● For the third year in a row, Chase Briscoe and his fellow NASCAR Cup Series competitors will get the new season’s first taste of on-track action on the West Coast with this weekend’s non-points Busch Light Clash at The Coliseum. The event debuted on the purpose-built, quarter-mile, asphalt oval inside the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in 2022.
● Briscoe and the No. 14 Mahindra Tractors team for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) showed up ready to impress for the inaugural Clash as he was third-fastest in practice and finished second in his heat race after starting seventh. He lined up sixth for the 150-lap feature and was running fourth on lap 53 before a mechanical issue ended his race. A year ago this weekend, Briscoe finished second in his heat race and 15th in the feature, completing all 150 laps.
● The 2021 NASCAR Cup Series Rookie of the Year enters his fourth season as the new elder statesman in the SHR driver lineup, which saw the retirement of veterans Kevin Harvick and Aric Almirola at the conclusion of 2023. Briscoe and second-year SHR driver Ryan Preece are joined by SHR newcomers Josh Berry and Noah Gragson for the 2024 campaign.
● In 108 career Cup Series starts, Briscoe has a March 2022 victory at Phoenix Raceway among his 10 top-five finishes and 21 top-10s. He’s qualified on the pole twice and has led 482 laps. His Phoenix victory secured his position in the 2022 Cup Series Playoffs, where he advanced to the Round of 8.
● Through his first three seasons, the 29-year-old driver from Mitchell, Indiana has steadily risen to the challenge presented by NASCAR short-track racing, the spark ignited by his solid performance at the inaugural Clash in 2022. In last year’s two races at the iconic Martinsville (Va.) Speedway half-mile paperclip-shaped oval, Briscoe qualified fourth and finished fifth in the spring race, leading 109 laps along the way, and qualified third and finished fourth in the fall race. He also turned in solid performances in the 2022 and 2023 spring races on the half-mile Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway oval – albeit on dirt. He started fourth and led twice for 59 laps in the 2022 event before contact while attempting to pass for the lead on the final lap foiled his bid. He returned in 2023 to post a fifth-place finish from 14th on the starting grid.
● Mahindra Ag North America returns for its third year as the anchor sponsor for Briscoe and the No. 14 team after extending its partnership with Stewart-Haas Racing during the offseason. The multiyear agreement with the NASCAR team co-owned by NASCAR Hall of Famer Tony Stewart and industrialist Gene Haas will continue to feature Mahindra Tractors, a brand of Mahindra Ag North America, on Briscoe’s No. 14 Ford Mustang for the majority of the NASCAR Cup Series schedule. The red-and-black No. 14 Mahindra Tractors Ford Mustang made its debut in the 2022 Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum and then won in just its fifth race as a primary sponsor when Briscoe drove to victory on March 13, 2022 at Phoenix Raceway. The win secured Mahindra Tractors’ place in the NASCAR Playoffs and earned Briscoe the honor of being the 200th Cup Series winner in NASCAR history. Houston-based Mahindra Ag North America is part of Mahindra Group’s Automotive and Farm Sector, the No. 1 selling farm tractor company in the world, based on volumes across all company brands. Mahindra offers a range of tractor models from 20-75 horsepower, implements, and the ROXOR heavy-duty UTV. Mahindra farm equipment is engineered to be easy to operate by first-time tractor or side-by-side owners and heavy duty to tackle the tough jobs of rural living, farming and ranching. Steel-framed Mahindra Tractors and side-by-sides are ideal for customers who demand performance, reliability and comfort. Mahindra dealers are independent, family-owned businesses located throughout the U.S. and Canada.
● On Saturday, NASCAR Cup Series competitors will take to the track for a dual practice/qualifying session that determines the starting order for four, 25-lap heat races consisting of 10 cars each. Below is a breakdown on how Saturday’s heat races will be filled out:
- The field will be split into three practice groups, with each group receiving three sessions. The fastest lap time from each competitor’s final practice session will determine the starting lineup for the four heat races. The top-four overall lap times in final practice will earn the pole for each heat race, while the fifth- through eighth-fastest lap times will make up the other half of the front row for each heat.
