KANNAPOLIS, N.C. — When it comes to the paths they took to reach the NASCAR Cup Series, Chase Briscoe and Tony Stewart have a lot in common.
Both grew up in small towns in Indiana, both scratched and clawed to make a name for themselves at the grassroots level prior to stepping into NASCAR stock cars, and both have an affinity for dirt-track racing — particularly in their home state.
Stewart was the first driver to win USAC’s Triple Crown, winning titles three major divisions in the same season, while Briscoe grew up in a generational family of dirt-track racers, following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather by racing sprint cars during his teenage years.
While Briscoe has only raced sporadically on the dirt over the last few years, with annual runs at the Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals in a midget and selected starts in a sprint car, Stewart told reporters this week after announcing Briscoe’s promotion to the NASCAR Cup Series in 2021 that the Mitchell, Ind., native’s dirt background will be a benefit to him as he moves up to the top level of stock car racing.
“I think the biggest thing that’s going to be a big benefit down the road for him is that, obviously, drivers that drive on dirt are used to the back of the car being free and swinging around and wheel spin and everything else,” Stewart said in response to a question from SPEED SPORT. “As NASCAR keeps taking horsepower away from these cars, having the cars freed up is a very big piece of the equation now to make sure that drivers are keeping speed, and drivers that can handle a loose race car and are comfortable with that feel, I think ultimately, are going to have an advantage at the end of the day for new guys coming up.
“I think that dirt-track background and having that confidence of knowing how to control a car that to some people looks out of control, but when it’s sliding and you have control of where it’s going still … to have that confidence in it is going to be key in a Cup car down the road. That’s the skill set that you have to learn,” Stewart continued. “I think 20 to 30 years ago, you had to have a stock car background to really be good in a stock car and I think nowadays with the rules packages changing like they are, a dirt track background – people are starting to realize there’s a lot of value in drivers that have a dirt-track background and can control a loose race car.
“I think just the car control in general that you learn running dirt tracks is a valuable learning experience no matter what type of car you get in. Having that base is definitely valuable for any driver.”
Briscoe, 26, has won nine Xfinity Series races this year — a record for a series regular — with two of those coming at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway and Homestead-Miami (Fla.) Speedway, both tracks with worn-out asphalt that place a premium on car control and managing one’s equipment.
He also noted the “cool factor” of the similarities between his rise and Stewart’s, before touching on how his time racing on dirt at Indiana bullrings such as Kokomo (Ind.) Speedway and Tri-State Speedway in Haubstadt, Ind., have given him the enhanced skillset to be successful in NASCAR.
“It is pretty neat how Tony and I both grew up sprint car racing. Both from southern Indiana, 45 minutes apart … there are a lot of similarities in that sense,” Briscoe told SPEED SPORT. “As for my dirt background, I feel like it has helped me throughout my entire career. The Xfinity cars have a lot less downforce than the Cup cars. When you have that high downforce, typically the looser you can drive the car, the faster it is going to go. I think just having that dirt background will certainly help (in the Cup Series). With more and more road races I feel like my dirt background helps, and for that one dirt race at Bristol now, it will help.
“I think just growing up and running on dirt makes you be versatile. You have to constantly react and move around and search around the race track,” Briscoe added. “With the Cup races being longer races, the track will constantly change and you have to be on top of that, so I think it will definitely help.”
Briscoe joins a list of well-known drivers such as Christopher Bell, Kyle Larson, Stewart and Jeff Gordon who have propelled themselves to the Cup Series from dirt-track beginnings.
As Stewart looked back on his history with the Briscoe family, he sees Chase Briscoe as a driver who can become a potential superstar in the NASCAR Cup Series, just as Stewart did by winning three Cup championships (2002, ’05, ’11) and 49 races during a Hall of Fame career.
“Chase was already in the Ford system by the time we started getting our eye on him, but there was a tie with Kevin (Briscoe), his dad,” Stewart reflected. “Kevin and I didn’t race a lot with each other in USAC. I didn’t run non-winged sprint cars a lot, unfortunately, but I did meet Kevin years ago, long before Chase was thought about, and to have that opportunity to have that friendship with Kevin was neat. We’ve maintained it through the years, and now to see his son have an opportunity to not only be in our system, but at the Cup level and in the (No.) 14 car is something that I think really is a neat story.
“Kevin and I literally live just under an hour apart away from each other and to think that we raced together and now his son is going to be driving the (No.) 14 car in the Cup Series is something that I think is really cool, but the kid deserves it,” Stewart noted. “It hasn’t been handed to him. He didn’t come from a wealthy family.
“The Briscoes were racers and they put everything they had into racing; they did that with Chase as well, and that investment has, obviously, paid off.”