By Dustin Albino

NORTH WILKESBORO, N.C. — It took a broken middle finger on Chase Briscoe’s left hand for him to get his first top-five finish of the 2023 season at the Bristol dirt race last month. The No. 14 team went on a string of earning three straight top fives — his personal best — at three completely different racetracks.

But that momentum stopped quickly.

In the three races since placing a season best fourth at Talladega Superspeedway, Briscoe has two finishes of 30th or worse and an average result of 26.3.

With how Briscoe — and all of Stewart-Haas Racing — performed at Martinsville Speedway last month, he had reason to smile entering the 2023 All-Star Race at the revived North Wilkesboro Speedway. And in Saturday’s qualifying heat, he was strong, finishing third.

During the 200-lap main event, Briscoe was a top-five threat throughout. Fifth is exactly where he was running at the lap 100 competition caution.

On the restart, Briscoe got shoved out of the groove by Chase Elliott and dropped as low as eighth. During a caution-free final stint, the No. 14 Ford drove to fourth and was closing quickly on Tyler Reddick as the checkered flag waved.

“We were really fast at the end,” Briscoe said following the race. “I feel like if I ever got the lead, I would be hard to beat.

“I was probably one of the few cars that could pass, so I‘m proud of that effort but would have loved to have won $1 million. With how our last couple of weeks have been, we needed to get a good run and prove that we can run with these guys is nice.”

Though Briscoe had a three-race slide, he dropped just one position in the championship standings and currently sits on the playoff cutline with a five-point buffer over Alex Bowman. But having a strong performance in the All-Star Race, albeit a non-points paying race, he believes can help the No. 14 team right its ship.

“Just to get some of that confidence back and momentum back,” Briscoe added. “We know we can run with these guys, we just have to prove it. That was nice to do that.”

While Briscoe was strong at North Wilkesboro, two of the Stewart-Haas Racing Fords didn’t make the race. Kevin Harvick struggled mightily and finished 18th.

Halfway through the regular season, Briscoe is a believer in the No. 14 team’s short-track program. It does, however, have plenty of room to improve on intermediates.

“On the short tracks, I feel like we can go win any of them,” Briscoe stated. “It‘s the mile and a halves that‘s the trouble for us. Short track program is good, we just have to get better mile and a half wise. I do feel like we found a little bit at Darlington that makes me a little more optimistic come the [Coca-Cola 600].”

In NASCAR’s longest race last season, Briscoe went toe-to-toe with Kyle Larson before spinning underneath the No. 5 car with two laps to go. He still rebounded to finish fourth.

In the two mile-and-a-half races this season, Briscoe has an average finish of 30th. He’s hoping to take a big chunk out of that number next weekend.

“We‘re going to go there with everything we‘ve got,” he said. “We‘ve just struggled. Last year, we were the same way. We were terrible on mile and a halves and at Charlotte, we should have won, probably. We did the Goodyear test there and were absolutely terrible, so we know what not to do.”

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