To Chase Briscoe, it’s all too clear that Stewart-Haas Racing’s performance is off right now in the NASCAR Cup Series.
Last weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway, the highest-finishing SHR driver was Kevin Harvick in 10th. But Harvick spent most of the day complaining about his Ford Mustang and fighting to get back on the lead lap. And at one point during the afternoon, none of the four SHR cars were on the lead lap.
Harvick’s crew chief, Rodney Childers, acknowledged last week that how NASCAR is inspecting cars this year has affected some in the garage. Childers explained that with some rule changes and new templates officials are using, it’s changed the shape of the rear wheel openings.
“Just to be frank, it knocked 70 counts of downforce off the cars,” said Childers, “and when you knock that amount of downforce off, especially when it mainly comes off the rear, it just completely messes up your aero balance.”
Briscoe didn’t drive a Cup Series car last year, so it’s hard for him to tell the difference or speak to the rule changes. Briscoe is just six races into his Cup Series career, and his best finish is an 18th place at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
“It just seems like our cars don’t have the raw speed of the other cars, and they just don’t drive very good right now either,” Briscoe said. “I know there’s definitely a concern in our company. Our competition meetings have been very intense the last couple of weeks; we’re definitely going to figure this deal out and try to figure out what’s going on and get another direction on it. I think you’re going to see a difference here in the upcoming weeks for sure, just because there are so many smart people here at SHR.
“I was talking to a couple of guys the other day, and this has happened to our company before where we’ve struggled and had to reinvent the wheel and get back to something and figure it out. I think that’s the same thing here. For me, I think the encouraging thing is as a company, we’ve struggled — it’s not encouraging that we’re struggling, but for me to struggle to even run inside the top 20, and then you look at my teammates, and they’re kind of right there with me. For me, at least, that’s good. It’s different if I’d be running 25th and Kevin was winning every race, but as a company, we’re just off right now. I know we’re going to get it turned around, and hopefully, we get it turned around soon.”
The No. 14 Ford has had some promising outings. At Phoenix two weeks ago, Briscoe thought he could run seventh or eighth, but it was another weekend where they didn’t execute. The results have reflected those issues.
“Obviously, we need to turn it around quick, or we’re going to be in a must-win situation fairly early,” Briscoe said of the playoffs. “We’re almost already to that point.”
This weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway is an opportunity race for Briscoe. The Cup Series will run on dirt for the first time since 1970, and Briscoe has experience in that area. As will also be the case at the Indianapolis road course later this year, Briscoe is hopeful that experience advantage will lead to a much-needed good run and momentum booster.
It didn’t take long for Briscoe to realize that competing in the Cup Series is a different level of challenge after having dominated in the Xfinity Series. In the Cup Series, the field is much deeper and the cars much better, and it’s a lesson Briscoe is already passing on.
In Atlanta, Austin Cindric made his second start in the Cup Series. Hours before the race, Briscoe told Cindric it would be the most frustrating day of his life. The reason, Briscoe explained, is that Cindric was going to race as hard as he can, run a great race, but when asking his team where he is in the running order, be told that he’s 25th.
“He came up to me right after the race and said, ‘Man, you aren’t kidding. I asked them about halfway through what position I was in, and I was 25th,’” related Briscoe. “It’s just crazy how you race so hard, and you’re 20th to 25th place. It’s just really tough in the Cup Series for sure.”
The added struggles overall of the company isn’t helping Briscoe overcome the challenges of adapting to the series either.
“It’s tough,” he said. “It’s only been six races, so trying to keep that in perspective. It’s just the Cup Series is so hard; everybody is so good. I just try to keep in perspective that Chase Elliott is our last champion, and it took him nearly 100 races to get a win, so just trying to remember it’s not going to come right away. Every rookie, I feel like, struggles a little bit and it takes time to get your feet underneath you.
“I feel like I’ve learned so much over these first six races I know I’m going to be twice the race car driver in another six races, and then by the end of the year, it’s going to be an incredible growth. So, I just gotta try to learn as much as I can here early. But it’s definitely frustrating not even to say we have a top 10 (finish) right now or even a top 15.”