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The road to NASCAR can be dirty

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The story of how Chase Briscoe made it to the Xfinity Series doesn’t begin in a one stoplight town in Southern Indiana.

“Actually, we just got a second stop light about two years ago,” Briscoe says.

The town, Mitchell, is 33 miles south of Bloomington in Lawrence County.

Before you ask, there isn’t much to do there.

“I remember in high school one of the fun things and cool things to do is just go walk around Wal-Mart,” Briscoe says.

Luckily for Briscoe, growing up in a county that produced three astronauts provided some benefit to the future Roush Fenway Racing driver.

Dirt racers. “A ton” of them.

One of those was his dad, Kevin Briscoe.

Chase Briscoe celebrates his win in the Ford EcoBoost 200 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Nov. 17, 2017. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

FAMILY BUSINESS

The son of a longtime sprint car owner, Richard Briscoe, Kevin continued in the family business, competing for more than 20 years and winning more than 150 feature events.

But for much of Chase’s childhood, Kevin didn’t want his son involved in racing.

At 7, he raced twice in a quarter midget, winning both a qualifying race and his feature. But that was almost the end for Chase.

“My dad was still racing so much, and we didn’t really have the money to be doing both,” Briscoe says. “He just never really had the desire for me to race. He just didn’t see the point of it. He didn’t think it was the safest thing. He didn’t think I could make a good livelihood doing it.”

His dad’s mind was changed one night at Bloomington Speedway when Chase was about 10.

While at the payout window, the mother of another driver asked Kevin when he was going to let his son race.

When he told her he didn’t want Chase to race, the woman launched into a story.

Her son had once written a school paper about what racing with his family on the weekends meant to him.

The teacher failed the paper. She didn’t think it was right for a kid to be racing.

The next week, the teacher’s son was arrested for drinking and driving underage.

“My dad, it kind of clicked with him,” Briscoe says. “He was always with his dad on the weekends not getting into trouble and was always at the shop working throughout the week and kept him out of a lot of trouble he thought. That was kind of his mentality to let me start racing, was to keep me out of trouble.”

Briscoe wasn’t immediately throwing dirt on the weekends. It wasn’t until 2006 at 11 that he returned to the track in a mini-sprint car.

When he was 13, he made the jump into his dad’s old 410 sprint car, which had an engine built in 1993 (the year before Briscoe was born).

In his first season, he amassed 37 starts but didn’t win until the last race of the year. By doing so, Briscoe broke Jeff Gordon’s record (14 years old) as the youngest person to win a 410 sprint car race.

Even now, Briscoe doesn’t see himself as an exceptional dirt racer.

“It’s something I’ve always been passionate about, but I’m not the best dirt racer by any means,” Briscoe says. “I’m not the best pavement racer by any means either. It was hard to kind of race against guys that were running 140 races a year experience-wise.”

DIRT TO PAVEMENT

When he graduated high school, Briscoe knew he was within a few years of an expiration date for anyone wanting to make it as a pavement racer.

“I knew I was in that age category where if you’re over 23 years old, you’re probably not going to get a chance if you’re just starting out,” Briscoe says. “I just figured, ‘What the heck? The worst they’re going to tell me is no.’ If it doesn’t work out in three or four years, I can always move back and race sprint cars and go get a full-time job or go to school or what not. I kind of just went for it, and I honestly expected it to never work out. But I figured it was something I could do, and if I was 60 years old sitting on a porch, I wouldn’t have any regret about it.”

The first step in that goal was being invited to the Michael Waltrip PEAK Antifreeze Stock Car Dream Challenge in July 2013 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Briscoe competed in the three-day event against eight other hopefuls for a chance to win a ride with Bill McAnally Racing. He made the final round before losing to Patrick Staropoli.

Both drivers made a handful of K&N Pro Series starts for Bill McAnally Racing, with Briscoe making three in the West Series. To date, Staropoli has made one Camping World Truck Series start, in 2016.

Within a year, Briscoe furthered his commitment to making it on pavement. He moved to North Carolina in January 2014 at the age of 19.

That’s where the Keselowski family came in.

TRUCKS

In the 2017 video game, “NASCAR Heat 2,” the career mode begins with a video of Brad Keselowski talking to the player as if they’re an aspiring NASCAR driver.

Keselowski says he’ll make a few calls to see about getting you a ride with a Truck Series team.

