A week ago, Chase Briscoe was just four points below the NASCAR Cup Series playoff cut line. Now, if he wants to return to the postseason in 2023, he has a lot more work to do.
On May 31, NASCAR issued its heaviest penalty since the introduction of the Next Gen car against Briscoe’s No. 14 team and Stewart-Haas Racing. After inspecting Briscoe’s Coca-Cola 600 car at its R&D center, NASCAR found that the team had counterfeited a duct to the engine panel, one of the single source supplier parts. As a result, the No. 14 received an L3 penalty, including the loss of 120 points, 25 playoff points, and a $250,000 fine. Crew chief Johnny Klausmeier has also been suspended for six races.
The penalty is a complete embarrassment for SHR. Not only did the No. 14 team flagrantly violate the rules, but whatever advantage it was trying to find failed spectacularly. Briscoe started the race mid-pack but plummeted outside the top 30 in the opening laps. It appeared that the No. 14 team had missed the setup badly, and it spent the whole 600-mile race trying to get back into contention.
Briscoe returned to the lead lap courtesy of two free passes, and some excellent stops by the pit crew put the No. 14 within sight of the top 10 late in the race. But every time the green flag came out, Briscoe fell through the field. He ended a long afternoon in 20th place, exactly where he started.
It’s easy to blame Briscoe’s poor run at Charlotte Motor Speedway solely on a modification gone wrong, but lack of speed on the intermediates and large ovals has been an issue for the No. 14 team for a while. Briscoe’s experience in the Coca-Cola 600 is almost exactly what happened to him at Auto Club Speedway back in February. When the race began, the No. 14 dropped outside the top 30 and got lapped early. Briscoe held on until he could get the free pass, took advantage of some other drivers’ misfortune, and salvaged a 20th-place finish.
Fast forward three months and it feels like the No. 14 team has made no progress from its early season struggles. Sometimes, like at Auto Club or Darlington Raceway a few weeks ago, Briscoe has been able to rally and avoid a bad finish. Other times, like at Las Vegas Motor Speedway or Dover Motor Speedway, Briscoe lost too much ground too early fighting an ill-handling car and was not able to recover. It’s a pattern that has played out time and time again in 2023, and it has cost the No. 14 team a lot of stage points and several good finishes.
Even so, Briscoe was in contention for the playoffs until last week. The No. 14 team scored three consecutive top fives in April, making the most of short tracks, flat tracks, and superspeedways. After a disastrous last five points races plus the penalty, it’s all for naught.
The latest setback came at World Wide Technology Raceway last weekend. Briscoe hit pieces of Carson Hocevar’s exploded brake rotor, punching a hole in the nose of his No. 14 Mustang. The No. 14 crew spent nearly 50 laps behind the wall to fix the damage, and it settled for a 34th-place finish. While this result was due to an accident rather than a slow car, it was Briscoe’s fifth straight points race finish outside the top 15 and third finish during that stretch of 30th or worse.
Briscoe is not the only SHR driver struggling in 2023. My colleague Anthony Damcott rightly pointed out that Briscoe’s issues and the No. 14 team penalty are part of a larger malaise that has gripped SHR in the last year. It feels like there is organizational trouble at SHR and that Tony Stewart, Gene Haas and the team’s other leaders need to get the ship turned around, especially in Briscoe’s case. Briscoe signed a multi-year contract renewal with SHR prior to this season, and the team’s current drivers have expressed confidence that he can grow into a team leader after Kevin Harvick hangs up his helmet.
Yet in a lousy season for SHR, Briscoe’s team may be the most disappointing of all. Harvick keeps chugging along as steadily as ever, third in points and poised to make the postseason for the 14th consecutive season. Aric Almirola and Ryan Preece are having worse seasons overall than Briscoe, but they also had lower expectations. Almirola was originally going to retire at the end of 2022, and nobody expected Preece to challenge for wins and compete for a playoff spot.
Briscoe, on the other hand, earned his first Cup Series win and made the playoffs last year. The No. 14 team was not quite a weekly contender in 2022, but it improved a lot from Briscoe’s rookie year and ran well at a variety of tracks. He even had a surprisingly strong run through the playoffs. When it looked like he would get knocked out early, the No. 14 team rallied and advanced all the way to the third round of the postseason.
Briscoe proved that he can compete for wins and good finishes with the right equipment. The expectation was that he would win again in 2023 and get back to the playoffs. Unless he pulls off an absolute miracle in the next 11 races, his postseason hopes are over.
SHR is supposed to be one of the premier organizations in NASCAR, but the team is letting its drivers down. It’s interesting how Cole Custer got demoted to the NASCAR Xfinity Series in favor of Preece, but Preece still does not have a single top-10 finish through 15 races in 2023. Meanwhile, Custer won the Xfinity Series race at Portland International Raceway last weekend. Considering Briscoe’s lack of speed, Almirola’s fall from playoff contender to irrelevancy, and the fact that Preece has been no better than Custer in the No. 41, the drivers are not the problem.
As Stewart and Haas contemplate the future driver lineup for their team, they should also be making wholesale changes to Briscoe’s team. The No. 14 car’s issues have been a persistent problem all year, and it is completely ridiculous that the team’s only apparent solution was to fake a single source part. Briscoe has what it takes to be a successful Cup Series driver, but he is not capable (at least not yet) of putting a team on his back and elevating its performance like Harvick is. SHR must reexamine how to build a team around Briscoe, or they are setting up the future of their organization for failure.
About the author
Bryan began writing for Frontstretch in 2016. He has penned Up to Speed for the past six years. A lifelong fan of racing, Bryan is a published author and aspiring motorsports historian. He is a native of Columbus, Ohio and currently resides in Southern Kentucky.
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