Chase Briscoe and his No. 98 Stewart-Haas Racing team have had a stellar season in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. The last three races have been not so fun for them though, as they haven’t scored a single top 10. Even though they head into the playoffs as the co-favorite, could this be concerning?
Should we still expect Briscoe to be where he has been all season? Is there any reason for concern, or is this all just experimenting with setups?
The pandemic shook up the entire world this year, but in the sport of NASCAR, it allowed us to see who has the strongest team overall. Teams have had to unload off the truck and race right away, something that has not happened before. There are so many what ifs, but Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick have proved how strong their teams truly are. Many wonder though if there would have been more of a spread of winners with practice and qualifying .
Who do you think suffered most from the post-pandemic rules? Would we have seen more winners and less of Hamlin and Harvick?
Q: Do you have any concern about Chase Briscoe’s recent performance, or is this just experimenting before the playoffs? Gary R., Tempe, AZ
A: This seems to be the case with many contenders as we near the playoffs every year. Many like to experiment with different things regarding the cars and seeing what works and maybe what they can hit on.
Briscoe is going to be strong when the playoffs come around, no question about it. Just because he finished outside the top 10 in three straight races does not mean he is struggling. Of course when you have had a season like he has, you want to be strong every single week. However, as with every good team, there will be some struggles.
Briscoe’s last top-five finish was his third place at Daytona International Speedway in late August. Before that, it was his win at Dover International Speedway the week prior. There is no reason to worry at all. Darlington Raceway was the place Briscoe won at in May, yet did have a bit of a handful in the race two weeks ago, slipping in oil from the lead. Richmond Raceway just did not go his way at all, and he did not seem to have much speed either. But those were just rare off weeks for him, no concern at all.
He will go into the playoffs as the favorite for the Xfinity title along with Austin Cindric
and Justin Allgaier
. It’s an extremely top-heavy Xfinity field this season, and to be the favorite out of all the great talent really says something about the caliber of Briscoe’s team.
There is no doubt that he will find victory lane a few more times this season, and he could get to that eight-win goal he had at the start of the season. In order to win the title, he will probably have to win in the championship race at Phoenix Raceway, one of his worst tracks on the circuit. That would put him at seven wins, and he’ll probably win one more, if not more than that. His future plans after 2020 are unknown, but he is out to prove even more than he already has, and I am sure he will do so, how great of a driver we already know he is.
Q: If practice and qualifying were still a thing this season, do you believe we would have seen such domination from Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick all year? Or do you think we would have seen more of a spread and more winners? Phil S., Denver, CO
A: I have heard this question be asked before, and there really was not an answer for it. However, as much as we should not play the “what if” scenarios, there is something that can be said about it.
We have seen so many times in past seasons that there are usually two to three dominant drivers, and then the rest of the field seems to have to catch up. Here is the thing, Hamlin and Harvick have such strong teams that nobody should be surprised with as good as they have been. My honest opinion is Harvick would still be the best driver had we still had practice and qualifying. Hamlin would be there too, but I believe Harvick would have taken the reign.
We are dealt with something so different than anyone has seen before. Obviously with as much as everyone has been through this year, the sport returning in itself seemed to be the main focus for many teams at the early part of the summer. Now that we are in the playoffs, we are seeing everyone catch up, and it honestly seems very even across the board now.
What’s interesting is how dominant the Nos. 4 and 11 teams were all regular season, and then once the playoffs started at Darlington, Hamlin seemed to not be that strong. But Harvick won and showed he is not letting up. That speaks volumes to how strong the No. 4 team is. We’ve seen guys have better chances to win in the first two races in the playoffs so far, such as Chase Elliott
, Martin Truex Jr.
and even Austin Dillon
In my mind, we probably would have only three more winners if practice and qualifying had taken place. Kyle Busch
, Jimmie Johnson
and Matt DiBenedetto
are three that come to mind. All three were great before the pandemic hit but once we got back to racing, all three seemed to be missing something. While Busch and DiBenedetto are still fighting for a title, Johnson is on the outside and has the last eight races of his last full-time year to try and fight for a win.
As for an actual spread of winners, we would see similar statistics to what we see now. Hamlin, Harvick and Brad Keselowski
would be the three guys I would have picked to win the most this season before anything even happened. Ryan Blaney
is another guy that comes to mind who was strong as could be before the pandemic, but then seemed to lose an edge.
There are so many what-if scenarios we could come up with. But if we look at how things are now, it is pretty on par with what we would have seen in 2020 anyway. Harvick and Hamlin being favorites is normal, nothing out of the ordinary. They have two of the strongest teams in the Cup garage, and it just shows who has been unloading off the trailer the best.
Of course practice helps others fine tune throughout a weekend, but if you unload well, it means your car will be good all weekend. If you do not, it will be a struggle, and we have seen that several times with these bigger teams.
We can all hope 2021 will be normal again, but as for now, we are just seeing who is the best of the best. There is nothing wrong with the way things are going, even though we all miss reality and normalcy. The spread may be a bit more than what we saw this year, but overall, not much would have changed.