(Photo: Nigel Kinrade Photography)

XFINITY Breakdown: Chase Briscoe Gets Redemption on Tough Season, Scores 1st Career Win

There’s no way around it: 2018 has been a tough season for Chase Briscoe. He made up for it in Saturday’s (Sept. 29) Drive for the Cure 200 at Charlotte Motor Speedway’s ROVAL, winning his first-career XFINITY Series race.

Briscoe began the 55-lap race in ninth, but it was a strategy call by crew chief Richard Boswell in stage one that put the No. 98 in a good position for the final two stages.

By pitting with three laps remaining in stage one, Briscoe finished 22nd. Meanwhile, when the race resumed, it was the No. 98 who restarted in third, behind Daniel Hemric, who hadn’t yet pitted and Christopher Bell who was starting on the outside. By the end of the first lap of green flag racing, Briscoe had the lead and continued doing so until pitting on lap 27.

Because Briscoe pitted on lap 27, he wouldn’t have to pit for the remainder of the race. At the beginning of the final stage, he started first, the same place he finished, scoring Biagi-DenBeste Racing its fourth-career checkered flag.

“I couldn’t believe it. I was holding back tears the last couple of laps,” Briscoe said after the win. “This year has not been by my standards anywhere near where it needs to be. We’ve wrecked a lot of racecars and I think my best finish was ninth, so I was really down on myself personally.

“I was just waiting for the caution to come out. I knew it was gonna come at some point and the restarts were crazy getting down into one. Luckily, the good Lord upstairs didn’t bring caution and we were able to hold on.”

Briscoe hasn’t been shy admitting that without the help from Ford Performance, he would not be in this position. After a season that he’s remarked to be a “bad year,” winning does wonders.

Justin Marks finished runner-up in his final XFINITY start ever. Polesitter Austin Cindric finished third, with a pair of Joe Gibbs Racing drivers rounding out the top five in Ryan Preece and Christopher Bell.

The Good

Growing up just over an hour outside of Watkins Glen, NY, I’m biased when it comes to road course racing. After the first race at the ROVAL was complete, it’s time to asses.

Leading into the ROVAL, drivers weren’t sure what to expect — especially in the XFINITY Series, since Thursday was the first time they turned laps on the newly configured track.

Overall, it was an average road course race. Depending on what you consider action-packed, the XFINITY Series had a bit of everything. Outside of the opening stage, there wasn’t much racing for the lead, but strategy was the focus, which is what set Chase Briscoe up in a good position for the win. Daniel Hemric also had a solid, one stop strategy, but overdrove the bus stop on the frontstretch, and fell outside the top 10 after his stop penalty.

Drivers definitely have to be particular in how they charge the course. As we saw multiple times during a trio of Cup practices and qualifying, the track is treacherous, if you let it be. It’s almost as though the saying that ‘slow and steady wins the race’ paid dividends, even though it should be acknowledged the No. 98 was a fast racecar. Ultimately, drivers just couldn’t make mistakes.

There were spins, crashes, passing and hard racing, all of which makes a good road course race. Because the track is held on the 1,5-mile of Charlotte Motor Speedway, it’s hard to call it a road course, but more so of an obstacle course, especially with the chicane on the backstretch. Real-life Mario Kart, yo.

It’ll be interesting to see if any changes are made for the ROVAL next season. The track looks beautiful and the CMS staff did a great job at putting it together. But in order to be a good road course for years to come, there will need to be some changes made, or drivers will take advantage of the course. But for its first race, good job, Charlotte. Thanks for trying something different and unique.

The Bad

It’s a good thing Justin Allgaier won five races and the regular season championship because the No. 7 team has had a tough two races to begin the playoffs.

Allgaier entered the postseason with 14 consecutive top-10 finishes — a career-long. Meanwhile, at Richmon,d he was involved in a late-race crash with four playoff drivers, and this week, while exiting the pits on lap 27 at the ROVAL, the No. 7 was turned by Austin Cindric.

Not only did that waste a set of sticker tires, but Ryan Sieg drove through the rear of Allgaier’s car, what NBCSN believed to have damaged the rear axle. Ultimately, the stage break allowed Allgaier to gain decent track positions, but he was not pleased with Cindric, who was also involved in the accident at Richmond.

“Sorry doesn’t cut it,” Allgaier said over the radio — coming from one of the cleanest and nicer NASCAR drivers in NASCAR. Later in the race, Allgaier had a shot to retaliate, though choosing otherwise. Cindric drove to a third-place finish, while Allgaier managed 15th.

That 15th was earned, as Jason Burdett called Allgaier to pit road during what turned out to be the races final caution with 14 laps to go. The No. 7 car restarted 24th, driving to 12th, though dropped three positions late in the race.

Heading to Dover, Allgaier has an 11-point edge over Cindric for the final position. He also won at the the track in early May.

The Ugly

The goal for most of the playoff teams was to survive the ROVAL, as it’s the one true wild card race in the postseason. Ryan Truex has major issues.

No, Truex didn’t have the worst finish of the playoff drivers by finishing 16th, but the No. 11 car had a bad day, which started from the drop of the green flag when he was forced to start in the rear. In the opening stage, he flew through the field, finishing 11th.

As the second stage wound down, crew chief Chris Rice called Truex pit to road, setting up the No. 11 to have good position for the sprint to the finish. But on the restart to begin stage three, Truex drove hard into Turn 1, slamming outside the wall, only to ricochet into the middle of the pack, causing a melee.