You’re basically playing as Chase Briscoe.

Unlike the game, Briscoe got to race for Keselowski.

The call from the 2012 Cup champion came after Briscoe, driving for Cunningham Motorsports, captured the 2016 ARCA Racing Series championship. He earned six wins – including four in row – during the campaign.

At the end of the process Keselowski spearheaded, Briscoe was signed as Ford’s first development driver. He drove Brad Keselowski Racing’s No. 29 Ford in the Truck Series in 2017.

But Briscoe’s history with the Keselowskis didn’t begin there.

Chase Briscoe at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

It started when he made the move to North Carolina and began sleeping on couches and volunteering at race shops.

The first shop he lent his services to belonged to Keselowski’s father and brother, Bob and Brian.

“I’m sure they would say I didn’t help out much because I didn’t really know what I was doing,” says Briscoe, who served as a spotter for Brian when he raced while Bob served as crew chief.

Briscoe got to pay tribute to Bob Keselowski’s own Truck Series career last September when he drove one of his old paint schemes at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park

After his tenure at the Keselowski shop, Briscoe wound up at Cunningham Motorsports, where he volunteered until he was awarded a test at Nashville Speedway. That test resulted in two ARCA races in 2015 and his championship campaign.

UNEXPECTED PROMOTION

The plan was for Briscoe to compete in the Truck Series two years and move to the Xfinity Series.

Plans changed.

On Aug. 18, Brad Keselowski Racing announced it would shut down at the end of the 2017 season.

Due to not being near his phone, Briscoe didn’t find out until about an hour before the announcement was made.

“I had like two or three missed calls from Brad and I was like, ‘This is weird,’ ” says Briscoe. “I called him and he pretty much just told me, ‘Hey, I wanted to let you know I went to the shop today and told everybody I’m actually shutting the team down. You’re going to run the rest of the year, and I’m going to keep you in the best stuff I can.'”

The news came with nine races left in the season. With BKR the only Ford-backed team in Trucks at the time, Briscoe’s NASCAR future was put in limbo.

Chase Briscoe competes in the Feb. 24 Xfinity Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway. (Photo by Jeff Robinson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Three days after Briscoe closed the Truck season with his first series win at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Roush Fenway Racing announced he would be part of a three-driver effort to field the No. 60 Ford in the Xfinity Series in 2018 with Ty Majeski and his BKR teammate Austin Cindric.

Seventeen years after he first drove a quarter-midget, Briscoe made his Xfinity debut last Saturday at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Briscoe finished 15th.

“It was very eye-opening to be there in the first place … I never would have expected to even make it in the Xfinity Series,” Briscoe says. “To be able to drive for Jack Roush in your first start in the winningest number in Xfinity Series history (94 wins) is certainly very humbling. It was just such an honor.”

Briscoe will make 11 more starts in the N0. 60 this season, the next coming on April 7 at Texas Motor Speedway. But Briscoe will make at least one other Xfinity start.

He is scheduled to compete April 28 race at Talladega Superspeedway for Stewart-Haas Racing with Biagi-DenBeste Racing.

The race is significant for a driver who grew up in the dirt racing hotbed of Indiana.

“Being a sprint car guy, my hero is Tony Stewart,” Briscoe said of the native of Columbus, Indiana. “For me just getting to drive one race at Stewart-Haas is a dream come true. Just awesome and so humbling to be able to say I’m going to drive for my hero.”

The 23 year old Briscoe — at the age he once saw as a make-or-break year for his racing dreams — has a buffet of options before him.

In addition to racing for his home-state hero, he’ll compete in seven IMSA races, three Trans-Am races and roughly 25 sprint car races this year.

There’s not much a 60-year-old Briscoe would regret about the moment.

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Premium Motorsports will cease Truck Series operation after 2018, auction equipment

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Five days after it earned its first top five in the series, Premium Motorsports announced Thursday it will not compete in the Camping World Truck Series next season.

The team, which has fielded entries in the series in 112 starts since 2015, is making the move “to be able to focus solely on their Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series racing program in 2019.”

Premium will finish the season with its No. 49 Chevrolet, which is sponsored by Sobriety Nation. Wendell Chavous drove it for the first 19 races of the season. He retired from competition after last weekend’s Talladega race, where he earned his first career top five.

Nine other drivers have competed for the team throughout the season.

