They say when one door closes, another one opens, but in Chase Briscoe's case, it was another door opening that led to the biggest opportunity of his young career. When Clint Bowyer had the opportunity to join the FOX broadcast booth for the 2021 season, that left the seat in his No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing machine open. And with Briscoe having a breakout season for SHR in the Xfinity Series, it wasn't long before he was invited to team owner Tony Stewart's house to meet with potential sponsors for the new season.
Except there was no sponsor to woo; the deal was done, and Stewart presented Briscoe with the proverbial keys to his brand-new Cup ride.
It was bound to happen eventually; Briscoe was tearing up NASCAR's second series with a nine-win 2020 season in which he topped the series in wins and laps led and was second in average finish. HighPoint, Briscoe's Xfinity sponsor, has enough faith in the youngster to step up with him to the Cup Series, a major piece of the equation. It'll bring the company more exposure, but the Cup Series is expensive, so that's a huge vote of confidence for the 26-year-old.
Driving for SHR doesn't come without a certain amount of pressure for the rookie driver. All four of the organization's teams made the Playoffs last year, and that's been the case nearly every time around in recent years, so Briscoe enters the series with the expectation that he'll contend.
That's not necessarily fair for a rookie. A good rookie year is one in which the driver finishes races, nabs some top 10s and basically learns to race with the caliber of driver and car at NASCAR's highest level. Any more than that is icing. Teammate Cole Custer made the cut in 2020 for SHR, but had he not won at Kentucky, he'd have been on the outside looking in.
And while that's not a bad thing for a young driver to be watching how the postseason unfolds in his first season, Briscoe can make it in, and he can do it without a win, though that's a tall order. He finished sixth in points in his lone season in NASCAR Trucks (2017), and in two full seasons in Xfinity, he finished in the top five both times against stout competition. He's also a former ARCA champion, so he knows how to put together a consistent season that is about more than winning races.
Scoring top 5s and top 10s in the Cup Series is hard because there are probably 20 drivers in equipment capable of doing that almost every week. But top 15s are an attainable goal, and a steady diet of them can yield a Playoff berth. Briscoe has a shot at that.
The unknown as of press time was who would be calling the shots for Briscoe. Johnny Klausmeier led the No. 14 to a 12th-place finish in points last year with Bowyer and took Aric Almirola to the playoff in 2018 and 2019. Three playoff berths in three years as a Cup crew chief means he's calling smart, if conservative, races.
The other logical choice would be Richard Boswell, who called the shots in eight of Briscoe's 11 Xfinity Series wins. Boswell doesn't have Cup experience, having been on the box in that series only twice, but he does have Briscoe experience, and he understands how Briscoe communicates and what he needs to be successful.
Last year, Briscoe called his shot: Eight wins would earn him a Cup Series promotion. He beat that by one, overcoming adversity along the way (he won the sport's May return from COVID-19 at Darlington the day after his wife suffered a miscarriage). If there's one thing we learned about Briscoe in 2020, it's not to underestimate him. The right crew chief could lead to instant success.
Vegas Betting Odds to win 2021 Cup Championship: 100/1 (per Sportsbook.ag)
(Top photo courtesy of ASP, Inc.)