“I just ran out of talent,” Truex said. “We brought it up through the field and that was my first time restarting at the front on the outside and I got in the marbles, locked the right front and drove straight into the fence. It ruined our day and a lot of guys behind us.”

Truex ended up managing the 16th-place run, following an 11th-place run to kickoff the postseason at Richmond Raceway last weekend. He was the only playoff driver to get caught up in the incident, but Michael Annett, Andy Lally, Ty Majeski, Ryan Sieg and Lawson Aschenbach were all involved.

With just Dover remaining before the Round of 8 is set, Truex sits 10th on the playoff grid, 24 markers below the cu-line. The No. 11 team will likely have to win at the Monster Mile, something neither Truex or Kaulig Racing has done before.

“We’ve got to win. That’s really about it. It’s frustrating. Dover is my favorite track, so hopefully we can come back and make up for it there. We’re really going to have to rely on people having bad days. When I drive like that, I don’t really deserve to be in it.”

In five starts at Dover, Truex has a pair of top 10s, including a runner-up finish in 2012.

Underdog Performance of the Race

Alex Labbe, remember the name.

Labbe, 25, has overachieved in his rookie campaign, competing for an underfunded DGM Racing. Prior to moving to the XFINITY Series full-time this season, he raced in his homeland of Canada, running in the Pinty’s Series, where he made a name on road courses.

He qualified the No. 36 in a career-high fifth, and likely would have had a top-10 finish, had it not been for a broken rear axle on lap 2. It looked to be the end of Labbe’s day, but the pit crew replaced the axle under caution, only losing two laps.

After getting a couple cautions, Labbe was back on the lead lap and charged up to 13th, ahead of some of the XFINITY Goliath’s; Elliott Sadler, Justin Allgaier and Brendan Gaughan.

Had the race been another five laps, Labbe likely would have picked up a few more spots, possibly squeaking out a top 10.

DGM Racing has done a hell of a job this year on the road courses, typically running in the top 15 between Labbe and Andy Lally. The ROVAL was no different, as Lally spent laps inside the top five before crashing out when Ryan Truex had his miscues.

With five races remaining in 2018, Labbe sits 16th in the championship standings, 23 points out of the top 15. In the opening 28 races of the year, he has a best outing of ninth at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, with 14 additional top-20 finishes.

Double Duty Interlopers

Justin Marks, who is competing in his final NASCAR weekend finished second. In Sunday’s Cup race, he will drive the No. 15 for Premium Motorsports. Ross Chastain will be his teammate, and he brought the No. 4 home in 12th after starting in the rear on Saturday.

Daniel Hemric had a shot at the victory until 10 laps to go when he drove through the inner loop in the frontstretch. He had to pull the No. 21 over to a complete stop, salvaging a 10th-place result. The North Carolina native announced he would be moving up to the Cup Series in 2019, but will pilot the No. 8 for Richard Childress Racing in the Cup race.

Timmy Hill and Landon Cassill are the only other drivers that will be pulling double duty. They finished 32nd and 38th, respectively.

Quotable

“It’s definitely the most physically demanding racetrack that we go to.” – Ryan Preece

“I knew going into this race that I’m not a road course racer and knew it would be difficult.” – Christopher Bell

“I don’t want to make any excuses about it, I just wheel-hopepd . All the restarts, I had been struggling into [Turn] 1, so I put a ton of rear brake into it and that helped my problem there. I didn’t get my brake bias back and just wheel-hopped. I hadn’t made a mistake like that all weekend, and when I needed not to make it, I made one at the worst of times. Disappointed.” – Daniel Hemric

Final Word

After being a hassle to Cup teams throughout three practices and a qualifying session, the XFINITY Series took the ROVAL by storm, and didn’t have as much carnage as what was anticipated.

Sure, NASCAR moved the tire barriers back on the backstretch chicane prior to the Cup final practice earlier in the day, but throughout the weekend it didn’t cost the XFINITY teams anything. For what is labeled as a developmental series, the XFINITY drivers have driven the ROVAL better than Cup superstars.

A racetrack should be challenging, and that’s exactly what the ROVAL is. 17 turns, high speeds, heavy braking. Road courses are fun, and you’ve got to give the XFINITY Series a solid A for being the first race at the newly configured track.

But as Michael McDowell stated on Friday’s edition of NASCAR America, if Saturday’s race is tame, look out for Sunday. Based off practice and qualifying, the Cup race will be wild.

Up Next

The series heads to Dover International Speedway next Saturday (Oct. 6) to end the opening round of the playoffs. It will also end a stretch of 15 consecutive weeks of racing, dating back to Chicagoland Speedway at the end of June. During that time, there have been seven different winners, as Christopher Bell, Justin Allgaier and Kyle Larson each won three times.

As the final race of the first round, Christopher Bell has advanced to the Round of 8. Daniel Hemric is 30 points above the cut-line, while Tyler Reddick is +21, Cole Custer +14, Matt Tifft +13, Elliott Sadler +11, Justin Allgaier +11, Ross Chastain +9. Austin Cindric is the first driver on the outside, nine markers back. Ryan Truex is 10th at -24, Ryan Reed -25 and Brandon Jones -28. Truex, Reed and Jones will likely have to win in order to advance to the next round.

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About Dustin Albino

Dustin Albino
Dustin joined the Frontstretch team at the beginning of the 2016 season. 2020 marks his sixth full-time season covering the sport that he grew up loving. His dream was to one day be a NASCAR journalist, thus why he attended Ithaca College (Class of 2018) to earn a journalism degree. Since the ripe age of four, he knew he wanted to be a storyteller.

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