By David Morgan, Associate Editor
HAMPTON, Ga. – Win and you’re in.
Those four words have defined the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs in recent years, but the 2022 season has been one for the record books and when it’s all said and done, just having a win might not be the ticket to the postseason.
Of the 16 available spots in the Playoffs, 13 different drivers have won a race to claim their spot, but with eight races remaining in the regular season, including Sunday’s Quaker State 400 at Atlanta, even those drivers that have won a race are second-guessing things.
Among those drivers is Chase Briscoe, the driver of the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford in his sophomore season in the Cup Series. Briscoe captured his first win at Phoenix back in March, but currently sits near the bottom among race winners, making him one of the drivers that could be in trouble if more than 16 drivers win between now and Daytona in August.
“It’s definitely crazy,” Briscoe said. “I know when we won at Phoenix, it felt like it was a for sure thing that you’re gonna be in the Playoffs. But now, I mean, with how many winners there are and how many races are left, it’s definitely nerve-wracking. If I’m being honest, I think we’re one point ahead of the last guy that has a win.
“We’ve bled a lot of points over the last month and a half and just need to do a better job, because it could definitely come down to the point situation. I think a lot of people think it’s the Playoff points, but it’s the regular season points.
“For us, we just need to try to capitalize on the stages and just maximize our day because I think we’re racing [Austin] Cindric, the 99 and then who knows if another guy wins, you could be racing with him too.
“This weekend is definitely one of the ones I think that’s kind of scarier for the Playoff guys that are towards the bubble just because anybody can win here. I don’t know, we’ve just got to go and if we just run the way we can and get more points, then I think we’ll be okay. But it’s definitely nerve wracking that there’s eight races left and only three guys need to win.”
Briscoe explained that what seemed to be a longshot early on in the season, as more and more drivers have won a race, the possibility of winners getting bumped out of the Playoffs continues to grow.
He added that he is grateful to have a win, as that gives him some security that those who have yet to win a race don’t have.
“I think like two winners ago is like, oh man, like it could happen, but we’re really not that worried about it,” Briscoe said. “And now it’s like, man, there’s only three more that need to happen and we could be out. I think now it’s a real concern. You know, thankfully we have a win. You know, like the 20 and a couple other guys, like they’re fighting for their lives just to get points.
“But for us it would stink if you won a race and didn’t make it. But at the same time, you know, we had just as many opportunities to be higher up in the points and we didn’t capitalize on it. So yeah, I think it’s a real concern. And just with how the schedule lays out, you got two road courses, you got two superspeedways, still, and two short tracks.
“So, it’s nerve-wracking. If I’m being honest, it’s definitely something, you know, when last week when Tyler won, I was happy for Tyler, but you know, personally for our team, it was kind of a bummer because I would’ve rather seen the nine win from just a Playoff standpoint. It’s gonna get interesting if another guy wins and then you go to Daytona and that’s the thing, like the last race who knows what can happen there too. It’s a concern, but you know, if we just do our job on the race track and get the points we need or win another race, then it should be fine.
As Daytona and the regular season finale gets closer with every passing race, Briscoe noted that the aggression level among the drivers will only get higher as the desperation to get a win, or a second win, ramps up as well
“You’re just going to see the aggression keep ramping up just because now there’s really no pointing your way in,” Briscoe said. “I mean you’ve got to really go win a race. Even for the guys that have one win, if you can win two, you’re guaranteed in the playoffs as well. I look back at Bristol and Charlotte. I mean, that’s the thing. If it goes the other way and you win the race, then you’re set. You’re not even in this position.
“This format definitely rewards winning and you have to win to be guaranteed in the Playoffs. For us, if we could win another race, that’d be great. But if not, we need to just maximize our days and run up front because the points are definitely gonna be an issue.
Then there is the unknown that comes with the Next Gen car and going to tracks for the first time not knowing exactly what will transpire. Of the eight races remaining in the regular season, only Atlanta and Daytona are at tracks that have already held races this year.
“I feel like everywhere we go, it’s a question mark of what it’s going to do and who’s going to be good,” Briscoe said. “And that’s the scary thing with having eight races left and only three people need to win is anybody can go to these racetracks and if they hit it right on that weekend, they’re going to be really hard to beat. That’s kind of the nerve-wracking thing I think for our situation.
“It’ll be interesting to see kind of how these next eight weeks play out and how much the aggression level keeps raising for sure.”