Race Weekend Central

Dropping the Hammer: Chase Briscoe’s Surprising First Cup Win (or Was It?)

With 20 laps left in Sunday’s (March 13) NASCAR Cup race at Phoenix Raceway, the final challengers for the race win came into focus:

Somehow, it came down to three drivers under the age of 30 who hadn’t won on the Cup circuit yet.

Looking at the makeup of the Cup Series in 2022, the three drivers were really the only believable choices who matched the criteria:

Chase Briscoe, Ross Chastain and Tyler Reddick.

Had you asked me last week who I thought would come out on top in that situation, I would not have chosen Briscoe.

At 27, the Stewart-Haas Racing driver is certainly capable, having proven himself in the Xfinity Series with 11 wins, including nine in one season.

But in 39 Cup starts, Briscoe had largely been an afterthought outside his near win on the Indianapolis Road Course last summer. On ovals, Briscoe hadn’t produced anything of note. His first top-10 finish didn’t come until this year’s Daytona 500 (third).

Briscoe himself was surprised his first Cup triumph came at the 1-mile oval in Avondale, Ariz.

“This is like my worst racetrack (for) forever,” Briscoe said. “Here, Richmond and New Hampshire. I used to dread coming here. Even in the Xfinity stuff. I was bummed truthfully that the (championship) race came here instead of Homestead.”

In Xfinity, despite Briscoe’s view of the track, he never finished outside the top 10 in four starts. In Trucks, he was fourth in his lone start.

In his rookie Cup year, Briscoe finished 22nd and 35th (wreck) in his starts at Phoenix, held with the 750 HP rules package.

“Even last year we didn’t have the finish necessarily at Phoenix, but we were really, really fast at both races,” Briscoe said. “I don’t know, something about I think the more power, the less downforce (package) has been a little bit better.

“As they’ve added (resin) to the top (of the track), it’s really helped me because I can run the top all day long. I feel like that’s typically better for me.”

See also
The Underdog House: Melon-Smashing Season Nearly Opened by Ross Chastain at Phoenix

When NASCAR held a test at Phoenix in early February, Briscoe thought the Next Gen car performed the most like the old car there compared to other testing sites.

“I’ve had a lot of fun in this Next Gen car,” Briscoe said. “Everywhere we’ve went, I felt really comfortable in the car. Week in, week out I keep finding that limit of how much I can slide the car, slip it. At the beginning we were all scared that we weren’t going to be able to do that at all.”

Johnny Klausmeier, Briscoe’s crew chief, said “there’s a lot of low-hanging fruit right now.

“I think we’ve kind of hit on something that fits his driving style. We’ve been able to take different things to more racetracks and apply it because the car is more the same, drives the same, takes the same setups throughout all the short tracks and stuff. We’ve been able to refine it. Doing that, there’s more success to come.”

Briscoe believes that his racing background on dirt has helped him in the Next Gen learning curve.

This is heightened by NASCAR’s new condensed weekend schedule that has seen the field split up into two groups and given 15 or 20 minutes of practice before qualifying.

“A lot of the dirt guys, when we go to a racetrack, you get three laps, three hot laps and you better figure it out quickly,” Briscoe observed. “The dirt guys have always had to figure that out quickly. The guys that grew up late model or pavement racing, they don’t necessarily have that. They go and test and run hours of practice. … I don’t think we’re better racecar drivers or better teams, but I do think it’s an equalizer to a certain extent because it’s a new opportunity and guys to have figure out and adapt.”

When you get down to it, though, having his rookie year behind him certainly helps.

The 27-year old has experience and now feels at home in NASCAR’s top circuit.

“I think from a confidence standpoint I feel like I belong this year,” Briscoe said. “Last year, you’re very eyes wide open. You’re racing against guys you’ve watched on TV for years, you’ve looked up to. Now I don’t look at the 18 car and go, ‘That’s Kyle Busch.’ It’s just the 18 car, another guy out there.

“I think that confidence has came a long way. Obviously with the results, the confidence builds. I feel like I belong. Especially now winning, I’ve proven I belong in the Cup Series. When you come in in your rookie year, you think you’re ready, but you’re never ready.”

So who’s next?

See also
Stock Car Scoop: How Many 1st-Time Winners Will NASCAR Have in 2022?

Briscoe is the 200th different driver to win the NASCAR Cup Series.

The list of potential first-time winners in Cup has quickly been whittled down this year thanks to early wins by Austin Cindric and Briscoe.

Reddick, in his third full-time Cup season, and Chastain, a veteran of 119 Cup starts, have been beating on the door over the last three weeks. Chastain has earned consecutive top fives for the first time in his Cup career.

Then there’s Chastain’s Trackhouse Racing teammate, Daniel Suarez. In solid equipment with the same team for consecutive seasons for the first time since 2018 , he was within a couple laps of a win at Auto Club Speedway.

Among full-time drivers, other options are rookies Harrison Burton and Todd Gilliland.

But in their very short tenures, they haven’t done anything to make that seem realistic.

However, I thought the same thing about Briscoe just last week.

2022 is Daniel McFadin’s ninth year covering NASCAR, with six years spent at NBC Sports. This is his second year writing columns for Frontstretch. His columns won third place in the National Motorsports Press Association awards for 2021. His work can also be found at SpeedSport.com and FanBuzz.com.

About the author

Daniel McFadin is a 7-year veteran of the NASCAR media corp. He wrote for NBC Sports from 2015 to October 2020. He's currently a freelancer and lead reporter and editor for Frontstretch. He is also host of the NASCAR show "Dropping the Hammer with Daniel McFadin" on YouTube and in podcast form.

You can email him at danielmcfadin@gmail.com.

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john dawg chapman

Chase’s win was really only surprising for the reason that the entire SH team dogged last season. One reason might have been that apparently both of the team owners seemed to have lost interest in it while moving on to other things.
They left the team to pretty much run its self. Seems like the team has figured it out with the new car.
As for the three young drivers, as well as other new young drivers. That’s the future of the sport. We have numerous aging stars who will be leaving the sport in the next few years. We may have to find new drivers to follow, but I’d say the sport was in good hands, driver wise.
I will however, have to admit, I’ve enjoyed seeing the Biff back.

DoninAjax

Every driver can’t show how good he is until he has a car capable of winning. But there are also drivers who can’t win in a very good car.

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