15th, 32nd and 13th) with 31 laps led.
Christopher Bell was 34th in Daytona, 36th in Fontana, qualified on the pole in Vegas but spun while running third and finished 10th. He qualified fourth in Phoenix but spun again and came home 26th. 3 of his 4 races being 26th or worse with 32 laps led himself.
The best has been Kyle Busch and he should have won if not for that late caution in Vegas and while he’s led 77 laps, he’s not had a smooth season thus far. Still, he has 3 top 7’s in four races so when he does heat up, watch out.
They sit 2nd (Busch), 13th (Truex Jr.), 27th (Hamlin) and 30th (Bell) heading to Atlanta.
RFK Racing Struggling Too
Brad Keselowski is seeing first hand just how hard it is for other teams outside of the big ones to compete for top fives or hell, even top 10’s, in NASCAR’s premiere series. RFK Racing struggled in the Busch Light Clash. They’d rebound in Daytona and even swept the two Duels with Keselowski winning the first one and Chris Buescher the second. But, once we left the beach, it’s been all downhill for the organization.
Keselowski has finished 27th, 24th and 23rd on the west coast swing. He finished outside the top 20 just once in 22 previous Phoenix starts but wasn’t anywhere close to the top 20 on Sunday.
Buescher, was 35th, 18th and did get to 10th on Sunday but still seeing something off.
They have a lot of work to do to close that gap.
Trackhouse/RCR For Real
Speaking of closing that gap, Trackhouse and RCR are for real. For the third straight week, Trackhouse nabbed a top five. Daniel Suarez was fourth in Fontana while Ross Chastain was third in Vegas and runner-up at Phoenix. Also, Suarez was back in the top 10 again in ninth for his 2nd in three weeks.
This team is legit.
So is RCR. Austin Dillon had late race contact with Suarez or he was heading towards his third straight top 11. For Tyler Reddick, he swept the two stages in Fontana, was seventh in Vegas and now third.
The driver to lead the most laps in all four races this season has failed to win the race in the end. Chase Elliott led 67 of 201 laps in the season opening Daytona 500 but finished 10th. A week later, Tyler Reddick led 90 of 200 laps in Fontana but was 24th. For Vegas, Ross Chastain led 83 of 274 laps in his third place run while Ryan Blaney led 143 of 312 laps on Sunday in his fourth place run.
“Last year, you’re very eyes wide open. You’re racing against guys you’ve watched on TV for years, you’ve looked up to. Now I don’t look at the 18 car and go, That’s Kyle Busch. It’s just the 18 car, another guy out there,” Briscoe said.
“I think that confidence has came a long way. Obviously with the results, the confidence builds. I feel like I belong. Especially now winning, I’ve proven I belong in the Cup Series. When you come in in your rookie year, you think you’re ready, but you’re never ready.
“To run up front and lead laps is special, for sure.”