- The complete field for each heat race will be filled using this methodology: Heat one will be made up of cars listed in overall positions one, five, nine, 13, 17, 21, 25, 29, 33, 37 on the final practice timesheet.
- The top-five finishers (20 total cars) from each heat race automatically advance to the Clash, with the winner of heat one winning the pole and the winner of heat two earning the outside pole.
- The winners of heats three and four will fill out the second row, with the remaining order being determined in the same manner.
- The remaining finishing positions from each heat that did not advance will continue to Sunday’s 75-lap Last Chance Qualifying (LCQ) race. Below is a breakdown on how the LCQ will be filled out:
- The starting order will be determined based on finishing positions in the heat races.
- The sixth-place finisher from heat one will be on the pole for the LCQ race. The sixth-place finisher from heat two will be on the outside pole. This pattern will continue to fill out the remaining LCQ field.
- The top-two finishers from the LCQ race will advance to the Clash, filling out positions 21 and 22.
- The 23rd and final spot in the Clash will be reserved for the driver who finished the highest in the 2023 championship standings who does not transfer on finishing position in their heat race or in their LCQ race.
- All other drivers will be eliminated from competition for the remainder of the event weekend.
You’re now the elder statesman of Stewart-Haas Racing drivers. As you get ready to go to the track for the first time in 2024 for the Busch Light Clash, what does your tenure at SHR bring to the table as you begin this season with two new teammates in Josh Berry and Noah Gragson?
“First off, I’m just excited to get back to the track. I don’t think I’ve ever been this excited for a race season in my entire career. From that standpoint, I’m just glad to be back. But, yeah, it’s going to be different from my standpoint, not having Kevin (Harvick) and Aric (Almirola) there anymore, two guys I really would constantly judge myself off of and constantly ask them questions. I’m not going to have them there anymore, so that part’s going to be different. I do think it’s a great opportunity to try to be an example, especially these first couple of weeks. The Stewart-Haas of old isn’t necessarily going to be what the Stewart-Haas of the future is, and that even comes down to how teammates race each other and just how we work together. For me, being the longest-tenured guy here, I think it’s extra critical for me to try to lead by example, on the racetrack how we race each other, but also off the racetrack just how we interact. I’m looking forward to that challenge and everything that comes along with it.”
You were quick to say you’re just excited to get back to the track. Why?
“Obviously last year was a struggle, that’s no secret, and with our points penalty we got in May, we weren’t really racing for anything, like from a championship side of things or a points side of things. If we didn’t have the points penalty, if we would’ve finished second on a weekend, or third on a weekend, well then that was a great thing for points. But for us, with how big of a points penalty we had, anything outside of a win was kind of irrelevant, it didn’t really do anything for us. So I’m just excited about being back in the mix where we’re racing for something again, it feels like. Obviously last year with the crew chief change, I felt like those last four months, everything we focused on was for this season, so I feel like I’ve kind of been in 2024 for the last five or six months, but now we finally get a clean slate to start fresh with everybody else. You throw that in with the new body and things like that, and just the new Stewart-Haas that it is now, I’m really excited to go forward with this race season.”
What was the Clash like in year two compared to the inaugural event, and what are your expectations for year three?
“Year two I thought was way harder from a competition standpoint, everybody was much tighter. When we went there the first year, that was the first race ever with the NextGen car, so everybody’s stuff wasn’t really driving good, where year two, the field was way tighter from a competition standpoint. You look at year three, it’s probably going to somehow get even tighter than it was in year two, so I think it’s going to be extra critical to be on your game when you get there. The format’s a little bit different this year. I do think that it’s going to be very similar to last year where there’s going to be a lot of beating and banging just because we’re all so close on lap time that it’s really the only way you’re going to be able to pass. I think it’s going to be a cool atmosphere with the Mexico Series there and just the added fan base that brings, so I’m looking forward to going out there for the third year. We’ve been fast both years, just haven’t been able to put it all together. Hopefully the third time is a charm.”
