Stewart-Haas Racing’s Chase Briscoe finished 21st in the Coke Zero Sugar 400 after being involved in a last-lap crash that sent six cars back to the hauler in pieces. However, this finish does not tell the full tale. The NASCAR rookie recovered from earlier incidents, including one that destroyed the rear of the stock car, and contended for a top-10 finish amid a season of growth.
The driver of the No. 14 SHR Ford Mustang started the season with nine straight finishes outside the top 15 before he finally posted an 11th-place finish in the Geico 500 at Talladega Superspeedway. These performances kept him outside of the playoff picture, but the rookie seemed to turn a corner at Circuit of the Americas on May 23 by taking sixth overall.
Since heading to the road course in Texas, Briscoe has added two other top-10s — sixth at Road America and ninth at Watkins Glen. He has also been in position to fight for the win at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Michigan International Speedway in the final laps. Though a penalty and a collision with Kurt Busch hurt his chances during the respective races.
Briscoe Has Improved His Starting Position During 2021
Briscoe has yet to reach Victory Lane, but he is making positive strides. The rookie had an average start of 25.2 and an average finish of 21.5 through the first 10 races. Since taking 11th at Talladega, his average start is 21.31. This statistic includes Road America where he could not complete a qualifying lap due to other drivers bringing out the caution flag. His average finish has improved to 18.94 despite two crashes and a penalty that relegated him to 26th at Indianapolis.
“I think it’s just time. I think it’s time and confidence,” SHR co-owner Tony Stewart told Heavy in an interview ahead of the Aug. 28 race. “And he didn’t come into the season with a lack of confidence, but you don’t know what you don’t know. When you’re a rookie, guys aren’t going to cut you many breaks, and they’re going to make your life a little bit difficult at the beginning until you gain their confidence.
“So I think it’s just as a scenario that the more time that he’s getting in the car, the more time that he’s spending with his new crew chief and team. I think it’s just all starting to gel and like you said, he’s hitting his stride now and gaining that confidence that’s going to carry momentum for him.”
Briscoe Is Within Reach of a Prestigious Award
The driver of the No. 14 entered the 2021 season as a name to watch in the battle for Rookie of the Year. He took over the iconic No. 14 previously driven by Stewart and Clint Bowyer, and he entered the Cup Series after capping off his Xfinity Series career with a nine-win season.
Through 26 races, Briscoe has the advantage over fellow rookie Anthony Alfredo. The Front Row Motorsports driver has also started all 26 races but has only posted a best finish of 12th, which he achieved in the Geico 500 at Talladega Superspeedway. For comparison, Briscoe has three top-10 finishes.
If the driver of the No. 14 locks up Rookie of the Year, he will make it two straight for SHR. Teammate Cole Custer won the award in 2020 by winning a race at Kentucky Speedway and reaching the playoffs. The driver of the No. 41 showed that he could compete with other Cup Series drivers early in his career while justifying Stewart’s faith in him.
“I think [the early success is] because of our Xfinity program, and you know, obviously, we were able to focus 100% and watch those guys and develop those guys through the Xfinity Series,” Stewart told Heavy. “We felt like it was their time and that they were ready to make that move to the Cup Series.
“Cole got a win last year in a very dominant move — that was not a rookie move by any means — to win his first race and get himself in. You take a track that’s tough and difficult, like Indy was, to have Chase be able to get himself… They got themselves in a hole, and he was able to stay out on older tires and make the best out of it and still outperform a lot of those guys on tires that had a lot more laps on them. That’s why these guys are where they are in our series and with our organization. Because we believe in them.”
Neither Custer nor Briscoe reached the playoffs in 2021 after the entire SHR stable struggled to start the season. However, they will both have opportunities to make strides during the remaining 10 races and set themselves up for a strong 2022 campaign.