Briscoe races to first Cup win, pulls away late in Phoenix
By DAVID BRANDT
AVONDALE, Ariz. (AP) Chase Briscoe jumped out of his car and was obviously emotional, kneeling by his No. 14 for a few seconds before a couple voice cracks during his postrace television interview.
The 27-year-old Briscoe took his lumps last season as a NASCAR Cup Series rookie. Now, he's a winner.
"It's unbelievable - I was crying the whole last lap," Briscoe said.
Briscoe raced to his first Cup Series victory, executing two great restarts over the final 20 laps to pull away from Ross Chastain and Tyler Reddick on Sunday at Phoenix Raceway. Briscoe's childhood idol was NASCAR great Tony Stewart and the Indiana native now drives Stewart's car for Stewart-Haas Racing.
Briscoe channeled some of Stewart's late-race moxie during an intense battle between three drivers who had never won in the Cup Series. It's more evidence of the parity across the series in the Next Gen cars, with four drivers winning the first four races this season.
Chastain and Reddick - both driving Chevrolets - made things interesting over the final laps but Briscoe's Ford was simply too strong. On the final restart with four laps left, the 27-year-old Briscoe started on the inside, dipped low on the dogleg apron, and was able to hold off the rest of the field.
Briscoe was one of the top drivers in the Xfinity Series in 2019 and 2020 before getting the invitation from Stewart-Haas Racing to take over the No. 14. He had just three top 10s as a rookie and finished 23rd in the season standings.
But got off to a good start this season with a third-place finish at Daytona in February.
Now, a victory.
"You get humbled really quickly in the Cup Series and learn just how good everybody is," Briscoe said. "These guys, even who are running 30th, are some of the best race car drivers in the world. You learn really quickly you've got to go to work and figure it out."
Briscoe - who said Phoenix was one of his least-favorite tracks before his Sunday success - acknowledged there were some white-knuckle moments late, especially on the restarts.
Even though he didn't get the win, it was a breakthrough for Chastain's TrackHouse Racing team. Chastain credited crew chief Phil Surgen for providing him with a car that was comfortable running up front.
"He gave me exactly what I needed," Chastain said. "We came up one spot short. But I'm so happy."
Reddick's been among the fastest drivers in the Cup Series all season but fell just short of his first win. He battled leg numbness in the Next Gen car over the first few weeks but didn't appear to have any problems Sunday. He's had two straight top 10 finishes after finishing seventh at Las Vegas last week.
Ryan Blaney started on the pole and dominated the first half of the race, winning the second stage after leading 138 of the first 185 laps. He settled for fourth. Kurt Busch was fifth.
Kyle Larson won the series championship last year after a fall victory at Phoenix, but engine trouble ended his day early. He finished 34th. It was the end of a frustrating day for Larson, who qualified seventh but had to move to the rear of the starting grid because of unapproved steering wheel changes.
Harrison Burton (unapproved adjustments) and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (engine) also started from the back.
BUSCH TAKES THE PLUNGE
One of the hot topics before the race was how much drivers would use the 110-foot wide apron on Phoenix Raceway's dogleg turn.
Most said they would wait to see how others fared with the Next Gen car. The waiting didn't take long: Kyle Busch plunged down onto the apron on the opening few laps, picking up some spots in the process. From that point forward, it was business as usual with several cars on the apron, particularly on restarts.
STEWART'S BIG DAY
Tony Stewart's team not only won a Cup Series race on Sunday, but also was victorious in drag racing.
Three-time Funny Car season champion Matt Hagan gave Tony Stewart Racing its first NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series win in the Gatornationals in Gainesville, Florida. Briscoe said he briefly talked to Stewart by phone after his win in Phoenix.
"He was pretty excited," Briscoe said. "You could hear dragsters going off in the background. I just told him, `Thank you.'"
HARVICK IN TOP 10, AGAIN
Veteran Kevin Harvick - who has won nine times in Phoenix - couldn't find victory lane Sunday. But he did finish in sixth place, which was his 18th straight top 10 at the track.
That tied Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt for the most top 10s in a row at one track.
ODDS AND ENDS
There was a planned competition caution at Lap 25, which was about halfway through the first stage. Hamlin, Blaney, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Michael McDowell were all penalized for speeding on pit road during the caution. ... William Byron won stage one, which was 60 laps. It was his ninth career stage win. ... Martin Truex Jr., who won last season's Phoenix spring race, finished 35th after a flat tire caused him to smack the wall in Turn 2. ... The final restart in each of the four Cup races this season has come with four or fewer laps remaining. ... Briscoe is the Cup Series' 200th winner.
UP NEXT: Now that the annual three-week West Coast swing is over, the series moves back across the country to Atlanta Motor Speedway next weekend.
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Updated March 13, 2022