Chase Briscoe embraces underdog role through NASCAR Playoffs

Chase Briscoe speaks during NASCAR Cup Series Media Day
Jared C. Tilton
Getty Images

Chase Briscoe is used to proving people wrong. He’s done that most of his career.

So while most might be surprised that he advanced to the Round of 12 in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs, Briscoe is simply enjoying the ride through his first postseason excursion at the sport’s top level.

“I love being in this position truthfully where everybody writes us off,” Briscoe told on Friday. “You know, I’ve been on the other side of it in the Xfinity Series where you’re the championship favorite, and it’s not near as fun. It’s a lot more pressure, I feel like. So for me, I like being in the situation that we’re in where everybody writes us off. They don’t think they even have to worry about us. You know, they’re all counting us out before we even go to the race track. And you can just go there with no pressure and try to prove them wrong.”

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That part has seemingly become habit. When others doubted his potential to advance through the stock-car racing ladder, Briscoe’s perseverance won out, carrying him through ARCA, Camping World Trucks and Xfinity to his dream opportunity in Stewart-Haas Racing’s No. 14 Ford.

“For me, it’s kind of been like that my whole career, you know?” Briscoe said. “Nobody expected me to ever get to this point. Nobody expected I’d make it into the Truck Series. And, you know, we’ve just scratched and clawed and never gave up and it’s kind of the same.”

In 2020, Briscoe was a serious title favorite in the Xfinity Series, rattling off nine wins and qualifying for the Championship 4. But in the season finale at Phoenix, Briscoe finished ninth, last of the playoff drivers, as Austin Cindric claimed the series title. Now in the Cup playoffs as an underdog, Briscoe said this experience has been more enjoyable.

“When you’re on the other side of it, you know, the whole world is relying on you to be there in the Championship 4, be the guy to beat,” Briscoe said. “And whenever something goes wrong, it’s just a total fallout because the expectations are so high from so many people.

“And you know, for us, we have high expectations on our 14 team, but outside of that, we don’t have the pressure of the world telling us that we got to make it to the Championship 4 so I like it better being on this side of it. And hopefully, like I said, can keep proving people wrong.”

Briscoe heads into Sunday’s YellaWood 500 at Talladega Superspeedway (2 p.m. ET, NBC, NBC Sports App, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) eighth in the playoff grid, seven points above the elimination line with two races left in this second round. That cushion toward elimination stemmed from a Tuesday penalty issued to William Byron, who was docked 25 driver and owners points and $50,000 for spinning Denny Hamlin under caution at Texas Motor Speedway. Hendrick Motorsports, which owns Byron’s ride, is appealing the penalty.

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A fifth-place finish at Texas marked Briscoe’s first top-10 result since finishing fourth at Charlotte in May, allowing plenty of room for outside doubt to seep through social media. But whether he’s above or below the elimination line doesn’t matter much to Briscoe heading to Talladega. With pack racing capable of producing a mixed bag of results, the volatility of Sunday’s race weekend provides uncertainty for each driver.

“If we were maybe somewhere other than Talladega, they might feel a bit safer,” Briscoe said. “But I mean, you can lose or gain so many points this week as well. You know, I feel like we still have to go out and try to race the same way. So I mean, if we were going to a mile-and-a-half [track] or something, then it’d probably make me feel a little bit safer just because I feel like you can control a little bit more of your own destiny as far as how many points you gain or lose. But yeah, with it being Talladega, I’m glad we’re above the cut line, but it really doesn’t change anything I don’t feel like for us.”

No championship-eligible driver has won a playoff race yet this season, with Tyler Reddick claiming the win last week at Texas one week after his elimination from the postseason. That could heighten the intensity in the fight for stage points throughout Sunday’s race. Briscoe sits just 15 points behind fourth-place Ryan Blaney entering the contest.

As for strategy? That will depend on where the No. 14 Ford qualifies on Saturday (10:30 a.m. ET, NBC Sports App, MRN).

“If we qualify up front, then you probably have to try to get some points while you can,” Briscoe said. “You know, if you qualify towards the back, then it’d probably change your strategy. The problem is we’ve kind of got to do what all the guys around us in points do. You know, if they all try to ride around in the back, then we probably need to try to ride around in the back. But if they’re all up there trying to mix it up trying to get points, then we need to do the same thing. We just need to try to match what they’re doing.

“So you know, the 20 [Christopher Bell] is probably for sure gonna be going for points. But it’s the 24 [Byron] and the 2 [Cindric] and guys like that, it’s kind of up in the air. But then on the same token, I think we’re only like (18) points out of second place. So you know, if we could go get some stage points that could change a lot of things for us as well. So I don’t know, it’s just a really hard spot to be in.”

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Briscoe has never won at a superspeedway, but advice from Dale Earnhardt Jr. while he was still chasing Xfinity titles proved helpful. The shared philosophy was to try to lead every lap — be the aggressor and be as close to the front as you can be at all times. While that worked in the Xfinity Series and made superspeedways more enjoyable for Briscoe, that hasn’t come as easily in Cup.

“On the Xfinity side, I feel like there was three or four or five of us maybe that understood [superspeedway] racing and how to be aggressive and make moves and block certain runs,” Briscoe said. “Where on the Cup side, there’s 25 of those guys that can do that. So it made it a little bit harder to be aggressive. Just trying to not be the guy that obviously causes the big wreck. And you know truthfully, probably haven’t been the best at trying to be the aggressor in the Cup Series like I was in the Xfinity Series, and I probably need to get a little bit more that direction.

“I don’t know if this weekend we can do that. But I do think I need to probably be a little more aggressive on the superspeedways, just because I haven’t really done that since I got to Cup.”

The Round of 12 comes to a close on Oct. 9 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval, the site of Briscoe’s first Xfinity win in 2018. But whatever advantages Briscoe held over the field on road courses previously now feel diminished with the Next Gen car. What matters most is that he will have a chance to advance to the Round of 8 — featuring Las Vegas, Homestead-Miami and Martinsville — heading into Charlotte.

“This is the one round I was probably the most nervous about,” Briscoe said. “I felt like if we could get through this round, you know, make it to the Round of 8, I feel like the Round of 8 is all really really, good race tracks for me, and ones that I feel like I can go, you know, run up front and potentially win at. So yeah, we just want to make it through this round.”