Chase Briscoe is feeling a tad nostalgic this week.
That’s due to the 24-year-old Xfinity Series driver being in the midst of a rather busy three-races-in-eight-days schedule of racing, or at least busy for someone who competes full-time in a national NASCAR series.
The Stewart-Haas Racing driver is four days removed from competing in and winning the Xfinity race at Iowa Speedway for his first win of the year.
Thursday, he will set out with ThorSport Racing to defend last year’s victory in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series’ Eldora Dirt Derby in Rossburg, Ohio.
Regardless of whether he’s successful, he’ll then journey to Watkins Glen, New York, for his first career race on the Watkins Glen International road course Saturday in the Xfinity Series (5 p.m. ET on NBC).
“It kind of takes me back to the dirt days where I’d run three or sometimes even four races in a week,” Briscoe told NBC Sports. “That’s the hard part, I think, about the NASCAR schedule is you don’t get to race a lot. At least compared to the dirt stuff. … They’re all definitely three different styles of race tracks. As a driver I love it. It’s kind of what it’s all about, getting to jump around in different disciplines and different types of tracks and just try to figure it out.”
Here’s how Briscoe learned or is learning to race on all three tracks:
If you were aware of Briscoe’s history, you may not have been surprised at how Saturday’s Xfinity race played out between him and Christopher Bell, with Briscoe coming out on top after a 17-lap battle.
It wasn’t the first time the two drivers have fought it out on the .875-mile short track.
While they’ve competed on the track together in real life four times in the Xfinity and Truck Series, their battles there date back a decade in the virtual world.
“It started out we would race ‘rFactor’ together,” Briscoe recalled. “It was a dirt game on the computer. It transitioned to iRacing. Our favorite thing to do on iRacing is we always ran Iowa. It was always the best track on there. It was the only pavement track you could throw slide jobs on. So we would always run it. It’s funny how tendencies and how guys race on there correlates over to real life. I feel like there’s some things I know, not every time Bell does what I think he’s going to do, but there’s a lot of times I feel like I kind of choose the right scenario of what he’s going to do and it works out.”
Those years of throwing virtual slide jobs paid off for Briscoe when he successfully pulled one off on Bell in Turns 1 and 2 with six laps to go.
Briscoe admits Bell is one of, if not the hardest, drivers to execute the maneuver on in the Xfinity Series.
“Him and Tyler Reddick,” Briscoe says. “Just because they both grew up dirt racing and understand the principle of it.”
Of their virtual racing day, Briscoe says “it was kind of cool to kind of live that back and a couple of years later go from racing online at the place to it working in real life and getting a win.”
Briscoe has plenty of experience racing on dirt tracks across the country in sprint cars and midgets. He’s still a relative newcomer to pavement racing, having only committed to it in 2013 at the age of 18.
“It’s hard to put in perspective that (teammate) Cole (Custer) has more Xfinity starts than I have pavement starts,” Briscoe says.
But in 2017, his lone full-time season in the Truck Series, Briscoe first experienced the NASCAR race where those two worlds collide: the Eldora Dirt Derby.
Driving for Brad Keselowski Racing, Briscoe entered the race thinking he “was going to set the world on fire.”
He very quickly discovered he was in over his head.
Twice in the first five laps of practice he spun his No. 29 truck.
“I was just on the gas, wide-open trying to drive like a sprint car,” Briscoe says.
Off the track, Briscoe sat in his truck when track owner and his future team owner, Tony Stewart, approached.
“Oh, this is cool, Tony’s going to come say something,” Briscoe thought.
“He just leaned down and kind of got onto me about how I got to quit driving so hard, how it’s not a sprint car,” Briscoe says. “Not that I looked like an idiot, but pretty much was saying I got to calm down. That kind of opened up my eyes.”
It took one more mistake for Briscoe to heed Stewart’s warning.
“I almost flipped the thing,” Briscoe says. “I was trying to throw a slide job and did it like a sprint car again and it carried way too much speed.”
Briscoe got things together enough to finish third that night. A year later, he would lead 53 of 154 laps to claim the win.
What has he learned about what it takes to handle a truck and win on dirt?
“You’ve got to kind of drive them like a pavement car with really, really old tires,” Briscoe says. “There’s a little bit of dirt stuff that kind of goes in, like reading the race track and trying to find extra grip. It’s like trying to drive on corded tires all the way around on pavement would be the easiest way to put it.”
Briscoe’s attempted defense of his 2018 win will come under different circumstances than last year. While he was competing part-time in the Xfinity Series, he took part in 25-30 sprint races throughout the year.
But Thursday’s race will be his first on dirt since he competed in the Chili Bowl in January.
“I’m going to be pretty rusty if I had to guess the first couple of laps,” Briscoe says. “But it’s going to be like riding a bike I would think. … I think the guys that run a truck every week have a little bit of an advantage, but at the same time I’ve been running a heavy stock car all year long. I feel like that will help a little bit too.”
Should he knock off enough rust and win, he’ll be the first driver to capture the Derby twice. It would be a significant accomplishment for the Indiana native who grew up attending races at Eldora.
“I don’t think it’s a big record by any means, but it means a lot to me.”
Watkins Glen International
Like a handful of tracks this year, Briscoe has never traversed the road course in New York.
But Briscoe, who has competed in IMSA for Ford and won the Xfinity race on the Charlotte Roval last year, says it should have similar characteristics to other road courses he’s experienced.
“Pretty much every other road course I’ve ever ran you kind of have to get up on the wheel and you’re slipping and sliding around,” Briscoe says.
But he won’t show up in the garage Friday unprepared. He’s already spent extensive time in Ford’s simulator making laps around the Glen and watching on-board camera footage.
While in Eldora Briscoe plans to ask for advice on the track from Stewart, a five-time winner there. He’ll also lean on his teammate, Custer.
But like those tracks he’s visited for the first time this year, such as New Hampshire Motor Speedway, he’ll seek out the guidance of one of the most accomplished active Cup drivers: Kevin Harvick.
“That’s the nice thing about Stewart-Haas, we have a lot of really good race car drivers, a lot of guys have a ton of experience and they’re all open books,” Briscoe says.
But Harvick is the SHR Cup driver he turns to the most for guidance.
“He’s always been super good to me and always been willing to help,” Briscoe says. “The biggest thing is like braking points and things to look for. … I don’t really even know where the proper place to lift is or whatever. He’s really good at doing visual markers and using those. … He’s really good at being able to tell you what you need to try to work on for practice … so (the car will) race really good.”