The team will auction off most of the its assets at the end of this month.

It has retained Gavel Auction Company NCAL6177 in Mooresville, North Carolina, for an auction to be held at 10 a.m. ET on Oct. 30.

 

Elliott Sadler begins final chapter with crew chief who revived career

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Elliott Sadler got his wish.

The 43-year-old JR Motorsports driver will end his NASCAR career racing “for all the marbles.”

Sadler, who announced the end of his full-time career in August, was determined to make the Round of 8 in the Xfinity playoffs. Then he could set out to fulfill the biggest wish of a career that began in 1995 – to be a NASCAR champion.

The final four races of Sadler’s career begins Saturday at Kansas Speedway (3 p.m. ET on NBC).

“It’s cool to know that my last four races that I’m running in are not just to fill the schedule,” Sadler told NBC Sports. “There’s a lot on the line. We want to go there and do a good job.”

These races are also Sadler’s final chance to win a championship with the man who helped resurrect his career in its twilight and who will try do the same for Jimmie Johnson.

I KNOW A GUY

Kevin Meendering’s name was first brought up to Sadler by Dale Earnhardt Jr.

It was October 2015 at Dover International Speedway and Sadler, then driving for Roush Fenway Racing, had just finished signing his deal to compete for JR Motorsports the next year.

Since returning to the Xfinity Series full-time in 2011, Sadler has won five times, but only once since 2013. He’d go winless in 2015.

Earnhardt thought the then 34-year-old Meendering was the solution to his friend’s problems.

The native of Grand Rapids, Michigan, had been with Hendrick Motorsports since 1999 when he was a 17-year-old intern in the team’s chassis department. By 2015, he had risen to lead engineer on Earnhardt’s No. 88 Chevrolet, where the team earned eight wins, 52 top five and 96 top-10 finishes in 178 starts.

“I want him to come and be your crew chief,” Sadler recalled being told by Earnhardt. “He is one of the reasons we won the races we did later on in my career, he really changed my outlook on racing. He will do you a great job.'”

Three years later, Sadler can’t help but agree.

“Man, was he ever right.”

Together, Sadler and Meendering won three times in 2016 at Talladega, Darlington and Kentucky.

Along with 14 top fives and a series-leading 29 top 10s in 33 races that year, Sadler made it to the championship four at Homestead-Miami Speedway. But without Meendering due to a suspension, Sadler lost the title to Daniel Suarez.

In 2017, Sadler went winless, but again made it to the championship four with help from 12 top fives (tied with William Byron) and a series-leading 25 top 10s. But Sadler missed out on the title to Byron after late-race contact with Ryan Preece.

“Last year, just being so close it just makes you want to work that much harder,” Meendering said last week following the announcement he will work with Johnson next season. “Seeing the disappointment in the guys on the team and Elliott, you just want to get back there and do a little better. I don’t want to say try harder because you are putting everything you’ve got into it, but you just want to win that championship.”

Entering their final four races together, Sadler and Meendering have 38 top fives and 75 top 10s.

Those numbers boosted Meendering’s portfolio to help give him the nod to replace Chad Knaus as Johnson’s crew chief next year in the Cup Series.

“I’ve been doing this 23 years and he is by far, and I mean by far, the best crew chief I’ve ever worked with all the way across the board if you have a lot of boxes to check,” said Sadler, whose crew chiefs have included Mike Beam, Todd Parrott and 2014 Cup champion Rodney Childers. “He’s very well deserving of this opportunity and he’s showing you his loyalty. These last couple of years he’s had a ton of job offers to leave, but Hendrick is where’s he been since he started in high school and he wanted to stay in that program. His patience has paid off.”

But before Sadler walks off into the Florida sunset and Meendering begins his quest to give Johnson an eighth Cup title, they’ll make one final push to give Sadler his long sought after NASCAR title.

TUNNEL VISION

For Meendering, giving Sadler a championship is “100 percent of my focus” despite the announcement of his impending promotion.

Sadler enters the Round of 8 in fifth, tied with Cole Custer with 3,011 points. They trail Christopher Bell (3,044), Justin Allgaier (3,039) and Daniel Hemric (3,013).

Of the top five drivers remaining, only Bell and Allgaier have won this year.

