Briscoe’s No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford team had come out of the gate strong this season, just his second as a fulltime driver in the Cup Series.
He led more laps in the season’s second race of the season at Fontana (20) than he did his entire rookie season and then shined at Phoenix in race No. 4, where he led 101 laps and earned his first series victory.
Briscoe, 27, vaulted to as high as third in the standings following Atlanta but then hit a rough five-race stretch where he had one finish better than 20th.
That’s turned around in his past three races, finishing fourth in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte and a respectable 13th at Sonoma. He ended up 24th at Gateway but won the pole and led the first 27 laps of the race until he was forced to pit under green for a flat left-rear tire and fell a lap down.
Asked if he thought his performance was “back on track” Briscoe said, “Well, you still have to get to Phoenix. If you don’t get to Phoenix (the championship race), it doesn’t matter how good you are.
“If you had asked me that four or five weeks ago, I would have said no way. But we got back to what we were doing at the beginning of the year and I feel like we have our speed back. Hopefully, we can continue this.”
Leading SHR in the win column
Briscoe remains the only SHR driver with a win so far this season and the only one assured of a playoff spot.
SHR teammate Aric Almirola is currently high enough in points to get in the 16-driver playoff field but that could change if there are more new winners in the last 10 races of the regular season.
Still, Briscoe doubts anyone this year can be called a true favorite for the title.
“I don’t think there is a championship favorite. There are a lot of guys who are capable,” he said. “This Next Gen car, it is so weird how it is. One week you can be really good and the next week you can be way, way off.
“We just have to continue to get better and put ourselves in a position to keep trying to run up front. If we do that and get to Phoenix, I am confident we can go there and battle. It is just a matter of getting there.
“If you aren’t one of the final four guys, it doesn’t matter how good you are there.”
Next Gen an easier transition for new drivers
Briscoe maintains since he is relatively new to the Cup Series, adjusting to the Next Gen car hasn’t been quite as steep of a learning curve as perhaps some veterans, who had learned and mastered every nuisance of the previous car.
“Truthfully, with the IMSA stuff I’ve done, it’s kind of similar to that feel, so I wouldn’t say that I’ve had as much muscle memory to relearn or forget about switching from the old car,” he said.
“I haven’t had any issues – knock on wood – but it is different, I think, for the guys who have done it for a long time and are trying to retrain themselves with a lot of those things.”