First, let me get this out of the way: I don’t have a bone to pick with Chase Briscoe. Far from it, in fact.
It was around this time last year that I had the opportunity to interview Briscoe for the first time, and I walked away from our conversation very impressed by his sincerity, humility, and passion for his job as driver of the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford.
I was also thankful that Briscoe — who became a first-time father just a few months earlier — seemed genuinely amused and said he could relate to the chaos in our home when our smoke detector went off right in the middle of the phone interview, forcing me to finish up the conversation outside (this was a first in my nearly 20 years as a journalist, by the way).
So kudos to Briscoe for being a good sport and, as best I can tell, a dedicated competitor and all-around decent human being. The personal respect and affinity that I have for Briscoe don’t make him deserving of the multi-year contract extension he received this past week from Stewart-Haas Racing, however.
And in just a moment, you’ll find out why.
Chase Briscoe’s 2022 season, though an improvement, was no work of art
As a rookie NASCAR Cup Series driver in 2021, Chase Briscoe struggled mightily — as rookies often do — to run up front with any degree of consistency.
But Briscoe’s struggles were more than just a side effect of the almost inevitable growing pains that come with a leap from the NASCAR Xfinity Series to the NASCAR Cup Series, a leap that Briscoe made from 2020 to 2021.
The harsh truth is that Briscoe stunk up the show as a Cup newcomer, posting not a single top-five finish and recording only three top-10s in 36 starts on the way to a 23rd-place points finish. This despite competing for one of the Cup Series’ top teams in Stewart-Haas Racing and driving a car — the No. 14 SHR machine — that his boss, Tony Stewart, wheeled to a Cup Series championship in 2011 and 16 wins in NASCAR’s premier division before handing the wheel over to Clint Bowyer in 2017.
So poor was Briscoe’s performance in Year One as a participant in NASCAR’s top division that he led only 18 laps of the 8,872 laps he completed. These kinds of numbers — if they become a pattern — clearly aren’t going to cut the mustard over the long term at SHR, so Briscoe entered the 2022 season needing to dramatically improve … or else.
Well, improve Briscoe did in 2022. But was it really enough to merit a multi-year contract extension that, in all likelihood, included a notable pay raise?
Stewart-Haas Racing didn’t have to settle for re-signing Chase Briscoe
The 2022 Cup Series season started with a bang for Chase Briscoe as he came flying out of the gate with a career-best third-place finish at the Daytona 500.
Then, over the next several weeks, Briscoe continued to impress, and he even scored Cup Series career victory No. 1 in convincing fashion at Phoenix Raceway in March.
But by the time the early spring and summer rolled around, Briscoe started performing at a very mediocre and sometimes downright poor clip that was reminiscent of his rookie season. How bad was Briscoe? From mid-April through mid-September, he posted all of one top-10 finish and fell as low as 18th in the standings.
Briscoe himself acknowledged this slump on a call with reporters following this past week’s announcement about his contract extension.
“It’s no secret that last year we started the season strong and over the course of the summer was non-existent with the exception of two or three races, and then the playoffs was right back to where we were at the beginning of the year,” Briscoe said. “So, I feel like 99.9 percent of that was me and just not putting good races together. If I had a 15th-place car that given day, I was trying to win the race with a 15th-place car, and at this level, you’re not gonna do that.”
That’s a rather candid and spot-on admission that begs an obvious question: Does Briscoe really deserve a multi-year contract extension with SHR, one of the Cup Series’ better organizations?
As Briscoe alluded to in the above statement, he did turn the corner somewhat in the playoffs, and — due in large part to other playoff drivers’ bad luck — he somehow managed to make it all the way to the Round of 8. But among the 16 original playoff drivers, only one driver finished the season with fewer top-10s than Briscoe. And that one driver — rookie Austin Cindric — more than made up for his dearth of top-10s by winning the Daytona 500.
So are Briscoe’s modest improvements from Year One to Year Two in Cup really enough to justify his contract extension? Probably not, especially when you consider that Ross Chastain, Daniel Suarez, and Alex Bowman are all entering contract years with their respective organizations and could potentially be available for SHR to snatch up ahead of the 2024 season.
Yes, SHR is still going to have one and maybe even two seats to fill for 2024, even with the re-signing of Briscoe, but Briscoe’s numbers over two seasons in the Cup Series suggest that the company led by three-time Cup Series champion Tony Stewart could’ve done a lot better.