Prior to the NASCAR Xfinity Series beginning at Daytona three weeks ago, Chase Briscoe made a bold statement, claiming 2020 was his “make or-break-year.”
Briscoe, 25, is in the infancy of his second full season at the Xfinity level. As for his rookie season? The No. 98 car won at Iowa Speedway en route to a fifth-place finish in the championship standings and rookie of the year honors. His consistency led to 26 top-10 finishes, one shy of Tyler Reddick‘s series-best 27.
Aside from winning at Iowa, Briscoe was at his best in the postseason, leading 153 of his 197 total laps led over the final six races. Hell, had it not been for a run-in with Garrett Smithley and Christopher Bell at Kansas Speedway with 15 laps to go, it’s possible the No. 98 team would have been competing for a championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway four weeks later.
“The second half of the season, we didn’t necessarily have the wins, but we were competing for wins almost every week,” Briscoe told Frontstretch of 2019. “… I felt like at the beginning of the year was definitely a struggle, not near up to the standards that I thought I should have been running.”
Having less than 100 pavement starts total, Briscoe noted learning how to drive the Xfinity cars was the biggest thing he took away from 2019. And though the No. 98 team had many near misses of getting to victory lane, Briscoe’s confidence was boosted, running with the likes of Reddick, Bell, Justin Allgaier and Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Cole Custer.
Because Reddick, Bell and Custer – last year’s “Big Three” – all moved up to the Cup Series, this season’s Xfinity regulars were left an opportunity to fill for 2020. After all, those three drivers combined to win 21 of 33 races last year. Prior to Daytona in 2020, just seven full-time drivers had visited victory lane for a combined total of 20 races.
That’s where Briscoe comes in. The Indiana native – returning to a team full-time for consecutive seasons for the first time in his stock-car career – was labeled by many as the preseason championship favorite.
And for him, that doesn’t go unnoticed that more eyes are on him.
“It’s 100% different compared to anything I’ve ever had,” Briscoe said of what it’s like being considered a championship favorite. “If you go back to the ARCA stuff, nobody even knew who I was. I was the underdog there, and even the Truck Series, it’s a big step up from ARCA. I don’t think anybody knew what to expect. And with the Xfinity stuff, I was always the rookie behind the Big Three guys.
“It’s definitely a different role and mindset. It’s been a confidence booster for me because I’ve never had that talk about myself. I feel like I definitely have a little more confidence going into this year, just because people have labeled us as that. Hopefully we can fulfill that.”
With many fresh faces to the series, Briscoe believes he’s going to have to beat guys with experience for the championship.
“Allgaier is going to be a really tough one to beat, just his experience goes a long way,” Briscoe said. “You’re going to have other guys that are going to run good: guys like Ross Chastain, you don’t really know what Kaulig [Racing] is going to be like.
“As this West Coast plays out, I think you’re going to know more of who the guys are to beat. You have guys like [Austin] Cindric and [Noah] Gragson as well. There will be like four to five guys that I think are really going to be tough to beat, and then there’s guys like Daniel Hemric that are running a large majority of the races and going to be hard to beat for wins.”
Though many people are viewing Briscoe as the championship favorite, all the pressure is a battle with himself.
“I put a lot of pressure on myself internally,” he said. “Just because there’s more pressure from the outside [it] doesn’t mean anything.”
Despite entering the season with a load of confidence and new outlook on where he stands among Xfinity regulars, Briscoe wouldn’t go as far as declaring himself as the championship favorite, as there are still hurdles the No. 98 team will have to jump.
Among those challenges is the fact that Briscoe is the only full-time driver in the Stewart-Haas Racing stable, as the No. 00 team shut down following Custer’s departure to Cup. Another is the championship race being moved to Phoenix Raceway, a track where Briscoe has a best finish of sixth in two starts, though he doesn’t believe he’s all that good at the 1-mile track.
“We’re going to see how the West Coast plays out,” Briscoe said of where he stands in terms of championships favorites. “… A big factor is the championship moving to Phoenix now. Homestead was one of my top two best racetracks, where Phoenix is probably one of my two worst, and it’s probably Allgaier’s best racetrack. At the same time if you’re winning races, that confidence can go a long way going into Phoenix.”
Through the first two weeks NASCAR’s annual West Coast Swing, Briscoe has a victory at Vegas and 19th at Auto Club Speedway, spinning late in the race from second position.
But the final race out West happens this weekend at Phoenix, which the No. 98 team is using as a test session for November’s title race.
“We’re going to go there and try to learn as much as we can,” Briscoe said. “It’s nice Kyle Busch is going to be in that race because we can go there and weigh ourselves off of him because he’s probably going to be better than anyone else there. If we can be competitive to him I think it will go a long way.”
As for Briscoe’s preseason comments of it being his “make-or-break” season, he elaborated.
“From my side of things, I feel like it’s a make-or-break season for my future in this sport,” he said. “If I go and win one or two races, I think my chances of being in a top-tier ride might fizzle away.
“Ford has been really good of promoting me and me being their guy, but at the same time, you’ve got to perform. Winning one to two races – I was able to do that when I didn’t have the experience, so I need to try to step that up. I just feel like from a personal side, if I can win eight to 10 races, it puts my hat in the midst for a Cup ride, hopefully.”
- There are 39 cars on the entry list for this weekends LS Tractor 200 at Phoenix Raceway, meaning three drivers will fail to make the race. Cup Series regulars Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski will make their first Xfinity starts of the season while Dillon Bassett makes his first start of the year for DGM Racing.
- After having JJ Yeley run the No. 52 Jimmy Means Racing Chevrolet for the first three races of the season, Kody Vanderwal will take over this weekend at Phoenix for the remainder of the season. In 35 K&N West Series races, he had a pair of victories.
- Stewart-Haas Racing announced this week that Tony Stewart will return to the driver’s seat, when the Xfinity Series takes to the 14-turn road course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Multiple sources have confirmed to Frontstretch that the team is looking to get Stewart in a ride for the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL come October.