Through the Field: Working to the Bone
There’s been one common theme among many of the drivers announced to be taking over new rides in 2021, whether it’s a Cup Series debut, expanded Xfinity role or anything else.
They all worked their asses off to get that opportunity.
The driver movements this “silly season” have been extremely inspirational and will make for some great storylines and interesting careers to follow.
The wildest of all may be how Chase Briscoe has risen to the top level, in a story he has told a time or two again since it was announced that he will drive the No. 14 car for his idol, Tony Stewart.
He had moved to North Carolina to try to earn a ride in any series that he could. Briscoe would hang out and help out wherever he could at multiple race shops for no pay, just getting his name out there. He was just weeks away from giving up and moving back home when he earned a test for an ARCA team. Eventually, they gave him a ride and he won a championship for them. Even his Truck and Xfinity opportunities have just barely survived by the skin of their teeth because of sponsorship. But he’s made it now to a top-tier ride in Cup.
Ross Chastain is another driver who has been around for a while now and has done just about all he could to keep a career in racing. He was on a potential fast track as a driver for Brad Keselowski Racing, but when that team was shut down, it didn’t leave the watermelon farmer from Florida with much to turn to.
He spent multiple years running for lower-tier Xfinity and Truck teams and impressed enough to earn a few races in Chip Ganassi’s No. 42 Xfinity car. He took advantage of it, running up front, beating and banging with Kevin Harvick and winning a race.
That was going to be a full-time ride until the sponsor was raided by the FBI and the team was shut down. Following, Chastain bounced back and drove nearly full-time in all three series at one point just to get seat time and nearly won the Truck title while he was at it.
After subbing for Ryan Newman before the pandemic, he’s been the most consistently strong driver in Xfinity this year for Kaulig Racing and Ganassi has hired him once again to drive the Cup Series No. 42 in 2021.
But the lesser-known drivers, like Josh Berry, work just as hard, if not harder, to get any and every opportunity they can. Berry has been an asphalt late model driver with Dale Earnhardt Jr. for years, driving and winning races all across the country in lower-tier series. He’s made the occasional Xfinity start, including for JR Motorsports, but has never been able to get consistent time there.
2020 was a turning point for Berry as he won the national title sanctioned by NASCAR, and his career-best year was rewarded with a dozen races in the No. 8 Xfinity car.
Each one of these drivers worked as hard as possible and did everything they could to make it into some of the highest levels of racing. Keeping that mindset is crucial and can help you accomplish anything in life.
I’m sure that’s part of how Kyle Busch has won races in 16 consecutive seasons, as he finally got a victory in 2020 on Wednesday at Texas. The win was massive for Busch, but also massive for the playoffs, as it means no one else was able to lock themselves into the championship round at Phoenix. The cutoff race at NASCAR’s “paperclip” half-mile Martinsville short track is going to be all the more hectic because of it.
This Week’s Pick
Chase Elliott: The 2020 playoffs have been too hectic for there not to be a winner outside of the cutline in the last race of the round. Chase Elliott has raced well at Martinsville and his spin with Denny Hamlin a few years ago which took away what would have been his first-career win is still a highlight whenever Martinsville comes around on the schedule. I think this is the year that Elliott will contend for his first championship.
Alex Bowman & Martin Truex Jr.: I feel like I’ve beaten a dead horse with these guys in my columns, but both the No. 88 and No. 19 teams have been worthy of discussion all postseason long.
Alex Bowman has come relatively close to winning both races in the “Round of 8” but is still 25 points back of a spot in the “Championship 4.” Martinsville isn’t a great track for Bowman, but he finished in the top 10 there earlier this year and has done nothing but surprise this playoff season. Why not let the surprises continue?
As for Martin Truex Jr., he would have already locked himself into the Championship 4 had Busch run out of fuel in Texas. I’ve said before that I don’t have a great deal of faith in the No. 19 team, but great drivers find ways to get things done when they need to. Truex has won the last two Martinsville races and has come close to winning there in the past before that.