By Brian Eberly, Contributing Writer
SPARTA, Ky. – At Kentucky Speedway, Chase Briscoe needed to finish seventh or better to clinch the ARCA Racing Series championship with one race still remaining in the 2016 season. Briscoe finished worse than seventh just three times in 18 races heading into Friday night’s race at the 1.5-mile track and hadn’t had a finish worse than sixth since Pocono in June.
After setting a new track record in qualifying, Briscoe led the field to green and despite not leading a lap, ran inside the top-five throughout the early stages of the race.
On a restart at Lap 76, John Wes Townley drove his No. 05 Chevrolet to the outside of Briscoe’s No. 77 Ford in an attempt to make it three-wide with Dalton Sargeant. Townley made contact with the rear quarter panel on Briscoe’s car, sending it hard into the wall.
The resulting damage forced Briscoe to the garage and resulted in a 22nd-place finish – his worst of the season.
“My perspective was I was going down the straightway and the next thing I know I’m looking at the wall,” Briscoe said. “I haven’t seen a reply or anything. I don’t know if I came up. I know I side drafted the 55 (Sargeant) there and I honestly don’t know.”
Townley ended up with a 23rd-place finish and indicated he had issues on the restart in an interview with Fox Sports 2.
“On that restart my shifter hung up from second to third. I got a good run on those guys going down the backstretch,” Townley said. “The 77 (Briscoe) kind of left the door wide open and I went for it. It was just a racing incident. I hate it for these guys because we had a really fast Chevrolet.”
When Briscoe fires the engine on his No. 77 Ford for the season-finale at Kansas Speedway on October 14, the Mitchell, Indiana driver will clinch the championship.
“It’s awesome. It makes this night a little bit better, but at the same time I really wanted to officially clinch it here just because it was kind of close to home and we had quite a few people come out to watch.”
Residing in Kentucky, team co-owner Briggs Cunningham III doesn’t travel to the track much anymore due to his age.
“Briggs only gets to really one race a year and that’s this one,” Briscoe said. “I hate that it happened in front of him but it’s really cool to see him come out to the racetrack and support us. I can’t thank him enough for everything he’s done for me and my career. I really wanted to reward him with a win though that’s for sure.”
It’s been a whirlwind week for Briscoe and the Cunningham Motorsports team. On the first lap of the Tuesday test session at Kentucky Speedway, something broke on the team’s Ford and Briscoe made contact with the wall. The team loaded up and headed back for the shop in Moorseville, N.C. to basically work around-the-clock to repair the car to return to Kentucky in time for Friday morning’s practice session.
“It’s unfortunate after everything we went through this week,” Briscoe said of the race. “I’m proud of the guys though, we obviously brought a fast race car. I really wanted a win and I really wanted to get the jukebox and get the team a win and reward them.
“To say it’s been a long week has been an understatement. I think the whole entire team is going on about probably 14 hours of sleep the past four days.”