Livescore Thursday, April 25

1. So… Chase Briscoe. Here’s a question about that — when you two broke the news, the team admitted wrongdoing and won’t appeal — is there any indication that Briscoe might have been using the counterfeit part in previous races? In other words, if a guy is off steroids, the performance won’t be the same. If Briscoe has all the legal parts now, will we see him not perform as well? Or is this splitting hairs?

Jeff: The problem for Briscoe is he wasn’t performing well anyway. His cars haven’t been competitive this season, which you can say for some of Briscoe’s Stewart-Haas Racing teammate as well. When using the part in question, Briscoe finished 20th in the Coke 600. But to answer your question, it’s doubtful this was the first time Briscoe was using the part and you’d also assume he wasn’t the only SHR car to be running it, either (why would the team only do this for one of its four cars?). That said, every competitive team is doing something. Otherwise, how would they be faster than the others? It’s just a matter of whether they get caught. When NASCAR only takes two of the cars for a full teardown each week, they’re not going to catch some of what goes on in the garage.

Jordan: Briscoe’s performance has been all over the board this season, stretches where he’s run poorly followed by spurts where he’s up up, then he reverts back to running poorly. It’s quite confounding, with no rhythm-or-reason why the dramatic swings. This is a long winded way of saying who knows what to expect going forward.

2. Corey LaJoie will take over Chase Elliott’s car this week. You’ve praised LaJoie before as a longshot pick in this column, but there’s buzz around him being in a good car now. Jeff even wrote “LaJoie once suggested if he had the same car as Denny Hamlin, he’d win races.” Is he a darkhorse this week? (BONUS: Cool story on him here)

Jeff: LaJoie could definitely run well, but to expect him to win in someone else’s car for a one-off substitute role? That seems like a tall order. It’s not impossible, but also not likely. If LaJoie pulled that off, it would go down as one of the all-time NASCAR stories and get talked about in the same way as Jamie McMurray winning in Sterling Marlin’s car back in 2002. But even at +3500 odds, I’m not sure it’s worth the risk. LaJoie is +135 to get a top-10 finish this week, which seems more realistic.

Jordan: LaJoie winning Sunday would be an all-time upset, and a heck of story. But while not impossible, it also doesn’t feel realistic. What is realistic is that LaJoie qualifies well, runs in or around the top 10 all race and leaves with a good finish. He does this, it will considered a banner day – furthet solidifying the idea he’s deserving of a regular ride with a top team.

NOOB QUESTION OF THE WEEK: How has LaJoie not gotten a chance to be in a good car up until now? Especially if NextGen is leveling the playing field?

Jeff: LaJoie is not rich and doesn’t have a huge amount of sponsorship behind him (some, but not enough), which means he largely has to move up the ladder based on results. And when you start from the bottom with backmarker teams, it can be a long, slow grind. That’s why he’s been “stacking pennies” for years now. LaJoie is also not young anymore (31), which means he can get passed over for hot prospects who teams want to get into their systems. That said, his stock has continued to rise and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him upgrade his ride as a pending free agent.

Jordan: As Jeff laid out, circumstances haven’t worked in LaJoie’s favor. But this season he’s impressed a lot of folks to where if he continues at this level he’s going to eventually secure himself the opportunity with a big team he’s long coveted. It will be interesting to see what his next move is, as it feels like he’s on the cusp of finally breaking through.

3. Who is your pick to win this one-Chase race?

Jeff: The inaugural Gateway race last year saw eight different drivers lead double digit laps, which doesn’t give us much to lean on. So when looking at this weekend, I’d lean toward a Phoenix or Richmond comparison from earlier this season. The top two lap leaders in both of those races? Kyle Larson and William Byron. Not surprisingly, they’re the two favorites this weekend. It’s not a very interesting pick, but I’ll go with Larson.

Jordan: With how well Larson and Byron have run on a week-to-week basis, you have to classify them as the co-favorites. But what about last week’s winner, Ryan Blaney? He finished second at Phoenix earlier this year and comes into the weekend no longer carrying the weight of a lengthy winless streak on his shoulders. And for whatever reason, it’s not uncommon for a driver to snap their winless drought then soon win again. Kevin Harvick did it just last summer.

4. Jordan had a great story on NASCAR free agency and Zane Smith’s name popped up. He’s appeared here before for his truck series dominance. How many more Cup Series races might we see him in this season before he possibly gets his own car next year?

Jeff: Smith was announced as getting seven Cup starts this season and he has already done five. That said, there could certainly be an opportunity for more. It all depends on things like sponsorship, open seats and what Ford might want to do.

Jordan: Smith is going to be racing full-time in Cup in 2024. The only unknown is which Ford team he’ll be driving for.

NOOB follow-up: Is it easier for someone like Josh Berry to transition from Xfinity to the Cup Series than it is for Smith to go from Trucks to Cup because of the car they’re driving?

Jeff: It depends who you ask. It used to be that Xfinity was the best path to Cup because the cars drove so similarly, but now with the Next Gen they are not very alike. The way drivers try to side-draft in Trucks is said to be a more similar style of racing. That said, the talent level is higher in Xfinity than Trucks, so they are still both viable paths. Personally, I’d want to see a driver get at least a full season of Xfinity before making the jump to Cup, but that increasingly seems like an old-school mentality.

Jordan: It’s an interesting question because there is no standard path to Cup, often depending on a drivers’ skillset and the opportunity they have before him. For example, Smith’s climb up the developmental ladder began with a part-time stint in Xfinity where he impressed enough to get a full-time ride in the Truck Series. Compare this to Ty Gibbs, who skipped the Truck Series completely to go directly to Xfinity where he then raced only one full season before being promoted to Cup.

(Top photo: Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

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