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NASCAR's Chris Briscoe becomes full-time driver

By Alex Andrejev
The Charlotte Observer/TNS

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Chase Briscoe is back from Myrtle Beach, S.C., where it's become tradition for him and his wife, Marissa, to celebrate the new year before returning to North Carolina ahead of the NASCAR season. This year, though, Briscoe is back to NASCAR with a different title - as a full-time Cup driver for the first time.

The 26-year-old from Mitchell, Ind., is piloting the No. 14 Ford Mustang in place of Clint Bowyer, who's retiring from racing for Fox Sports broadcasting duties this year. Briscoe raced a successful campaign for his Stewart-Haas team last year to become the winning-est driver during the 2020 Xfinity Series season. He capped the year with nine wins.

His tear of a season ended with a ninth-place finish in the championship race at Phoenix. Briscoe, however, said he's not focused on last year's lows, which included highly emotional moments both on and off the track after his family suffered multiple miscarriages in 2020. The driver achieved an iconic victory at Darlington two days after learning about the loss of his first child.

As Briscoe forged ahead then, he said he's remaining focused on what's next now, personally and professionally.

He spoke with the Charlotte Observer about his Cup debut, his winter dirt racing and the lessons he learned in 2020. (This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.)

-  Alex Andrejev: It's been a while since Phoenix. How's the offseason racing and Cup prep going?

-  Chase Briscoe: Cup preparation has been obviously a little bit different because of COVID. We're not really able to go to the shop too much and whenever you do go, the full team's not there, so it's been tough to really get to meet my guys and try to put a name with a face because you can't see their whole face. It's been good, though. I'm really looking forward to just getting to Daytona and seeing where we stack up. I was able to do one dirt race in December, and then I have the Chili Bowl coming up.

- AA: That dirt race was at Millbridge, where you beat some NASCAR guys like Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson. How was that experience?

- CB: I hadn't raced any (dirt) since last year's Chili Bowl, so for me, just to go there and get some laps in was huge. And then obviously to see Chase have his first start on dirt, and to race against Kyle, it was a good tune-up. I feel like we learned a lot about our car for Chili Bowl and hopefully it'll correlate over.

- AA: Do you feel like that type of racing transitions into NASCAR? Or is it just so different on dirt?

- CB: It's just so different. I think still getting to race anything certainly helps, but it's definitely night and day. There aren't a lot of things that are similar, but just getting to race helps more than anything.

- AA: It seems like there are a lot of NASCAR names entered for this year's Chili Bowl. You've done this race a bunch, so do you see it as something that's growing?

- CB: The last couple years it hit 300 cars, and the next year it hit 315, and then 330 and 340 and you always think there's no way it's going to get any bigger and it just continues to do that. This year I think the biggest one is obviously with Chase (Elliott) coming and running. To have the defending Cup champion run that race is a huge thing. With COVID there's not going to be the sold-out crowd that there normally is, but it's still going to be the same great racing and intensity and atmosphere. I wish that for Chase's first year doing it we could have the full amount of people there that we normally would, but I think every year it continues to grow. It seems like the last six or seven years it's kind of taken on thing of its own, and everybody's starting to get more involved with it and a lot more eyes have gotten on it. So I think having more guys like Chase helps.

- AA: Is he the guy to beat this year as the defending champion?

- CB: Obviously he's going to be really good. He's going to be a guy to beat almost week in and week out, but  you never know what teams are going to find something and what teams might lose something. They've got some changes at Hendrick. Every team is going through changes constantly and you never know who's going to be that next team to hit on something and who will be the guy to beat. But Chase is obviously a phenomenal race car driver with a really good team, and they're going to be fast regardless. It's hard to say who's going to be the favorite for the championship, but rest assured he's going to be good to be able to click off a few wins.

- AA: I understand you'll be working with (Clint Bowyer's former crew chief) Johnny Klausmeier. What's your familiarity with him?

- CB: I've never worked with Johnny up until the past two months. I had never really been around him much other than when we would have a shop get together and speak for a couple minutes, but what little conversations we've had, I feel like we've really kind of hit it off. We're kind of the same mindset and demeanor, so I think it's going to be a good pairing. It's hard to say until you get going.

- AA: Is it the same crew as last year's 14 team, barring the spotter (not yet named)?

- CB: Yeah, as far as I know the team is the exact same team that Clint had last year, personnel-wise. I didn't know those guys before I came over there this year because Cup and Xfinity teams deal in two different buildings, so it's been a lot of new faces for me to learn, but as far as I know, it's the exact same team.

- AA: The schedule is pretty different this year. What changes are you most excited about?

- CB: It goes well for me for the beginning of the year with the exception of Daytona. The Daytona road course, and then Homestead and Vegas are really good tracks for me. You've got the Bristol dirt race early, so I think it should be good, but you never really know until you get going.

- AA: Looking back, the Xfinity season probably didn't end how you wanted it to. Is there any lingering disappointment from that or does it give you more motivation going into Cup?

- CB: I've certainly moved on. There's nothing you can do about it now, but you always wish you didn't have a missed opportunity like that after having the year we had. You would have loved to have won nine races and won the championship, but there's nothing we can do about that so I'm just focusing on Cup. Winning an Xfinity Championship isn't gonna define my career. I'm just focusing on being the best I can be, and hope we learn from it and move on.

- AA: How are you feeling about the Cup jump overall? Nerves or no pressure?

- CB: There's certainly pressure. It's just hard to say where you're going to stack up until you go and do it. For the most part, I've raced against a lot of these guys, but it's totally different. I'm coming into their territory now, so it's gonna be hard. It's gonna be a huge jump. I'm looking forward to it. I think it's gonna definitely be a learning year, a trying year, but one that I'm really looking forward to. I wish that we could have practice week-in and week-out, but we're not going to, so everybody's gonna be on the same playing field and we'll just have to figure it out.

- AA: What were some of your biggest lessons or takeaways from 2020, either from a personal or professional standpoint? I know it was a tough year for your family.

- CB: I think the biggest thing is just that anything can change in the blink of an eye. Who would've thought that we would run all those races without practice, going to new racetracks? I think that experience is gonna be huge going forward. Everybody's on the same playing field and the teams know what they've got now. So I think all of that will certainly help. And then I just learn a lot about myself, and hopefully we can move forward and I can just be a better person and a better race car driver. There was a lot of stuff that went on that I never dreamed about or thought about. Going through (the miscarriages) as a family and as a couple, I think we really grew a lot. So I'm taking those experiences and just trying to become better because of it.

Driver Chase Briscoe waits on the grid prior to the NASCAR Xfinity Series Desert Diamond Casino West Valley 200 at Phoenix Raceway on Nov. 7, 2020, in Avondale, Ariz.