LAS VEGAS – Almost nothing’s gone right for Stewart-Haas Racing in the last month.
In the last four weeks, the organization has seen two of its NASCAR Cup Series teams — the No. 4 of Kevin Harvick and the No. 41 of Cole Custer — hit with big point penalties and the suspensions of crew chiefs Rodney Childers and Mike Shiplett, with Shiplett’s indefinite.
On top of that one of the team’s engineers, DJ Vanderley, was injured in a micro sprint Outlaw race in September. And in the days before this weekend’s visit to Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the hauler of SHR’s NASCAR Xfinity Series No. 98 team crashed in Arizona on its way to the track.
The penalty against the No. 41 team came after last week’s playoff race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL, when NASCAR reviewed data, video and audio and determined Custer’s team attempted to manipulate the results of the race on the last lap to benefit Chase Briscoe‘s chances of advancing to the Round of 8.
Luckily for Briscoe, the only SHR driver alive in the playoffs, he would have advanced even without the benefits of the alleged manipulation.
“Everything that happened Sunday was out of my control,” Briscoe said Saturday (Oct. 15) at LVMS. “I was trying to make playoff spots. And we were in regardless. Go back to the (race’s final caution) and we’re in by six or seven points. So yeah, just trying to figure out what we need to do to move on to Phoenix.”
The fact that Briscoe, in his second full-time Cup season, is among the last eight drivers is impressive. He’s outlasted teammate Kevin Harvick, defending champion Kyle Larson and Kyle Busch.
But in the middle of a trying time for SHR, Briscoe sees his playoff run as being a “light” for the team.
“It’s been no secret, it’s been a rough couple of weeks as a company, going back to Texas and everything that went on with DJ and then the 98 truck wrecks coming out here,” Briscoe said. “It’s been disappointing. But at the same time, it’s been really encouraging that we’re … in the final eight, have a shot to still win a championship. I think that’s the one thing, if we would have been knocked out, then obviously, the mood would have been pretty bad I would say the whole rest of the season. …
“So glad that we can kind of be that one kind of small light, that we still have a shot and definitely trying to keep the spirits up over there for sure.”
But the next three races will be their own challenge.
Briscoe goes into Sunday’s (Oct. 16) South Point 400 as the last of the eight drivers still with a championship shot. He sits nine points behind the cutoff.
Ahead of him are Ryan Blaney (-3), William Byron (-3) and Denny Hamlin (-5).
“We still got a long way to go till we get (to Phoenix), but this whole thing is unpredictable,” Briscoe said. “Playoffs in any sport you see teams all the time that have not been the greatest in the regular season kind of squeak in and they make this huge run to the playoffs when it matters the most and it’s the team that is the best in the playoffs, not final season, at least in this format and almost every other sports format.
“I feel like we really turned it on in the playoffs. I feel like I’ve been racing my best races throughout the playoffs. It’s just a matter of putting it all together.”
Through the first six playoff races, Briscoe has one top five (Texas Motor Speedway), three tops 10s and an average finish of 13th.
Even though Briscoe crashed out of the spring race at Las Vegas, the Indiana-native feels good about his prospects Sunday, where he’ll start 16th.
Briscoe qualified fourth in the spring and finished eighth in stage one before he was caught up in a crash with Austin Cindric.
“I thought we were really fast,” Briscoe said. “We were gonna have a pretty decent day, I mean, we’re totally opposite of where we were at that point of the season but felt like this is a place statistically that has always been really good to me in all the top three series and it’s a place I enjoy. I feel like it’s kind of rough, you can kind of move around. As a driver, I feel like I can make a little bit of a difference here.”
About the author
Daniel McFadin is a 7-year veteran of the NASCAR media corp. He wrote for NBC Sports from 2015 to October 2020. He's currently a freelancer and lead reporter and editor for Frontstretch. He is also host of the NASCAR show "Dropping the Hammer with Daniel McFadin" on YouTube and in podcast form.
You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Who is a bigger joke NASCRAP and it’s stupid playoffs or SHR and the fact that there are cheaters, NASCAR is now nothing but a waste of time