NASCAR: Better newcomer, Chase Briscoe or Ross Chastain?

Chase Briscoe, Stewart-Haas Racing, and Ross Chastain, Chip Ganassi Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Chase Briscoe, Stewart-Haas Racing, and Ross Chastain, Chip Ganassi Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images) /

After making the NASCAR Xfinity Series playoffs last year, both Chase Briscoe and Ross Chastain moved up to the Cup Series. Who will finish better?

Two of the NASCAR Cup Series newcomers this year, Chase Briscoe and Ross Chastain, proved that they deserved the opportunity by making the 2020 Xfinity Series playoffs.

After leading the Xfinity Series with nine wins, Briscoe graduated to the #14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford. Chastain led the Xfinity Series with 27 top 10 finishes in 33 races en route to a seventh place finish in the championship standings. He is set to wheel the #42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, replacing Matt Kenseth, who drove it after Kyle Larson was fired following his use of a racial slur.

For both drivers, it will be their first full-time Cup Series seasons, though Chastain raced in 34 of the 36 races in 2018 and 35 of the 36 races in 2019 with Premium Motorsports.

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As a result, Chastain will be ineligible to compete for NASCAR Cup Series Rookie of the Year honors, as any driver applying for Rookie of the Year in the Cup Series cannot have started in more than seven Cup Series championship races in any prior season, NASCAR confirmed to Beyond the Flag.

Nevertheless, this year will mark the first time Chastain will be eligible for Cup Series points. He and Briscoe have raced each other 69 times in their Xfinity Series careers, and both are moving to playoff-caliber Cup Series teams.

Which driver will finish better in 2021?

Chastain has more Cup Series experience than Briscoe. Chastain has made 79 Cup Series starts whereas Briscoe will debut in the Cup Series in the season-opening Daytona 500. In those 79 starts, Chastain has one top 10 finish, with that being a 10th place finish in the 2019 Daytona 500.

Combined among the three NASCAR national series, Chastain has started a whopping 361 races. Briscoe, two years younger than his counterpart, has started 108. Familiarity at most of the race tracks, along with plenty of Cup Series experience, should give Chastain the advantage.

However, Briscoe is far more accomplished as a driver. He has 13 wins in his NASCAR career along with the 2016 ARCA Menards Series title. Chastain has five wins and a career-best second-place finish in the 2019 Truck Series championship standings. Head to head in their Xfinity Series careers, Briscoe has beaten Chastain 40 times in 69 races.

Briscoe negates Chastain’s Cup Series experience with his victories thus far. He has won at several tracks on the Cup Series circuit, ranging from the four-turn, 0.533-mile (0.858-kilometer) high-banked short track Bristol Motor Speedway to the four-turn, 1.5-mile (2.414-kilometer) Las Vegas Motor Speedway oval and the tricky three-turn, 2.5-mile (4.023-kilometer) Pocono Raceway triangle.

Briscoe also showcased some attributes which will aid him in his Cup Series rookie season. In the first race back for the Xfinity Series following the hiatus due to COVID-19, he outlasted Kyle Busch en route to winning at the treacherous Darlington Raceway.

Once the Xfinity Series returned to racing, there were no practice or qualifying sessions. This year, only eight Cup Series races will have those sessions, so Briscoe can succeed.

This season, the Cup Series will race on a record seven road courses. For Briscoe, this is exciting because he has finesse on those tracks. He has won at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.

In particular, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course is scheduled to host the Cup Series for the first time this year. Last year, Briscoe led a race-high 30 laps, won the second stage and won the inaugural Xfinity Series race there. He learned the 13-turn, 2.439-mile (3.925-kilometer) road course quite well.

Might this make him a favorite to win the Cup Series race there this year?

Additionally, the Cup Series is scheduled to race at the Bristol Motor Speedway dirt course. Briscoe has a dirt track racing background, which includes a win in the 2018 Eldora Dirt Derby at Eldora Speedway.

So the schedule changes for this Cup Series season benefit him, and he knows driving the #14 for NASCAR Hall of Famer Tony Stewart is the best opportunity of his career.

Chastain is no slouch himself, however. He rightly earned his ride after making the Truck Series Championship 4 and the Xfinity Series playoffs in consecutive years. He has toiled in underfunded rides, including more than three full Xfinity Series seasons with JD Motorsports, for a large portion of his career.

Yet he is ready to compete full-time in the Cup Series in a top-tier ride. His Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Kurt Busch won at Las Vegas Motor Speedway last year and finished in 10th place in the championship standings. The previous year, both Larson and Busch won and made the playoffs for the team. So Chastain, like Briscoe, is climbing into a fast car.

Four of Chastain’s five NASCAR wins have come at courses on the Cup Series schedule as well: Daytona International Speedway, Kansas Speedway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Pocono Raceway.

He has made his most starts in the Xfinity Series. His best tracks have arguably been Daytona International Speedway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Darlington Raceway and Richmond Raceway. Although he finished the 2020 Xfinity Series season winless, he nearly won the second race at Darlington Raceway.

Chastain gained recognition for his amazing 2019 season, but he asserted his talent with a good 2020 season as well. In fact, Roush Fenway Racing hired him to drive the #6 Ford as a substitute for Ryan Newman after he was injured in a last-lap Daytona 500 crash.

While he failed to lead laps or score a top 10 finish in those three races, he finished on the lead lap twice and completed all three races.

Team owner Chip Ganassi made the right choice when he hired Chastain for this season, and Chastain will perform well for his new team.

So who will finish better in 2021, Briscoe or Chastain?

I predict that Briscoe will score a win at one of the road courses, thereby qualifying for the playoffs. Chastain, on the other hand, will struggle somewhat. He will need to improve his road course racing skills and establish a good rapport with his team. I predict that he will finish in 23rd place in the championship standings, steadily improving over the course of the season.

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Both drivers are slated to begin their first full-time Cup Series seasons at Daytona International Speedway. The season-opening Daytona 500 is scheduled to take place on Sunday, February 14, with Fox set to provide live TV coverage beginning at 2:30 p.m. ET.