You competed in the Chili Bowl a few weeks ago, and while dirt, that’s a tight racetrack where you have to navigate its confines and a lot of other competitors. Does that race sort of mentally prepare you for the challenges of racing at the Coliseum?
“I do think so, to a certain extent. I even had a couple of fans come up to me at the Chili Bowl and ask me what racing at the Clash is like, and I always tell them it’s a lot like indoor Midget racing, it’s very, very tight, the car’s probably way too big for the racetrack that you’re on, and it does remind me a lot of indoor Midget racing. There’s a track in Du Quoin, Illinois, that reminds me a lot of the Clash, the scale of the car versus the scale of the track, it’s very similar. I always love indoor Midget racing and Du Quoin’s truthfully one of my favorite tracks just because it’s so tight and you’re always around somebody, and the Clash is very similar to that. I’ve always enjoyed going to the Clash, just the racetrack and turning laps on it, and I’m looking forward to doing it again.”
When it comes to the Clash, and short-track racing in general, what’s acceptable and what isn’t when it comes to on-track contact?
“I don’t know, I think it’s hard to say what is acceptable and what isn’t acceptable until you’re sitting in there and you’re actually doing it in the heat of competition. I think what is acceptable is based on what other guys are doing. Until somebody kind of crosses that line and opens up the floodgates, I feel like all of us are trying to be respectful. But then once one guy does it, the next guy loses his head, and the next guy and so on and so forth. Until somebody crosses that line, it’s hard to say what that line really is, but the intensity of the field definitely ratchets it up in that race. As you go along and guys get more comfortable, once one guy starts doing it, it seems like we all start doing it.”
When it comes to short-track racing, how much do you protect what you’ve got and stand up for yourself, and how much do you say you’re going to let that go because it’s not a battle worth fighting?
“I think it’s hard, it’s definitely hard to say how much to stand your ground and what’s too much. I think it’s certainly important to stand your ground, especially at the beginning of the season. If they know they can walk right over you at the beginning of the season, they’re just going to continue to do that all throughout the season. I definitely think it’s important to stand your ground, especially at a place like the Coliseum. If the guy running fifth is right behind you and you’re running third and the guy in fourth moves you and you don’t do anything about it, well then the guys in fifth, sixth, seventh are going to do it and it’s just going to keep happening to you. So you have to stand your ground and show you’re not going to put up with that, but it is hard to say what you’re willing to do to not make enemies for the rest of the season. You don’t want to be the first guy to do it. I think if you’re giving payback, that’s one thing, but I don’t think you want to be the first guy to make the move to make the enemy.”
Is there a first-day-of-school feeling when you show up for the Clash?
“For sure. You take two and a half months off, you’re excited to see your friends back in the garage area, you’re excited to get back in the car. I feel like the last two years we’ve done it there, I get nervous going out for the first practice session for whatever reason. Just finally getting back in the car again, sitting in the car and I’m complaining about how the gas pedal feels, how the brake pedal feels, nothing like what it normally is, it’s the same thing I’ve always done but it’s been two and a half months since I’ve done it. Yeah, I think there’s a little bit of nerves and the first-day-back-to-school kind of feeling. It’s always fun to have that feeling and I’m looking forward to it.”
The Busch Light Clash tees up our version of the Super Bowl – the Daytona 500. How big of a deal is that for the sport?
“It’s super critical, and obviously the timing of it all is kind of perfect. You go from the AFC and NFC championship, you have that week off and we come in and race. And then we take a week off and there’s the Super Bowl, so all those people, the football fans and sports fans who are looking for some kind of live sport, we’re kind of at the tail end of the NFL season kicking off ours, and the timing of it I always think is kind of perfect. And I think you see us taking advantage of how the football season is ending, we have a ton of viewers at the beginning of the year every year watching the West Coast swing. Hopefully we have an awesome Daytona 500 and the weather cooperates and we can take advantage of the viewership that comes with that.”