UNDATED – Chase Briscoe and the No. 14 HighPoint.com Ford Mustang team are happy to see Dover (Del.) International Speedway in the rear-view mirror as the NASCAR Cup Series makes the trek to Austin, Texas, for Sunday’s EchoPark Texas Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas.
The 20-turn, 3.426-mile road course that has been home to Formula One’s United States Grand Prix since 2012 is hosting all three NASCAR national touring series for the first time this weekend.
The EchoPark Texas Grand Prix will start at 2:20 p.m. on Sunday, May 23.
Briscoe, the dirt racer from Mitchell, became quite the road-course standout during his NASCAR Xfinity Series career. He earned his first Xfinity Series win in NASCAR’s inaugural race on the Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway Roval after putting his dirt-track knowledge to the test.
Upon crossing the finish line first by a margin of 1.478 seconds, Briscoe said, “It felt like I was in a Sprint car. I just tried to make sure the rear tires never spun. I had to give up a little time coming off the corner, but I’d make it back up down the straightaway, and that’s why I was always better at the end of the run.”
Being the first driver to win on the Roval wasn’t enough for Briscoe. He notched another first-time winner accolade when the Xfinity Series became the first NASCAR Series to run on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course last season. Briscoe started 12th in the 38-car field and took the lead for the first time on lap 24, eventually leading five times for a race-high 30 laps. He deftly wheeled his No. 98 HighPoint.com Ford Mustang around the serpentine layout inside the hallowed grounds of the Brickyard, pulling out a 1.717-second margin of victory over runner-up Justin Haley. It was Briscoe’s series-leading fifth win of the season.
Briscoe finished among the top-10 in all but three of the 10 road-course races in which he completed in the Xfinity Series. And in his lone NASCAR Camping World Truck Series start on a road course – in 2017 at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in Bowmanville, Ontario – Briscoe finished seventh in a Ford F-150.
Sunday’s race is the second of a ground-breaking seven NASCAR Cup Series races to be held on road courses in 2021. From 1988 to 2017, there were only two road courses on the schedule – Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway and Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International. The Charlotte Roval was added in 2018, giving the series three road-course venues. The initial 2021 schedule doubled that tally, with Circuit of the Americas, Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, and the Indianapolis road course all being added. And when COVID-19 restrictions forced the cancellation of the series’ stop this year at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, the Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway road course was put in its place.
In the Cup Series only road-course event to date this season at Daytona, Briscoe started 18th and finished 32nd after a late-race pit stop to remove the hood of the No. 14, which had come unsecured. It was Briscoe’s second Cup Series start.
With 13 Cup Series races complete, Briscoe sits 27th in the point standings and leads the Rookie of the Year standings by 66 points over Anthony Alfredo.
Chase Briscoe, Driver of the No. 14 HighPoint.com Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing talks about the upcoming race.
When you go to COTA, you will have practice. How much do you anticipate that practice will be devoted to not just getting ready for the race weekend, but working on things as a team and a track atmosphere that you don’t get to do at other tracks that don’t have practice?
“I think it’s going to be hard. The thing is, I don’t think you can necessarily try stuff that’s going to work at other places with it being a road course, but I will say that it’s probably going to be a challenge to be back in a practice environment. Normally, doing a shock change or doing whatever is so second nature and they can do it so quickly to really maximize that practice time. We haven’t done that a lot in the last year and a half, so I think the team guys might be a little rusty when it comes to that. The other thing at COTA is, as far as I know, there’s only a 50-minute practice and, by the time you do an out lap and an in lap, and do however many laps you’re doing, you’re probably not going to get but maybe eight to nine total laps of practice at the most. It’s going to be really hard to make changes and figure out what kind of works because you’re probably only going to get two or three chances at the absolute most. So, you’re still going to have to unload very quickly from a speed standpoint and a balance standpoint, so it’s going to be hard. I’m glad we’re going to have some practice just, for me, to get back in the rhythm of road-course racing to see what I need. I felt like, at the Daytona road course at the very end of the race, we were pretty good. It just took us three or four adjustments to get to that point, so hopefully, at COTA we can kind of start where we ended Daytona and have some good speed.”
Outside of not having practice each week to get acclimated to the Cup Series car and some of the newer tracks, has there been any other major hurdle that you’ve found difficult to clear?
“I think all of it. It’s all tougher. 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. The competition is a lot tougher. As a rookie, I feel like I get raced a little bit differently than some guys. You’ve got to earn your respect again. You do that in one series and you’re starting over in a sense, so I think, for me, just the competitive side has been the biggest eye-opener. There have been a lot of things that I’ve had to learn to get better at – green-flag pit stops are 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 then now, with no practice, I just show up and in the middle of the race, that’s my first chance to try it and figure out when I need to start braking, and pit road is a lot busier. If you go back to Kansas, I wasn’t hitting my pit sign hardly at all. I was always a couple of feet short or a foot long or whatever, and our pit stops suffered, so I went to pit practice and really tried to focus on that. And then, at Darlington, I made sure I hit my pit sign every time and I think we were the seventh-or-something-best pit crew on pit road. It’s just all of the little details, and when you’re where we are right now and you’re racing in that 15th-place range, speed-wise, those little details are what make the difference in being in the back half of the top-10 or running 20th. The biggest hurdle is just trying to do all the little things right because, you do a couple of those little things wrong, it really adds up quickly.”
When you have those bad days, or off days, how do you keep your confidence and composure?
“It’s certainly tough. I mean, I went from 33 races in the Xfinity Series last year when I went to the racetrack every weekend thinking that I was going to be the guy to beat, and not that you don’t also have that in the Cup Series, but I think you have to have realistic expectations in the beginning. I knew coming into the Cup Series I wasn’t going to win nine races this year. 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 racecar 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, and I just try to judge myself off of my teammates. They’re obviously the closest thing I have to what I’m racing each week and fairly consistently I feel like we’ve been able to be the second-best car, so that’s been the biggest thing for me, just try to be the second-best car week in and week out. Obviously, 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. I feel like from where I was week one to where I’m at right now, I’m a significantly different racecar driver from an experience standpoint, and even a confidence standpoint. That’s where a couple of 11th-place runs as a rookie helps. You know, at Darlington we ran for a while there seventh or eighth place. As I continue to run up there, I gain confidence. All of those things are just going to continue to add up and, once we slowly 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 battle for top-fives, and then eventually we’ll get to the wins.”
Information Heather Griffin, Heather.Griffin@TrueSpeedCommunication.com