Chase Briscoe felt like he was on a roller coaster in the waning laps Sunday at the Charlotte Roval with multiple cautions and a last-lap scramble to advance in the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs.
The points battle for the final transfer spot came down to reigning series champion Kyle Larson, Briscoe and Austin Cindric. The difference was going to be a handful of spots, which Briscoe frantically grabbed in the backstretch chicane when he dove into the corner harder than he had all day.
Briscoe drove underneath Austin Dillon, Erik Jones and Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Cole Custer. Dillon and Jones ended up stalled behind a slowing Custer.
“All day long, if I could get to the six [marker] that was about all I had, and I went to the five, maybe even just past the five, and then I locked the rear tires up,” Briscoe said of the move. “I thought I was going over the curb and was going to have to serve a stop-and-go, but somehow the thing stuck.”
Briscoe credited crew chief Johnny Klausmeier for putting qualifying-level air pressure in his last set of tires before the green-white-checkered finish. It allowed Briscoe to be aggressive, which he said was the difference.
“[I] definitely drove it in way further than I had all day just knowing every point was going to matter and got kind of lucky that it stuck, truthfully,” said Briscoe. “What a day. From six to go thinking you’re easily in and then the No. 3 [Dillon] wrecking me on the back straightaway, going to the back, and then we got lucky that a couple of them guys wrecked again and was able to just keep fighting and never give up, and was able to end up two points to the good or whatever it was. Crazy day.”
Dillon spun Briscoe in the backstretch chicane on the second-to-last restart. The final caution flew because of the debris from the curbing.
Briscoe advanced by two points over Larson. On the final lap through the infield section of the course, Briscoe had lost positions to Dillon and Jones and was battling with them on the banking and down the backstretch when they ran up on Custer.
“I was making good ground,” said Briscoe. “[Dillon] — he had wrecked me literally two laps before — and I was wanting to give it back to him because I was so mad, and then I just knew I had to go. It’s a tough spot for them non-playoff guys – the No. 43 [Jones], I kind of put him in a really bad spot and put myself in a bad spot too, but I was just shoving him because I had to get going knowing that every spot was going to make a difference.
“I think into [Turn] 5, my team came over the radio and told me I was one point out and that was the No. 43 car that I needed to pass, so I kind of shoved him out of the way, and then it got the No. 3 by both of us. Then I had the back straightaway kind of left to try to do a Hail Mary, and luckily the Hail Mary…somebody caught it and was able to move on.”
In his first playoff appearance, Briscoe is onto the third round. He is the only Stewart-Haas car in championship contention.
“I feel happier than I ever have when I’ve won a race before, truthfully,” said Briscoe. “I know what this team is capable of, especially in this next round. Homestead, I feel like, is by far my best racetrack. Vegas, I’ve been able to have a lot of success there. Martinsville, we were really fast.
“If we can get to Phoenix, we know we have a good car there, too. So yeah, to have a one-in-eight chance to win a NASCAR championship is an unbelievable feeling, and I think that’s why it feels even bigger than a win.”