LAS VEGAS – “Help us, Chase Briscoe. You’re our only hope.”
These are the cries of Stewart-Haas Racing employees, teammates and fans across the nation. It has not been a gleeful start of autumn at the North Carolina shop.
During the week after Talladega Superspeedway, Kevin Harvick was issued an L2 penalty after their car was taken to NASCAR’s Research and Development arena where an illegally modified part was discovered.
That resulted in a four-race suspension for crew chief Rodney Childers along with a $100,000 fine. Harvick and SHR were both issued a 100 point penalty in the driver’s and owner’s championship standings.
The following week at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval, Cole Custer was docked 50 driver points and fined $100,000, along with a 50 owner’s point deduction. Crew chief Mike Shiplett was also fined $100,000, but placed on indefinite suspension for violating Section 5.5 of the NASCAR Cup Series Rule Book: failing to race at 100% of their ability “with the goal of achieving the best possible finishing position in the Event.”
Team co-owner Tony Stewart was livid about the penalties, to say the least.
“I am not going to talk about it. I am so mad at NASCAR right now, I am not talking about it,” Stewart said, when asked about his thoughts on the penalties.
The discouraging trends continued into the west coast. During transport to Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the hauler of the NASCAR Xfinity Series No. 98 car of Riley Herbst crashed along Interstate 40 near Flagstaff, Arizona. SHR issued a statement on Wednesday, noting that the “the rig was damaged,” but “the hauler and its contents appeared relatively unscathed.”
Once at the track, NASCAR gave the team an extra six hours before practice and qualifying to examine the cars to ensure nothing was significantly damaged or needed replacement. One of the occupants in the hauler was taken to a local hospital for further treatment and evaluation, but was later released with no serious injuries reported.
But there may be some light at the end of the tunnel.
Chase Briscoe has advanced into the Round of 8, and after winning earlier this year at Phoenix Raceway, is viewed as the dark horse that could spoil the championship hunt if he can draw a golden ticket in the next three weekends.
“It’s obviously been very disappointing,” Briscoe shared with media on Saturday. “But at the same time, it’s been really encouraging that we’re in the Final 8 and still have a shot at the championship. If we would have been knocked out, the mood would have been pretty bad the rest of the season. There is a lot still to focus on with a shot at the championship, so that is the one positive that is going for us as a company. But it has been a rough couple of weeks. Going back to Texas, with everything that happened with DJ (VanderLey), and then the 98 truck wrecks coming out here.
“It’s just really been a tough couple weeks for Stewart-Haas Racing, but I’m glad that we can be that one small light in all that we still have a shot. Trying to keep up our spirits.”
And that one small light has led to a chance at becoming a NASCAR Cup Series Champion, a crown that Briscoe doesn’t take lightly. It’s also a title that Briscoe doesn’t carry in any of NASCAR’s top touring series.
His only national title came in 2016 when he was crowned the ARCA Menards Series champion driving for Cunningham Motorsports. But the lack of titles in his resume compared to others left alive in the Playoffs doesn’t faze him one bit.
“Just the fact that you’re a Cup champion changes your life forever,” Briscoe declared. “I haven’t visually seen it, more just thought about the fact that I have a 1-in-8 shot. At the beginning of the year, you had a 1-in-40 shot, and now it’s down to 1-in-8. I’m looking forward to the opportunity and gonna make the most of it. It’s never a guarantee that you get back to this position in your entire career. There’s a lot of guys that have never been into the Round of 8. To be able to be one of those guys that are this close is surreal.”
The dreaming is over and the challenge awaits. Briscoe is aware of the Everest mountain ahead of him. Despite the intimidations of climbing an even steeper slope, he’s deciding to stick with the basics that have gotten him to this position.
“You just have to perform at your best,” he explained. “Strategy-wise, you can’t eliminate yourself. Before, I think you could have one bad race and make up for it, but in this round, I don’t think you can have a bad race at all. You almost have to be in a must-win from the get go. I think the biggest thing for us is to maximize stage points. When you look at the difference maker, a lot of the time of moving on and advancing are the stage points.
“We just need to put the whole thing together, and if we can do that, the cars are what they are.”
Knowing your current situation is step one, then understanding the obstacles follows closely after. Amid all of the chaos floating around SHR, focusing on the task at hand is simply what Briscoe is trying to unravel.
“I don’t feel like I’m in the middle of any controversy. I’m just trying to figure out what I got to do to move on to Phoenix.”