Notes of Interest
● Just 85 miles south of Indianapolis sits the town of Mitchell, Indiana. The old railroad town spans 3.6 square miles with a population of less than 4,000. But it was in the center of town at a family shop on 14th Street that a young boy watched his father and grandfather prepare cars for the local dirt tracks while dreaming of his shot of carrying on the family legacy and someday returning back home again to Indiana to race at the most famous venue in motorsports – the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. This weekend, Chase Briscoe, driver of the No. 14 HighPoint.com Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), will have two shots to once again kiss the bricks and climb the fence in victory at the Brickyard – first in Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series race driving the No. 07 Ford Mustang for SS Greenlight Racing, and then on Sunday in the Verizon 200 NASCAR Cup Series race.
● The son of Kevin, an accomplished dirt racer, and grandson of Richard, a renowned car owner and builder, Briscoe aspired to follow in the footsteps of his favorite driver and fellow Hoosier Tony Stewart. Stewart, at the time a Cup Series champion, would return home to race at the local short tracks when not behind the wheel of the No. 14 SHR entry, often competing against Kevin as the youngest Briscoe looked on. He practiced his victory celebration dressed in a replica of Stewart’s uniform and helmet until he was old enough to start racing himself. At the age of 14, Briscoe earned his first sprint car win at Paragon Speedway, marking the end of NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon’s reign as the youngest driver to win in a 410 sprint car. From there, Briscoe blazed a path of his own in the stock car world, dominating his first season in the ARCA Menards Series to become the 2016 champion, then earning his first NASCAR Truck Series win in 2017 in his 23rd start.
● But it was after a breakthrough 2020 season in the Xfinity Series that saw Briscoe visit victory lane nine times that he finally felt like he was overcoming the odds that always seemed to be stacked against him. Just six years after leaving home to pursue a dream, he found himself back in Indiana, sitting next to his idol as he and his family were told he’d be the next driver of the famed No. 14 Ford Mustang for SHR in the Cup Series. Last year, when the series returned to Indianapolis to compete on the road course for the first time, Briscoe was introduced as the pilot of the No. 14 in front of hundreds of friends, family members and residents of Mitchell who had turned up to see him race at his home track, and he made sure to put on a show for the hometown crowd.
● Twenty-four races into his rookie season and determined to earn his first Cup Series win at Indianapolis a year ago, Briscoe qualified second, missing the pole by just .426 of a second, and took the lead on lap two of the race. He finished the first stage in ninth, but from there struggled with a series of flat-spotted tires and green-flag pit stops until a caution on lap 79 set up Briscoe to restart third for the first attempt at a green-white-checkered finish on lap 88. That run was halted by the second multicar incident in a 12-lap span, and Briscoe once again restarted third, behind leader Denny Hamlin, for the second attempt at a green-white-checkered finish. As Hamlin drove wide into turn one and cars bunched up on the restart, Briscoe slid off into the grass. He returned to the track right behind Hamlin and was vying for the lead when contact sent Hamlin’s No. 11 into a spin. Briscoe was subsequently served a penalty for his venture through the grass and making contact with the leader and was parked for the final lap of the race, resulting in a 26th-place finish.
● Briscoe’s move for the lead might have ruffled feathers, but his composure when confronted by Hamlin following the race made many take notice of his commitment to carrying on the legacy of the No. 14. Stewart stood by, observing his driver’s tenacity with pride, a moment that Briscoe has noted as a turning point in his career. “Personally, I felt like I was doing my job,” he said. “I’m there to win. But, to have Tony tell me he was proud of me for standing up for myself, that made me realize I’m doing the right thing. He’s the guy I looked up to as a kid and the driver I always wanted to be. He knew who he was and didn’t let anyone push him around, and it’s time for me to do the same.”
