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Chase Briscoe looks to Phoenix to snap struggles

Kim Coon, Nate Ryan and Kyle Petty preview the final stop on NASCAR's West Coast Tour at Phoenix Raceway, including which drivers are facing pressure to perform following two poor starts to the season.

AVONDALE, Ariz. — A year after celebrating his first Cup win, Chase Briscoe returns to Phoenix Raceway looking to turn his season around.

Briscoe is one of seven drivers who have finished 20th or worse in both West Coast races — Auto Club Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway — this season but none of those other drivers made the playoffs last year.

The other six drivers are Briscoe’s Stewart-Haas Racing teammate, Ryan Preece, rookie Noah Gragson, BJ McLeod, Cody Ware, JJ Yeley and Ty Dillon.

Briscoe has finished no better than 20th this season. He was eliminated by an accident at Daytona, was down on power at Auto Club Speedway and wasn’t a factor last week at Las Vegas. He starts Sunday’s race 24th.

It’s one thing to have a drought in the middle of the season — it can be overshadowed by everything else going on in the sport — but when it happens at the start of the season, the struggles are evident to everyone.

“It’s definitely more challenging at the beginning of the year because obviously you’re amped up and excited to get the season going,” Briscoe said of a poor start to the season.

“You have all these high expectations. It kind of puts you in a more down mood when it’s at the start of the season versus if it was in the middle of the season because you know you have the win to lean back on (as he did last year). … It’s unfortunate anytime you have a three-race slump, but it definitely gets a lot more attention in the beginning of the year than it would in the middle of June or July.”

Stewart-Haas Racing and the Fords have faced challenges this season, while Chevrolet has won each of the first three races. Kevin Harvick is the only SHR teammate to Briscoe who has finished in the top 10 this season, doing so the past two races.

Briscoe had his ups and downs early last season but the Phoenix win changed the complexion of his year.

“When you have the win in your back pocket, you can kind of ride off a bad week – or even a couple weekends – because you know that you’re still in the playoffs and that whatever happens, you’re still good,” Briscoe said. “When you don’t have that win is when it gets even more pressing, and there are a lot more struggles because you don’t have anything to fall back on or anything to race for but the win.”

He noted how having that Phoenix win last year made it easier to make a banzai last-lap move for the win that failed in the dirt race at Bristol last year.

“Winning as early as we did last year, it not only changed our team’s aspect but even on the racetrack for me going back to Bristol,” he said. “It would be the perfect example of ‘If I was 10th/12th place in points and know I’ll potentially be on the bubble, I probably don’t try to make that move.’

“But having a win in our back pocket – another win is five bonus points – that’s huge for us. It’s kind of a ‘win everywhere’ at that point, and it definitely changes how you race the rest of the season if you have a win early in the year.”

First, Briscoe has to get shake the struggles of this season.