“Those guys with the wins, they have distanced themselves obviously, but we are also coming around to some very good tracks for Elliott,” Meendering said. “Through that summer stretch with the road courses and stuff, that is not really our strong suit as a team, but now we get back to Kansas, Texas, those are really good tracks for Elliott and I don’t see any reason why we can’t make it to Homestead.”

In his seven starts at Kansas since 2011, Sadler has never finished worse than 12th and has three top fives, the most recent in 2016.

The race in Kansas, the series’ only visit to the 1.5-mile this season, is one that Sadler has viewed as pivotal even before the season.

“Always to me, the last couple of years (with how) our point system is, even before you go to Daytona in February, I know that Kansas is the second most important race of the whole entire season,” Sadler said. “Homestead by far is the most important. Kansas is by far the second most important because it’s how you dictate, start off that final round. That’s what my mindset is this week. I know how important Kansas is. …. That’s all I’m really focused on. I haven’t really let the outside stuff affect me yet.”

The “outside stuff” is that the next four races – 1,100 miles and 800 laps barring overtime finishes – are his last planned in NASCAR.

Sadler said he has a “mental block” about the races and they don’t feel any more special than previous seasons.

“I know deep down inside it’s my last ever shot at ever winning a NASCAR championship,” Sadler said. “I just haven’t got to that point for some reason.”

But that point will come and then it will be gone.

If he and Meendering are unable to make the championship race and win the title, how does Sadler want to be remembered?

“If not, I hope people know we did it the right way,” Sadler said. “We did it fair and we did it even and we did it like we were supposed to. I was just a small town boy from Southern Virginia that was able to make it in the sport that he loved and cherished the most and that we did it the right way.”

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NASCAR’s weekend schedule for Kansas Speedway

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The NASCAR playoffs continue this weekend for the Cup and Xfinity Series as they visit Kansas Speedway.

Cup playoff teams will try to avoid elimination as Xfinity teams begin their second round.

Here’s this weekend’s full schedule with TV and radio info:

(All times are Eastern)

Friday, Oct. 19

11 a.m. – 9 p.m. – Cup garage open

Noon – 8 p.m. – Xfinity garage open

2:05 – 2:55 p.m. – Cup practice (NBCSN, Motor Racing Network)

3:05 – 3:55 p.m. – Xfinity practice (NBCSN)

5 – 5:50 – Final Xfinity practice (NBCSN)

7:10 p.m. – Cup qualifying; multi-car/three rounds (NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Saturday, Oct. 20

8 a.m. – Xfinity garage opens

9 a.m. – 4:30 p.m – Cup garage open

10:30 – 11:20 a.m. – Cup practice (CNBC, MRN)

11:40 a.m. – Xfinity qualifying; multi-car/three rounds (CNBC)

12:45 a.m. – Xfinity driver-crew chief meeting

1:05 – 1:55 p.m. – Final Cup practice (NBCSN, MRN)

2:25 p.m. – Xfinity driver introductions

2:55 p.m. – Kansas Lottery 300; 200 laps/300 miles (NBC, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, Oct. 21

9 a.m. – Cup garage opens

12:20 p.m. – Driver-crew chief meeting

1:40 p.m. – Driver introductions

2:20 p.m. – Hollywood Casino 400; 267 lap/400.5 miles (NBC, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

NASCAR America: Will anyone below the bubble advance?

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In Wednesday’s edition of NASCAR America, Steve Letarte said: “When you get to the Round of 12, it’s not about the points; it’s who you’ve got to beat.”

Brad Keselowski trails Martin Truex Jr. by 18 points. Letarte recalled a conversation with Paul Wolfe in which he questioned if it was realistic to beat Truex by that margin at Kansas. The answer was “no”.

The other three drivers below the cutline to advance to the Round of 8 are in an even more serious predicament.

Ryan Blaney is 22 points below the cutoff line. With his Talladega penalty, Kyle Larson is 36 points in arrears and Alex Bowman is 68 points behind. The most points available in a race is 60.

Keselowski’s surge at the end of the regular season that carried over to a playoff win at Las Vegas serves as an example of how these drivers can find a path to advancement. So does the fact that since the elimination-style playoffs were implemented, several drivers have earned dramatic wins in the final races of a round.

“Look at the playoffs,” Letarte continued. “I’m pretty scared to … say anything because Vegas was crazy, the Roval was crazy. Talladega was actually supposed to be crazy and it was calm.”

For more on whether the driver below the bubble can advance, watch the video above.

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