NASCAR Cup Series
Where Does Christopher Bell Go From Here?
Oct 19, 2022
Upon advancing to the Round of 8, Chase Briscoe was making his way over to the media bullpen at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL when the realization dawned on him that he was one round away from racing for the Cup Series championship.
That he was doing it as a perceived underdog, a second-year driver without the experience of his peers, made it all the more sweeter. After all, few realistically expected Briscoe to be in the mix come late October.
When you think about it, it kind of sounds like another Stewart-Haas Racing No. 14 championship run.
For Briscoe, it’s just another benchmark to clear in establishing himself as a Cup Series full-timer. He won at Phoenix Raceway earlier this season, made the playoffs and is now amongst the elite eight as it were.
It’s a significant achievement.
"Just making the playoffs is a super big deal," Briscoe said during a Thursday media conference. "There aren't very man who can say they've made it to the Round of 8, even the Round of 12, because there are a lot of good teams that were eliminated in the first round.
"To make it to the Round of 8 in our first year in the playoffs, first year in Cup, it's something I'm really proud of. We want a lot more but it's really special to know you have a 1-in-8 chance at winning the NASCAR Cup championship. Two weeks from possibly having a 1-in-4 shot. There are Hall of Famers and legends who haven't made it this far this year so to be in this group is a really big deal."
Briscoe and crew chief Johnny Klausmeier proved their mettle on Sunday at Las Vegas. They took the green flag and were just slow down the straightaways. At one point, Briscoe articulated that it was like being down a cylinder.
They lost a lap just before the first stage break but were saved by receiving the free pass. Then Klausmeier went to work. By the end of the race, Briscoe was leading laps and finished fourth, only losing spots to teams that took tires two restarts before.
It was an incredible turnaround the kept Briscoe just nine points below the elimination cutline, two points better than where the No. 14 team entered.
"As embarrassing as it sounds now, we were just so slow through the corners that we were even slower down the straights," Briscoe said. "Honestly, I didn't think I was that slow in the corner and I didn't think it was enough to affect our straightaways speed, but it was. We got it better, but I was really worried there at the beginning.
"We learned during our competition meeting that all of our cars felt slow on the straightaway speed compared to normal. Maybe it was just something in our setups, but it was just a matter of getting our balance better in the corner."
Briscoe won just the one race in March at Phoenix but had 12 finishes of 20th or worse during the regular season, leading to a lot of observers writing them off when the playoffs began last month. Growing up a fan of Tony Stewart and the No. 14 car he now drives, Briscoe is aware of the similarities but hasn’t had that conversation with Smoke yet, nor has he had a we don’t belong here this year moment like his boss did in 2011.
All told, Briscoe is just having fun right now, something he said is more challenging to feel when you’re not racing for the championship like he did last year.
"It's for sure fun," Briscoe said. "It's fun to still be racing for something. I thought about this the other day, how weird it would be going to the track with nothing to race for.
"Not that you're not racing for always racing for something, but this feels a lot more relevant. For us, every weekend has a huge emphasis on what we're doing. There's a big goal in front of us and that has me chasing after something."
Briscoe said racers always have something to race for, but he's enjoyed the brightest spotlight that comes with the relevancy of racing for the top prize in the discipline. And while he finds it rewarding to do it in the car he grew up idolizing, and it certainly makes it even more satisfying, he would be having fun no matter what right.
"If you make the Final Four, that's a huge thing on its own and it doesn't matter what number is on the side of it because I just want to win a Cup championship," Briscoe said. "For me, personally, it does mean more to me if it has a 14 on the side, because I remember watching that 2011 run and seeing that car on the championship stage.
"So I guess it would mean something for me to add to that legacy, because it's a legacy number right, but more than anything, I just want to win the NASCAR Cup championship and it would mean everything to me even if it were a 5 or whatever on the door."