By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
It appeared Thursday’s Eldora Dirt Derby was going to be renamed the Chase Briscoe Dirt Derby, but a series of incidents knocked the defending winner out of contention and had to settle for a painful seventh at Eldora Speedway.
“Last night was probably the most frustrated I’ve ever been in a race car,” Briscoe told the press at Watkins Glen Friday, preparing for the Xfinity Series race. “That was probably the first NASCAR race for sure where I felt I was dominant.”
Briscoe won the first two stages and had his No. 27 DiaEdge Ford F-150 out in front for the first 93 of 150 laps. No doubt, he was eyeing for his third straight NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series win in as many races (his last two starts were Homestead 2017 and Eldora 2018, both races he went to victory lane).
Pit strategy would change the entire complexity of the seventh renewal of the Dirt Derby as Briscoe opted to stay out at the end of the opening stage before pitting to kickoff the final stage.
“Even when I was in the lead I was just cruising and riding. It was just unfortunate. I didn’t want to pit, but I listened to team orders and obviously it didn’t work out,” Briscoe on pit strategy. “In hindsight, 20/20, it could not have worked out the other way, so hopefully I’ll get to do it again next year and have a better result.”
Stewart Friesen would do the opposite of Briscoe and took control of the race. Meanwhile, Briscoe was trying to work his way back to the front but with 56 laps to go, that would all change.
Ross Chastain lost control of his truck on the backstretch and trucks tried to avoid him. Unfortunately for Briscoe, he received rear bumper damage after the No. 08 of Tim Ward ran into the back of him.
The carnage was far from over as several laps later, Briscoe again was involved in a crash. This time after battling with his one-off ThorSport Racing teammate Johnny Satuer turned haywire and also collected Tyler Dippel. Briscoe’s front bumper sustained minor damage, further hurting his changes of winning two straight races at Eldora.
It’s raging climax and the symbol of Briscoe’s bid of winning officially ending unfolded with 10 laps to go when again, another teammate battle went wrong. This time, it was Ben Rhodes who ran into the him in Turn 1.
Briscoe was running in fifth but his silver Ford F-150 got sideways, resulting Rhodes to incidentally turning him around. The contact marked the 12th and final caution of the night as Briscoe settled for a top-10 while Friesen led the last 57 laps to get his elusive Truck Series win.
Thursday’s race made Briscoe believe that in 2020, whether or not he’ll have another shot at Eldora, drivers may not pit as track position proved more vital than ever before as Briscoe paid the consequential price.
“Yeah, next year nobody is probably gonna pit. I don’t know. We have to do something about the caution situation and the line up situation,” said Briscoe. “It was so frustrating behind the wheel not being able to get the line up set. There were times I was supposed to start three or four rows ahead of where I ended up starting and what not.
“I don’t know, I wish in that race we could not count caution laps in the last 30 laps or whatever, maybe extend the race to 200 laps. I think we need to make the stages longer. That way there is more strategy in the race. It’s so hard in 60 laps, that final stage, to make any ground up from the back, especially when we only race 20 laps under green.”
A frustrated Briscoe will try to put a devastating outcome behind him and focus on going for back-to-back Xfinity Series wins as the field hit their first road course race of the season at Watkins Glen International.
The pilot of the No. 98 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Mustang recently won at Iowa Speedway for his first win since the Charlotte Roval last September, the series latest road course race.
Briscoe commented that winning last Saturday at Iowa boosted his confidence as he was able to beat the dominant car of Christopher Bell in a season where “The Big Three” (Bell, Cole Custer and Tyler Reddick) have been the guys to beat on a weekly basis.
“It was big. We weren’t the best car, obviously. Bell was the best car, but we were clearly the second-best car all day long. It definitely was a good confidence builder,” Briscoe on his Iowa win. “It was good for our whole team. Our team is really, really young and inexperienced in some ways, so it was nice for them to prove to themselves that they could win as well and hopefully it was the perfect time.
“I feel like it leads well going into the Playoffs, but I think it’s perfect for leading into these races. These are the races where you can do more strategy than you can anywhere else and get out of the box. Say we’re running fifth in a stage and the top four pit, we’re gonna stay out and try to get a Playoff point, whereas in the past we would have probably pitted with them, so I think it’s perfect timing as far as strategy goes for these races and hopefully it’s a good confidence-builder for all involved.”