Flashback to 2017 and Chase Briscoe just advanced into the Chili Bowl Midget Nationals A-Main for the first time in his second attempt.
This was supposed to be the start of something special. Instead, he found himself upside down, on his lid and out of the race 15 laps later.
Okay, but there’s always next year to improve on it, right?
“We were terrible,” Briscoe said, having not escaped the E-Main.
Alright, so maybe that’s just an aberration.
Well, one year after that Briscoe missed the main event by one spot in his B-Main and the exact same scenario played out last year too.
Good lord. What gives?
“It’s been a bit of a gut punch for sure,” Briscoe said. “You know, that first year I made the race, Rico (Abreu) spins right in front of me, I’m like ninth and I flipped, so I didn’t even get to experience the feature …
“In ‘19, I missed it by one spot but you’re excited because you were right there, so you go back the next year and you miss it by one spot again. You feel devastated because you’ve had to sit a whole year to get another shot at it. So hopefully this year, we can make the race and run a little bit better.”
Upon completing a nine-win NASCAR Xfinity Series season that earned him a Cup Series opportunity with Stewart-Haas Racing, Briscoe was able to shake down his new Spike chassis in a pair of invitational races at Millbridge Speedway in North Carolina.
“We definitely had speed,” Briscoe said.
In an 11-car field that also included Kyle Larson, Canon McInrosh, Nick Drake, CJ Leary, Carson Kvapil and NASCAR Cup Series champion Chase Elliott, Briscoe won and finished third.
But Briscoe had to work for it, his set-ups with his previous cars not working for the Salisbury bullring during hot laps. Complicating matters is that he dealt with engine gremlins. Better that weekend than this week, right?
At Millbridge all day on the actual race day, we weren’t very good until that first feature,” Briscoe said. “We just kind of threw a Hail Mary to see if we could get it to respond the way we wanted it to and it got way better.
“So, we’re just going to go more of that direction for the Chili Bowl. Obviously, it’s a much different racetrack. It’s flat and you carry a lot more speed around that place, so there’s definitely some differences.
“But we’re close package wise and I’m looking forward to seeing where we stack up.”
At Chili Bowl, each of the 300-plus drivers have their own individual preliminary day, Monday-Friday. The top two finishers from each night’s main event advances into the Saturday feature. The further back a driver finishes on their prelim night is the further back a driver has to come to make the A-Main.
Briscoe races on Monday and it currently appears like one of the paths of least resistance to a main event berth. That race has USAC National Champion Chris Windom and national contenders Zach Daum, Tyler Courtney and David Gravel, but looks to be the lightest schedule of all five days.
At the end of the day, and the week, it comes down to Briscoe looking towards Kyle Larson and Christopher Bell and how to replicate their success over the past half-decade.
“Those guys are both phenomenal race car drivers in the first place,” Briscoe said. “I think the other thing that a lot of people overlook is that Keith Kunz, Chad Boat and Clauson all race 50 to 60 races a year and they have 5-10 cars every race.
“They just have a massive notebook and that allows them to continually experiment with stuff. My team races once a year so it’s just really hard to nail the set-up. That’s where we’ve struggled the most.
“Every time we go on the racetrack, we’re trying to change the setup to try to figure something out for the next race, where those guys kind of know, you know, a notebook of, of what works and what doesn’t work.”
More than anything else, Briscoe just wants a mistake-free week, and that’s the been the difference the past three frustrating trips to Tulsa.
“I just feel like every year we just shoot ourselves in the foot at least one time on the race track every week,” Briscoe said. “And it’s normally our prelim night feature and that’s the time you really need to be on it.
“So I don’t know. We’ll see what we’ve got. Our preliminary night is tough and this is the one year I’ve raced the least amount of time on dirt, so that’s been a challenge, too. But we’re going to go there and have fun and just try to do the best we can. “
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