A Hoosier homecoming this weekend for Chase Briscoe

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Not every young person growing up in Indiana dreams of winning at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

But enough do.

Chase Briscoe – native of Mitchell, Indiana, two hours south of the Brickyard – was one such person. And on July 4, 2020, he made his dream come true when he won the inaugural NASCAR Xfinity Series race on the IMS road course.

But while he reveled in his accomplishment, there was something missing: A roaring crowd to congratulate him. The COVID-19 pandemic forced that weekend’s races at IMS – NASCAR Xfinity and Cup, plus IndyCar – to run behind closed gates.

That won’t be the case this weekend, which sees Briscoe return to IMS as a Cup Series rookie and competing on the same 14-turn circuit he triumphed on.

His supporters from Mitchell will be there in force.

“Oh man, I don’t even know what the number will be,” Briscoe told NBC Sports with a laugh on Wednesday. “There’s a lot of them, though. I know that. I think they’re all gonna be towards Turn 1 … I know they’ve got a pretty big block of tickets down there.

“It’ll be fun to (have) that. And there’s a lot of people even working at the race track that are from my hometown or kind of the area I’m from – whether they’re ‘yellow shirts’ or just working at the offices there.”

NASCAR Xfinity Series Pennzoil 150 at the Brickyard
Indiana native Chase Briscoe won last year’s inaugural Xfinity race on the road course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. This year, he’ll have supporters in the stands when he returns as a Cup rookie. Photo: Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Along with Sunday’s Cup race and quality time with loved ones, Briscoe also will get to race on dirt a bit.

Friday, he’s scheduled to run a non-wing sprint car at Paragon (Ind.) Speedway, where at age 14, he became the youngest driver ever to win in a 410 sprint car. The driver that held such status beforehand? Jeff Gordon.

He’s also sticking around after Sunday’s Cup race to run as a driver-owner in the BC39 midget race the following week on the IMS dirt track. Reigning Cup champion Chase Elliott and IndyCar driver Conor Daly will run his other two entries for the event. Not a bad pair of pick-ups.

“The sprint car stuff is fun,” Briscoe said. “There’s just no pressure. It doesn’t matter where I finish. I’m just going to have a good time and hang out with my family. My grandpa (renowned sprint car team owner Richard Briscoe), I haven’t seen him this excited for a long time. I know he’s gonna go this weekend and go to Paragon. He’s definitely not going to miss that one.

“So, it’ll just be fun to go there and just have a good time and let loose in the sprint car. Same with the midget race. It’s a little more serious, but at the same time, at the end of the day, the results don’t necessarily matter at any of those races like they do on Sunday.”

Briscoe says he plans to savor these moments, which may not be as easy to have in the future.

There’s a good reason why. He and his wife, Marissa, are set to welcome their first child, a son, in October.

One of Briscoe’s sponsors, Huffy Bicycles, has already chipped in with a custom bike for the child before he is born.

So while we may not see Briscoe racing as much outside of his No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford, Briscoe figures to see his son do the same thing he did when he had a Huffy.

“I used to race my Huffy around in the driveway against myself,” he said. “I’d draw a little race track out with chalk and I’m sure he’ll probably do the same.”

As for Sunday, Briscoe hopes to continue the momentum he’s built on road courses this season.

In a down year for Stewart-Haas Racing – Aric Almirola’s win at New Hampshire notwithstanding – Briscoe’s three top-10 finishes have all come on road courses. Last week, he finished ninth at Watkins Glen.

So how did a dirt-track ace become a solid road racer? At first glance, the disciplines couldn’t seem more different.

But Briscoe’s knowledge on dirt doesn’t just serve him well over there.

“I feel like a lot of the road courses (in a Cup car) definitely correlate over to sprint cars just because on the road courses, you’ve really got to be elbows up,” he explained. “You’ve got to be hustling the car, slipping and sliding around. You have more power than you can normally put to the ground on the exit of these corners, and it’s the same with a sprint car.”

“… IMS last year, for sure, I felt like it was very similar to the sprint car in the sense of how you had to be smooth on the throttle on the exits. And you had to get aggressive. You’re three-wheeling the thing, jumping curbs, sideways a lot of the time.

“That just goes back to what I grew up doing in sprint cars.”

Back then, Chase Briscoe was simply dreaming of winning at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

A little over a year after making that dream come true, a proper Hoosier homecoming awaits.