Most Improved is not an award given out during the annual banquet in Nashville, but it’s a category worth exploring. There are multiple drivers that made strides during the 2022 Cup Series season, including William Byron, Justin Haley, Ross Chastain, and Daniel Suarez among others. However, Briscoe stands out for his major turnaround and deep playoff run.
The driver of the No. 14 had his fair share of struggles during his rookie season while running in the middle of the pack. He only led 18 laps en route to three top-10 finishes, and he ended the season a mere 23rd in points. Briscoe still won Rookie of the Year over Anthony Alfredo.
There is always the expectation that rookies will struggle once they enter the Cup Series, so that was not as much of a surprise. Though the Indiana native still faced some raised expectations after he won nine Xfinity Series races in 2020 while Clint Bowyer reached the Cup Series playoffs in the No. 14 after 12 top-10s and two top-fives.
Why did this award not go to Chastain or Tyler Reddick? The answer is fairly simple. Chastain entered the 2022 Cup Series season with nine top-10s and three top-fives to his name. This included a runner-up at Nashville Superspeedway in 2021.
Chastain’s talent was evident, but the questions were more about the quality of equipment and the team surrounding him. Once he partnered with a unique organization in Trackhouse Racing and had some security with his multi-year deal, he flourished in the team-first environment.
Similarly, Reddick showcased his skills during his first two seasons in the Cup Series. His speed was evident, and he used it to secure multiple runner-ups in the No. 8 Chevrolet Camaro. He was also a name that analysts and fans highlighted ahead of the 2022 season while discussing drivers that would break through and reach Victory Lane. Briscoe was not a part of these conversations.
Briscoe Quickly Made Strides in 2022
With Briscoe struggling to contend during his rookie season, there were some questions about how he would perform during his second season. Would he make positive strides while adjusting to a brand-new car, or would he have some more problems keeping up with the competition?
Briscoe quickly provided an answer. He kicked off the season with a third-place finish in the Daytona 500 and then he finished 16th at Auto Club Speedway the following week to keep himself fifth in the points standings.
A wreck at Las Vegas Motor Speedway dropped Briscoe out of the top 10, but he quickly recovered with a standout performance at Phoenix Raceway. He led 101 of the 312 laps in the No. 14, and he held off Ross Chastain, Tyler Reddick, and Ryan Blaney among others on multiple restarts during the final stage.
This win punched Briscoe’s ticket to the playoffs, but he had to continue fighting for points during the regular season. These weren’t as easy to come by as Briscoe only posted two more top-10s before heading to Darlington Raceway for the start of the playoffs, but he secured numerous top-20s while keeping the No. 14 clean.
The Playoffs Featured Some Big Performances
Briscoe entered the playoffs as an underdog. He was not in the conversation about championship contenders while others such as Kyle Larson, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, and Ryan Blaney were the focus.
Despite spending the majority of each round below the elimination line, Briscoe continued to make moves. He turned in strong performances and scored crucial points. This includes top-10 finishes in every Round of 12 race. More importantly, he avoided the missteps and mechanical issues that disrupted his peers.
Briscoe kept moving on through the rounds as part of a Cinderella season, and it appeared that he would actually have an opportunity to stun the Cup Series field and reach the championship four. He only added to this belief by qualifying third for the elimination race at Martinsville Speedway.
An early issue buried Briscoe in the field for the majority of the race, but he was able to retake the lead with a Hail Mary approach. He stayed out on the track when the caution flag flew on Lap 469. Nearly everyone else headed down pit road for tires.
Briscoe jumped to the lead on the final restart with 24 laps remaining, and he began to pull away from the pack. It appeared that he would win the elimination race and punch his ticket to the championship four, but Christopher Bell used fresher tires to take the lead with four laps remaining and win the race.
The Indiana native didn’t win this crucial race, but he still secured another top-10 finish. He then closed out his second Cup Series season with a fourth-place finish at Phoenix Raceway, which helped him finish ninth in the championship standings.
Briscoe had some struggles during his second Cup Series season, but he also set career-best marks. He led the most laps of his career (280) while improving his average finish to 17.3. Briscoe also set career-highs with 10 top-10s, six top-fives, and his first win.