Ford Performance Racing School: Chase Briscoe Sonoma Advance

Stewart-Haas Racing

●  The Save Mart 350k Sunday at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway is the second of five road-course races on the 2024 NASCAR Cup Series schedule. Chase Briscoe, driver of the No. 14 Ford Performance Racing School Ford Mustang Dark Horse for Stewart-Haas Racing, finished 13th in the series’ first road-course race of the year on March 24 at Circuit of the Americas (COTA) in Austin, Texas. After Sonoma, the next road-course race is July 7 on the streets of downtown Chicago. The last two road-course races are Sept. 15 at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International and Oct. 12 at the Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway Roval.

●  Sunday’s Save Mart 350k will mark Briscoe’s fourth NASCAR Cup Series start at Sonoma. In his maiden Cup race at the 1.99-mile, 10-turn road course in 2021, Briscoe qualified 25th and finished 17th. He improved on that effort in his return to the track in 2022, qualifying 15th and finishing 13th. In Briscoe’s most recent Cup start at Sonoma last year, he qualified 24th and finished 29th.

●  Despite a best NASCAR Cup Series result of 13th at Sonoma, Briscoe is a winner in Wine Country. On June 5, 2021 in the ARCA Menards Series West race at Sonoma, Briscoe dominated. Despite starting third, Briscoe took the lead on the opening lap and never relinquished the point, leading all 51 laps to take the victory by a whopping 3.110 seconds over his nearest pursuer, Dylan Lupton.

●  Briscoe has 20 career road-course starts in the NASCAR Cup Series, with five top-10 finishes spread across COTA (sixth in 2021), Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin (sixth in 2021), Watkins Glen (ninth in 2021), the Charlotte Roval (ninth in 2022) and the road course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (sixth in 2023).

●  Briscoe has made 11 road-course starts in the NASCAR Xfinity Series – the stepping-stone division to the elite NASCAR Cup Series. In fact, it was road-course racing in the Xfinity Series that helped put Briscoe on the map when it came to his burgeoning NASCAR career, as he scored two road-course wins among eight top-10 finishes. At the inaugural race on the Charlotte Roval on Sept. 29, 2018 in what was Briscoe’s 14th career Xfinity Series start, the Mitchell, Indiana-native scored his first Xfinity Series win. Briscoe said afterward that he tapped into his dirt-track experience in wheeling his Ford Mustang to a strong 1.478-second margin of victory over runner-up Justin Marks. “It drove like a dirt track instead of a road course, and it felt like I was in a sprint car. I just tried to make sure the rear tires never spun. I had to give up a little time coming off the corner, but I’d make it back up on the straightaway, and that’s why I was always better at the end of the run.”

●  Briscoe’s second Xfinity Series win on a road course came in another inaugural race – the 2020 Brickyard 150 on the road course at Indianapolis. On July 4, 2020, Briscoe started 12th and methodically worked his way to the front, taking the lead on lap 24. He wound up leading five times for a race-high 30 laps to take the victory by 1.717 seconds ahead of second-place Justin Haley. Despite the win happening during COVID restrictions, Briscoe was elated to win at his home track in a car owned by Indiana icon Tony Stewart. “Everybody knows that my hero in racing was Tony Stewart. To get to drive for him and watch him win at the Brickyard, climbing the fence was always his signature thing and I just wanted to do it. Obviously, it’s not the same prestige as winning on the oval, but we still won at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It doesn’t matter if you’re racing on the oval, the road course, the dirt track or even the parking lot, it’s special when you win here. Growing up, coming here all the time, it’s unbelievable to think that I just won here.”

●  In three road-course starts in the ARCA Menards Series, Briscoe has two top-fives, with his first coming in 2016 when he finished fourth at New Jersey Motorsports Park in Millville after starting the 67-lap race in 10th. His other top-five was his 2021 win at Sonoma

●  In Briscoe’s lone road-course start in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, he started 18th and finished seventh in the 2017 race at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park in Bowmanville, Ontario.

●  Ford Performance Racing School adorns Briscoe’s No. 14 Ford Mustang Dark Horse this weekend at Sonoma. It is the only school to wear the Ford oval, and Ford is the only full-line vehicle manufacturer to offer product-focused experiential driving programs exclusively to the owners of its complete line of performance vehicles, from cars to trucks to SUVs.

Chase Briscoe, Driver of the No. 14 Ford Performance Racing School Ford Mustang Dark Horse

How would you rate yourself as a road-course driver?

“I feel like I’m above average. I’ve definitely had way more success in the lower series compared to Cup, where I’ve been kind of hit-or-miss. We’d run really, really good, or we were just off. Truthfully, I feel like the NextGen car has definitely hurt me quite a bit on the road-course side. I feel like the old car with just how badly it drove, you were always slipping and sliding around, it didn’t want to stop. I feel like this NextGen car certainly has closed up the gap. The guys who were typically off on road courses are definitely closer because the NextGen car is just easier to drive on the road courses – it stops better, it turns better, it just does everything better. I feel like I’ve been good on road courses from a speed standpoint, just need to find that little bit more to finally seal the deal on a road course.”

What do you work on to become a better road-course racer? Obviously, there’s sim, but does your relationship with Ford Performance Racing School also allow you to hone your road-racing techniques?

