Chase Briscoe won his first NASCAR Cup Series race at Phoenix Raceway in March and then disappeared for the rest of the regular season.
That’s not an insult lobbed at the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing team for finishing 17th in the regular season standings and, at one time, wondering if they’d make the playoffs if there were more than 16 different winners. Briscoe’s disappearing act is the description offered by the man himself.
And it was a little bit of surprise to Briscoe, given his speed right out of the gate. He led laps in four of the season’s first six races – including in his win – and grabbed a pole at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
“We went to the Clash, and if we didn’t tear the transaxle out or whatever happened, we were going to run second at the worst,” Briscoe said. “We were third in the Daytona 500. I led a ton of laps at Fontana and got into the wall. Vegas, I qualified fourth and led some laps and made a mistake. Won Phoenix. From there, outside of Bristol and Charlotte, we really weren’t around.”
Some of the issues are admittedly self-inflicted. Knowing they had a playoff spot, Briscoe’s team began trying to find areas in the new car where there was speed and instead, “just truthfully” probably over-engineered things.
“We felt like if we could find an advantage, yeah, we need to try to find it,” said Briscoe. “For us, we were kind of the R&D car at SHR in a sense and it wasn’t like we were trying off-the-wall stuff. We were trying stuff that on paper and the computer looked like it was going to be way better and it wasn’t. What the simulator shows doesn’t always apply to real life, and for us that’s kind of where we got off path for a while.”
By late May, going into the Coca-Cola 600, they agreed to go back to what had worked earlier in the year and the speed came back. Since then, Briscoe feels the team has a better sense of what does and doesn’t work, and while they haven’t stopped trying things, there’s also been some weird luck.
“I know that’s so cliche to say,” Briscoe said, “But you go to Richmond, I feel probably my second worst racetrack by a mile, and we’re running in the top five, probably have a chance to win the race and rubber gets up in the exhaust and catches on fire. We go to Watkins Glen, win the first stage, bend a toe link randomly on a restart. We go to Daytona and battle for the lead and wreck.
“We’ve had good speed it’s just a matter of putting it all together. That’s where I feel like a lot of people have probably written us off, because we don’t have the results per se to show we should have a chance, but from a speed standpoint, I truly feel we have the speed, it’s just a matter of putting it all together.”
Briscoe also knows he needs to clean things up. He mentioned Michigan, where he was running inside the top 10 and hit the wall.
“It’s stuff I’ve been doing that’s self-inflicted that kills our day,” he said. “So, if I can get it all together, I feel confident we can make a run in the playoffs for sure.”
But if people want to keep overlooking him and his team because of the numbers, that’s fine.
“I hope they do,” Briscoe said. “I like the no pressure side of it. I’ve been on the other side of it in the Xfinity Series where you’re the guy and it is pressure-packed in a sense, because everybody expects you to be there. Nobody expects us to be there right now, and I kind of like that because you can go under the radar and do your own thing. There are not as many cameras on you and people talking about you. You can just go do your normal deal at the racetrack.
“So, I like that part of it. But from a speed standpoint, yeah, I feel fully capable that we could get there.”