Rookies had extra challenges in the past two years as NASCAR instituted restrictive weekend schedules designed to allow for greater social distancing during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. It is likely not a coincident that two of Chase Briscoe's three top-10s last year came in debut races on new tracks. It may yet turn out to be equally unsurprising that his three best finishes came on road courses.
A lack of seat time was not the only hurdle that Briscoe was forced to clear. Moving into a car in which Clint Bowyer scored two wins, 24 top-fives, and 59 top-10s in four seasons gave him moderately large shoes to fill. A team accustomed to earning about 15 top-10s a year would have loved to get 10 with their rookie – and would have settled for anything above five.
Briscoe also had increased expectations from the 2020 freshmen class in which Cole Custer won a race, Tyler Reddick earned the most unadjusted points with a best finish of second at Texas Motor Speedway, and Christopher Bell also scored a pair of top-five finishes. After all, those drivers faced the same challenges as Briscoe with COVID-19 protocols.
The real challenge for Briscoe was likely out of his control. After struggling through the 2020 playoffs, the entire Stewart-Haas Racing organization was numb at the start of the season. Kevin Harvick won nine races in 2020 and would go winless in 2021. Custer had only two top-10s last year with an average finish of 21.3. The only driver to make the playoffs by benefit of his New Hampshire Motor Speedway win, Aric Almirola did not fare much better with an average of 19.9.
Briscoe likely performed as well as could be expected under the circumstances and his 2022 ranking is based on his on-track performance and perseverance. Road courses are drivers' tracks, so it is not unremarkable that his three top-10s came on these courses. Briscoe even challenged for the win on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course by keeping his car undamaged as veterans retired left and right.
Ultimately, it was a rookie mistake that cost him the win. Briscoe was black flagged for a restart violation before the final run to the checkers. When he did not head the flag, NASCAR stopped scoring him and he finished 26 after spinning the leader, Denny Hamlin, out of his way. Before the season was over, several other mid-pack drivers would show the same aggressiveness where playoff contenders were concerned, so it's notable that Briscoe fit the mold.
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His season would be considered a much bigger success if Briscoe had been able to convert three 11th-place finishes into top-10s. On a wide variety of tracks, Talladega Superspeedway, Darlington Raceway, and Michigan International Speedway, he narrowly missed the mark. Briscoe also finished 13th on the Bristol Motor Speedway paved short track, which buoys his reputation as a rough track driver.
Toward the end of 2021, Harvick finally came on strong – and a rising tide lifts every boat in the harbor. If this organization gets things turned around in 2022, Briscoe will beat this prediction and as a result will be relevant to both bettors and gamers as traders and cap managers struggle to catch up to his potential.
Three Best Tracks *
Talladega (12.5 in 2 attempts)
Darlington (15.0 in 2)
Las Vegas (17.5 in 2)
Three Worst Tracks *
Phoenix (28.5 in 2)
Martinsville (24.5 in 2)
Pocono (22.5 in 2)
Victories: None (Best finish: sixth, Road America & COTA)
Top-fives: 0 (.000)
Top-10s: 3 (.083)
Top-15s: 11 (.306)
Top-20s: 19 (.528)
2021 Finishes at or above rank = 29 (80.6%)
* Active tracks with two or more starts