“There’s a lot that goes into road-course racing, and laps and repetition are probably the biggest keys to that. No matter what road course you’re getting on or what car you’re driving, the techniques and the styles that you run on road courses are super important. It’s been great to have that relationship with Ford Performance Racing School, to get over there and be able to run laps. Almost every single road course we go to, I’ll go to the racing school that week and just do a little bit of a warmup over there, trying to get into the mindset of road-course racing. There’s a lot that goes into road-course racing, especially to be really good at it. Braking is probably the most important thing, trying to be as efficient as you can under braking, and being able to go over to the racing school and just playing around with different types of braking, and being able to be aggressive and trying different things that at the racetrack we don’t get the opportunity to do because we don’t want to mess anything up. Plus, we don’t get a lot of time to practice, so it’s nice to be able to go over there and spend the day and really just try different things.”

You’ve got one road-course race under your belt so far this year – COTA, where you finished 13th. Does Sonoma allow you to hit the reset button when it comes to road-course racing? If so, what do you want to do differently compared to COTA? 

“COTA is kind of the complete opposite of what Sonoma is. Sonoma is just a super, super small road course, super tight, super narrow. It’s always been, by far, the slickest. Now that it’s been repaved, it’s probably not going to be as extreme from that standpoint. I don’t know if you can take anything from COTA and apply it to Sonoma, just with how they drive and how they race. I feel like I’m normally a pretty good road-course racer, but every time I got to Sonoma, I feel lost. Definitely feel like that’s the one track on the schedule where I’ve been trying to put the most focus and kind of understand what I need more. Hopefully, the repave will be a nice reset for me.”

The entire Sonoma layout has been repaved. Does that mean more grip, less grip or is it a bit of an unknown? 

“Typically, it seems like repaves have more grip until they don’t, and then you just barely get out of the groove and you’re on ice. It’s a challenge every time you go to a repave just trying to figure out where you can get more aggressive and where there is more grip. Definitely seems like the groove at the fresh repaves are pretty gripped up, but as soon as you get out of the groove, it’s ice. Even talking to Josh Berry (teammate) and seeing some of the video from that Goodyear test out there, a lot of guys were spinning out. It’s that same thing, they barely get out of the groove and it’s just so slick.”

When you’re at a newly paved track, how aggressive are you in finding the grip level? Do you try to sneak up on it or are you aggressive from the get-go because track time is so limited?

“With just how limited track time is, you have to be aggressive. In the past when you had a couple of hours of practice, you could sort of sneak up on it. But in today’s day and age in what we do, you have to be aggressive from lap one and you have to trust that the team is doing its job to give you the most efficient and most gripped up car, and you’ve just got to rely on your ability at that point.”

How important is qualifying at road courses? Has it become a bit like Formula One where track position is so precious that in order to finish up front, you really need to start up front?

“The road courses have definitely changed a lot. I definitely miss the days of the old car where it didn’t stop, it didn’t drive well, it had no grip, it was out of control, and it just made it a lot of fun and it definitely seemed like you could pass guys. The new car is just so good on road courses. You can get in the brakes so easily and get in the corners so deep that it’s made passing extremely, extremely hard. It definitely comes down to qualifying. It’s just one of those deals where if you don’t make the final round, you instantly know your Sunday is going to be a challenge. You throw in the aspect of the stages and things like that, and there are just a lot of variables that go into these races, but certainly qualifying is a huge start to your weekend, especially at Sonoma.”

There’s one spot at Sonoma that looks incredibly tight, at least to the TV viewer, and that’s the exit off turn four and down into “The Chute.” Cars go wide off turn four but then they have to funnel back into line to avoid hitting a wall that seems to jut out at the start of “The Chute.” Is that section of the track as tight as it seems on TV?

“I actually feel like the camera angle makes it look tight. It’s tight, don’t get me wrong, but I definitely feel like TV doesn’t do justice to how wide it is. It’s sketchy, for sure, but not as sketchy as TV makes it seem. I definitely think TV makes it look way more aggressive than it really is.”

If a guy is hung on the outside of you as that wall comes up, do you treat it like an exit ramp where you give him room to merge back into traffic, or is it more like, ‘Sorry, dude. You should’ve planned better’?

“It’s one of those deals that just depends on where they’re at relative to your car. If they’re at the tail end of your car, you just act like they’re not even there, but if the tail of their car is just barely at the front of your car and you really don’t have great position on them, you normally have to let them in and yield to them. It’s one of those deals where you’re just trying to set yourself up for the next corner – turn seven, which is super tight, heavy braking. There are only two passing zones at Sonoma and that’s one of them, so you’re really just trying to set yourself up for that corner, and just keep that in mind as you go through The Chute.”

With the speed that you carry down through “The Chute,” what do you need to do to both maintain control and not scrub off speed as you exit turn seven and head through the esses?

“That’s a great question because that’s where I suck the most. I don’t know. I feel like turn seven is my total weak spot. It seems like at Sonoma I can be on par with the best guy, then I get to turn seven and I give it all back and then some. Yeah, turn seven has been a challenge for me. I’m hoping that the repave will finally give me the feel that I’m looking for because I definitely have not done a good job in (turn) seven in my previous starts there.”

What’s OK and what isn’t when you’re racing with someone else as you head into the hairpin in turn 11?

“Turn 11, everybody knows that it’s the passing zone at Sonoma. Turn seven is kind of iffy, but 11 is really the one spot that everybody knows. So as you come through (turn) 10, everybody’s always setting each other up, and you’re trying to set yourself up to get into 11, and you see almost every single wreck at Sonoma is into turn 11 just because we know that’s the only passing zone. As frustrating as it is, I feel like everybody kind of knows that’s where you’ve got to be aggressive if you’re going to pass.”


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