MOORESVILLE, N.C. — Chase Briscoe will be the first to admit his introduction into the NASCAR Cup Series with Stewart-Haas Racing has been a humbling experience.
Coming off a season during which he won nine times in the NASCAR Xfinity Series and contended for a championship, Briscoe felt the pieces were in place for him to excel as he stepped up to the top level of stock car racing.
Things haven’t exactly gone according to plan, however. A crackdown on certain aerodynamic areas of the Cup Series car and a rocky start for Stewart-Haas Racing as a whole have combined to leave Briscoe with only two top-15 finishes in the first 12 races.
But Briscoe’s momentum may be starting to turn around. He’s finished on the cusp of the top 10 in two of the last three races, with 11th-place efforts at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway in late April and last weekend at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway.
That has the Mitchell, Ind., native’s confidence boosted heading into the summer months, with a belief that brighter days are ahead as he chases Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors.
“Being able to run closer toward the front definitely is good for confidence and momentum and I feel like this last couple weeks we haven’t made mistakes, where early in the year we had about the same speed — maybe a little less — but we would just have a bad pit stop or I’d speed on pit road or something like that,” Briscoe told reporters ahead of Sunday’s Drydene 400 at Dover (Del.) Int’l Speedway. “I feel like the last couple weeks we’ve just executed and haven’t dug ourselves in a deeper hole.
“Obviously, right now as a company we’re still off a little bit, so we just have to be perfect. We can’t make mistakes,” Briscoe continued. “I feel like at Darlington, for example, we just did everything all day the correct way. We didn’t make any mistakes all day. We had solid pit stops all day long. It was just a solid day all around, and when we did that, we had a solid result, so we just have to keep trying to do those things. As we continue to run farther up front, our starting position will get better and all those things just compound and make everything easier in general in the race.
“I think right now we’re 20 points out of 20th place in points, and if we can get to 20th it’s only going to help our position in the starting lineup even more, so we just have to keep doing the little things right. We’ve got to crawl, then walk, then run … and it’s about taking baby steps week in and week out.”
In looking at his move to the Cup Series on a big-picture level, Briscoe said there hasn’t been one particular challenge that has been tougher on him than others compared to racing in the Xfinity Series.
“It’s all tougher,” Briscoe noted. “In the Xfinity Series, I felt like on a bad day we would still run seventh or eighth, where now if you have a bad day you run 25th to 30th, because the competition is a lot tougher. As a rookie, I feel like you get raced a little bit different than some guys. You’ve got to earn your respect in a sense, so I think, for me, the competitive side has been the biggest eye-opener.
“There’s also been a lot of things that I’ve had to learn to get better at — green-flag pit stops is obviously a crucial, crucial part of the Cup Series and I didn’t have a lot of experience with that in the Xfinity Series, and with no practice I just show up and in the middle of the race that’s my first chance to try it,” Briscoe tipped. “We don’t have practice or anything like that to figure out where I need to start braking and pit road is a lot busier and all these things, so I think, for me, just trying to do all the little things right is tough.
“It’s all about the little details and when you’re where we are right now, racing in that 15th range speed-wise, the little details are what make the difference in being in the back half of the top 10 or running 20th. That’s been the biggest thing is just trying to do all the little things right, because it really adds up.”
Briscoe acknowledged the mental strain of not running up front can be challenging at times, but that he’s focusing on trying to grow, rather than shooting for the moon.
“It’s certainly tough. The Xfinity Series has 33 races and I went to the race track every weekend thinking that I was going to be the guy to beat … but I knew coming into the Cup Series I probably wasn’t going to win nine races this year,” said Briscoe. “I knew it was going to be a huge learning process for me just trying to continue to get better week in and week out, and, for me, I know that I’m not a worse race car driver than I was last year. If anything, I’m better now than I’ve ever been just because of the experience I’ve been getting, so I know I’m still capable of running up front.
“I try to judge myself off of my teammates. They’re obviously the closest thing I have to what I’m racing week in and week out and, fairly consistently, I feel like we’ve been able to be the second-best car [within SHR], so that’s been the biggest thing for me is just try to be the second-best car week in and week out,” Briscoe noted. “We want to be the best car, but we’ve got a long way to go to be where [Kevin] Harvick is right now and we know that. Truthfully, I don’t think there are expectations for me to be outrunning Harvick right now, so if I can just be the second-best car every week, I feel like I’m doing my job right now. I think the results will come as I continue to get experience. It just takes some time.
“Once we start putting it all together, I feel confident that we’ll be able to battle for wins, but we’ve got to start battling for top 10s first and then battle for top fives, and eventually the wins will come.”