● Briscoe has been a standout on the 2.439-mile, 14-turn Indianapolis road course layout since his first outing there in 2020 during the NASCAR Xfinity Series’ inaugural race on the circuit. He started 12th in the 38-car field and took the lead for the first time on lap 24, eventually leading five times for a race-high 30 laps. Over the final two laps, the Hoosier had to battle road-course ace AJ Allmendinger, who took the lead from Briscoe on lap 59 and sent him to third after the SHR pilot overdrove a corner. But Briscoe set his sights on regaining the lead and repositioned himself at the front of the field with a powerful drive past second-place Austin Cindric and leader Allmendinger on the penultimate lap. Briscoe wheeled his Ford Mustang throughout the hallowed grounds of the Brickyard en route to victory, beating runner-up Justin Haley to the finish line by a 1.717-second margin. It was Briscoe’s fifth of nine wins in 2020.
● It was three months later that Briscoe was announced as the next driver of the No. 14, and he completed the 2021 season having earned Cup Series Rookie of the Year honors. He once again drew attention when he began the 2022 season with a third-place finish in the Daytona 500, then scored his first Cup Series win in the fourth race of the season at Phoenix Raceway.
● With 21 of 36 races complete this season, Briscoe has three top-fives and four top-10 finishes, a career-best for the 27-year-old who earned three top-10s in his rookie season. Briscoe is currently 16th in points and holds a spot in the 16-driver playoff field with five races remaining in the regular season.
Chase Briscoe, Driver of the No. 14 HighPoint.com Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing:
How are you feeling about returning to Indianapolis this weekend and running double duty?
“I’m excited. There’s a lot of pressure that I put on myself during Indy weekend. I want to go there and win both practice sessions, both qualifying sessions and both races and that’s kind of the mentality I start with weeks out because I know it’s something that is definitely attainable. When you go to Indy being an Indiana guy, you have pressure coming from everywhere. There are a lot of people, friends and just fans, that don’t get to see me race anywhere else that are from that area. So, I’m definitely excited to get there and pull double duty. It looks like the Xfinity race is going to have a lot of Cup guys, so it’ll be a good test for Sunday. I’m really looking forward to getting there and spending a week at home.”
Indy was a great place for you last year even though it didn’t end the way you had hoped. What are your thoughts on the Cup Series race knowing you were strong there last year but are now in the position of having to relearn some things there with the NextGen car?
“Well, it’s for sure going to be different. It’s going to be like learning a whole new racetrack because how this car drives on the road courses is different. Everything, from what you look for in the long run, how you brake, when you start to brake, things like that are going to be different from what we did last year or what we’ve done on some other road courses (this year). Then, you throw in the double duty aspect of it. It’ll be a challenge to go back and forth because your brake markers could be almost 200 feet different and the H-pattern shifter versus the sequential shifter is a big change. So that’s something I am a little nervous about, I guess. But I know it’s going to be the same for everybody. This is the race every year I circle on my schedule knowing it’s one that we can win and, with everything that we’re trying to do right now to make sure we’re in the playoffs, if we can win, it would be huge. There’s always pressure when racing in Indiana, but probably more so this year.”
As the playoff picture unfolds and there’s some uncertainty around who will actually be competing for a title, how do you prepare?
“First, we’ve got to make sure we make the playoffs. With how the winner situation is, we need to try to points race the next couple of weeks. If we can win the race, we need to do that, but with the road courses coming up and Daytona, there’s a lot of opportunities to go for stage points versus track position. It’s tough because of the situation we’re in. But we’re going to focus on getting points and trying to leapfrog some guys in the standings so we aren’t the lowest one-win driver if it comes down to more than 16 winners when we get to Daytona. I want to start getting focused for the playoffs, but we have to make sure we’re in before we get too far ahead on planning for the future.”
Do you feel like you’re on the bubble?
“If guys keep winning, then yes, absolutely. You know, it’s definitely a hairy situation to be in, but I don’t feel like we should be in this situation in the first place. If I would have won Charlotte or won Bristol, then we wouldn’t be talking about this. There are a lot of times where I’ve left a lot of points on the table over the last two or three months. So really, we probably shouldn’t be in this spot, but I’ve kind of put us here so I’ve got to try to get us out of it now. We’ve had speed, we just haven’t done a very good job of capitalizing on that speed throughout the races. There have been a few times where guys a lot worse than us all day long have finished 10 or 15 spots ahead of us, and it’s just because I’ve done something wrong at the end of the race. So I’ve got to clean that up because, come playoff time, you can’t be doing that.”