CONCORD, NC — While Christopher Bell celebrated in Victory Lane after his must-win performance at the Charlotte Roval, Chase Briscoe stood on pit road and couldn’t stop smiling after his ninth-place finish moved him into the Round of 8.
“This means more to me, I think, then even winning in the Cup Series at Phoenix,” Briscoe told NBC Sports, referring to his win there in March.
“To know that you have a one-in-eight chance to win a Cup championship is a pretty unbelievable feeling. … That’s the happiest I’ve ever been after a race. Normally, I’m not too animated, like even after a win, but I was screaming in the car. I was pretty fired up.”
When he climbed out of his Stewart-Haas Racing No. 14 Ford, Briscoe, with his helmet still on, hugged and high-fived crew members.
“I feel like this is the biggest accomplishment of my career,” Briscoe said of being among the final eight drivers vying for the Cup championship. “I feel like that was the best race I’ve ever run in my career, just from start to finish. My restarts, I felt like, were the best restarts I’ve ever had in my life. I felt like I put a whole round together.”
After scoring one top-10 finish in the 21 races leading up to the second round, Briscoe has scored three consecutive top 10s. Until the playoffs began, Briscoe’s last top-10 finish was a fourth-place result in the Coca-Cola 600 in May.
While in the midst of his top-10 drought, Briscoe said he had a talk with Greg Zipadelli, chief competition officer for Stewart-Haas Racing, about a change to make.
“I just told him, from a strategy standpoint, give me the ball, let me try to do something,” Briscoe said.
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Briscoe wanted the organization to be more aggressive.
“Put me in bad spots,” he told Zipadelli. “Let me try to prove to you that I can do.”
The team has done so and Briscoe also said he feels he has been given more of a leadership role within the last couple of months.
“I like having that role on the team,” Briscoe said.
Briscoe beat reigning champion Kyle Larson for the final transfer spot by two points Sunday at the Roval.
NASCAR stated after the race that it was investigating the actions of Briscoe’s teammate, Cole Custer, on the backstretch on the last lap of the race when Custer slowed dramatically as Briscoe was racing for position against Austin Dillon and Eric Jones.
NASCAR stated that it will announce the results of its review this week, but that any potential penalties would not affect the Round of 8 field.
When the series raced at Phoenix in March, Christopher Bell left there 30th in points after a 26th-place finish.
A crash in the Daytona 500 set the team back and so did an engine failure at Auto Club Speedway in the season’s second race. The team also struggled on pit road. Bell’s team had three different pit crew lineups in the first 10 races and five in the first 13 races.
Bell’s early struggles — six finishes of 20th or worse in the first 10 races — led to talk about Bell and his team. It was talking Bell heard.
“I think a lot of people had written me off as a driver, wrote the 20 car off, Christopher is going to get fired,” Bell said of the early struggles. “I got that all the time, that I’m getting replaced. The 20 car is the revolving door, he’s going to be out of here.
“Maybe I’ll get to stick around a little bit longer now.”
His Roval win moves him into the Round of 8 and makes him among the favorites.
The Toyotas have been strong on 1.5-mile tracks. The round opens with races at Las Vegas and Homestead, both 1.5-mile speedways. A win in this round moves a playoff driver into the Nov. 6 championship race at Phoenix.
“I like our chances,” Bell said. “All the rest of the races played out really well for us. We just have to execute and dot our I’s and cross our T’s, see where the cards fall.”
Kyle Busch isn’t the only Cup driver interested in running in the Indianapolis 500. Kyle Larson says he’s still interested in competing in the Indianapolis 500 and has the permission of car owner Rick Hendrick and Hendrick Motorsports Vice Chairman Jeff Gordon.
“I would love to do it,” Larson said. “Just timing and I want to be in the best possible equipment and best crew. I’ve mentioned to Jeff and Rick that I would like to do it, but I also did a year ago, too.
“It’s kind of up to them to find something.”
Larson said that Hendrick told him he didn’t want him to run the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 this year but said he could do so moving forward.
The reigning Cup champion was eliminated from title contention in Sunday’s playoff race at the Charlotte Roval.