AVONDALE – From an appearance on the Peak Stock Car Dream Challenge in 2013 to four years of work in NASCAR’s two lower national circuits, Chase Briscoe spent plenty of time waiting for a chance to race in the Cup Series. He finally got it in 2021 and won the Rookie of the Year award despite minimal success in the overall season.
What Briscoe has wanted all along since his humble beginnings and days when his racing career was in peril, though, was not just a chance to compete in NASCAR’s highest level but a chance to win.
He saw his hard work pay off with his first career Cup Series win at Phoenix Raceway. In the process of capturing the Ruoff Mortgage 500, he made history as the 200th winner in the Cup Series.
Afterward, he thought of his dad, Kevin, who raced sprint cars for over two decades and was there to watch the victory.
“Without him being that hard on me growing up, I definitely wouldn’t be the race car driver I am today,” Briscoe said. “A lot of dads sugarcoat it and tell their kids that they’re the best and they’re not doing anything wrong, and my dad was the opposite. He was always hard on me and always was not afraid to get into my rear end and honestly, I’m glad that he did it that way.”
Early on Sunday, Briscoe showed his strength by passing Joey Logano for his first lead of the day at lap 33. That lead lasted 19 laps before William Byron took the lead on a restart. He went on to win stage one.
From there, Ryan Blaney and Chase Elliott took over as the two dominant cars throughout the day. The two led 164 consecutive laps from the start of stage two until Briscoe passed Elliott with a brilliant restart.
It was then Briscoe’s turn to become the dominant driver. He commanded the race for the next 58 laps, keeping his competitors in the rearview mirror. The run was so long that a fuel-mileage race, a race in which having enough gas in the tank is key to victory, was within the realm of possibilities.
Any fear of that were taken out by trouble from Erik Jones coming out of turn two with 27 laps remaining.
All day, Briscoe’s team, and every other team, was inferior to Elliott’s pit crew. However, Briscoe’s team took advantage of a longer-than-usual stop from Elliott to win the race off pit road.
“Today, those guys carried us,” John Klausmeier, Briscoe’s crew chief, said of the team’s pit crew. “With this new car, everyone’s figuring out the single lug(nut) and how the be the fastest doing it and they did a great job at it.”
Briscoe fought off a valiant charge from Ross Chastain to maintain the lead off the ensuing restart. From there, Briscoe looked like he was going to drive away with the win. Tyler Reddick, his next-closest competitor, was in the rear view mirror with plenty of distance.
Any leading racer’s nightmare – the caution flag – came next when Elliott spun in the backstretch with just seven laps left.
None of the leaders came to pit road, and the stage was set for a four-lap shootout between Briscoe and Tyler Reddick on the front row.
On the ensuing restart, Briscoe handled the situation with class, defending his leading position and charging away with the victory.
“I’m glad, obviously now sitting here that that’s the way it was because you definitely had to go earn it,” Briscoe said while looking back on the end of the race. “This place is crazy on restarts with the dogleg and everything else and there’s a lot of unknown variables. My spotter did an incredible job on those restarts to be aggressive and clear and ultimately, that’s what won us the race.”
For Klausmeier, Sunday’s win is the payoff for a year of disappointments in 2021.
“Last year was a tough year,” Klausmeier said. “We didn’t make the playoffs. It was a struggle as a company and everything. We knew this was a reset for our side too. Having Chase’s confidence up and being able to win with him is super special.”
Briscoe’s journey from sprint cars to his climb up NASCAR’s national series has been filled with twists and turns along the way. Plenty of people, from team members to sponsors, have helped him get to a ride in the Cup Series, let alone his first-ever series win on Sunday.
For Briscoe, no one has been more paramount to his journey than his dad, who gave him humbling words when it was necessary along the way.
“He came up to me in victory lane and gave me a hug and he had tears in his eyes,” Briscoe said.
Any initial breakthrough can be considered memorable. For some, it kickstarts Hall of Fame careers. For others, it’s an experience that never happened again.
Briscoe’s breakthrough, even if he does not get to experience the thrill of a Cup Series victory again, is the culmination of a journey that may have ended at multiple destinations but yet did not, thanks to the right people at the right time.