While the silly season continues to sort itself out, we are awaiting for confirmation that Ryan Briscoe is officially out of the No.8 NTT Data car at Chip Ganassi Racing. It has become a question of when and not if that happens. Most believe that Sage Karam will be named to that car at some point in the near future. If that does happen, it begs the question – what will become of Ryan Briscoe?
Personally, I like Ryan Briscoe and think he is a good driver; but I think I’m probably in the minority – especially with the second part of that statement. I mean, how could you not like Briscoe? He’s personable and one of the nicer guys in the paddock. It’s his ability as a driver that comes into question.
Actually, it’s his ability as a racer that comes into question. There’s a big difference in a driver and a racer. A driver tends to be a good qualifier and has good car-control. A racer may not be the best qualifier on the grid, but put other cars around a racer and the racer will usually find themselves out front.
Good examples of racers would include Tony Kanaan, Scott Dixon and Ryan Hunter-Reay. They don’t always start all that well, but they usually finish near the front. Surprisingly, I’ll also call Graham Rahal and Charlie Kimball good racers. They’ve each won only one race, but for whatever reason – they are terrible qualifiers. I believe Charlie Kimball passed more cars than anyone else this past season, yet he only had one podium finish all season – a third in the second Detroit race.
Getting back to Briscoe – he was always a good qualifier. He has thirteen poles, including the 2012 Indianapolis 500. He also has eight wins – all between 2008 and 2012, when he happened to drive for Roger Penske. In 2009, he was bearing down on the championship when he had a massive brain fade leaving the pits in the penultimate race at Motegi, causing him to finish eighteenth.
Detractors will claim that anyone could have won in a Penske car during those years and that Briscoe threw away many more potential wins. I disagree with that notion. No matter how good the car, I believe you still have to have enormous talent to cross the finish line first – but that’s just me. I will concede that he may be a better driver than racer, however.
Sandwiched around those Penske years were two short stints at Chip Ganassi Racing. He also had spots of fill-in duty at Dreyer & Reinbold and Panther Racing. Neither of those stints at Ganassi occurred in banner seasons. In 2005, Ganassi was saddled with the lame duck Toyota engine after the Japanese automaker had already announced they were leaving at the end of that season. Ganassi was also one of the few teams till running the Panoz chassis, which was quickly falling out of favor on some tracks.
Briscoe just completed his second stint at Ganassi, in a season that was not their best. Some say that Briscoe was part of the reason for their decline, but I don’t buy that for a minute. I think there were several other factors contributing to their woes that didn’t include Briscoe. Whatever the case, the affable Australian seems to be out (again) at Ganassi after only one season.
If this is not the end of Briscoe’s IndyCar career, it’s certainly his last shot at a top ride. There are a few seats left with some second and third tier teams, but they generally require a driver to bring sponsorship dollars. Ryan Briscoe has never been in a position to have to hunt down sponsorship and is probably ill-equipped to do so. Unless you grew up in the money-seeking environment of auto racing, you’re probably not going to be very successful at it.
Some suggest that Briscoe’s brightest future is sports car racing, but he has made it clear that the Verizon IndyCar Series is really all he’s focused on, at the moment. I don’t blame him. At thirty-three, Briscoe is still considered in his prime and I think he has proven his worth to the series. I’ve read where many think he is a detriment to the series because they find him boring. Personally, I find him to be a nice guy who always has a smile on his face. I’m not sure when that became an undesirable trait.
For some reason that I can’t put my finger on, I don’t see Briscoe fitting in at Andretti Autosport. Michael Andretti has yet to announce his complete driver lineup for next season, but most believe he will replace James Hinchcliffe who is headed to Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. There is still one seat at KVSH Racing, Sam Schmidt could possibly have an open seat if Mikhail Aleshin doesn’t return and no one knows how things will shake out at Dale Coyne Racing.
But aside from the fact that I think Briscoe is a better driver than most others do, I have another reason why I hope he gets one more shot. That reason is his wife, Nicole Briscoe – and here’s why.
Although I was pleased when ESPN announced that Lindsay Czarniak would be replacing Brent Musburger as host for their 2013 Indianapolis 500 telecast – I have been very disappointed in her performance for the past two years. Her lack of racing knowledge is readily apparent. Her waxing of the lore and tradition rang hollow when she freely admitted she had never been. I got the feeling that she had been given a list of the drivers about thirty minutes before the start of the telecast, and did her best to memorize them. To put it bluntly, she came off as a female version of Todd Harris.
When it was announced that Nicole Briscoe would be staying with ESPN as a SportsCenter host after their NASCAR run ends next month, I immediately thought of her as a logical choice as host for the Indianapolis 500 telecast. She obviously knows racing after years of hosting ESPN’s NASCAR telecasts and her earlier days hosting The Speed Report on SPEED.
Having been married to Ryan for several years, no one would question her passion or knowledge of the sport or the event. She may not be considered as “hip” as Czarniak, but face it – IndyCar is not as hip as they like to think they are, and I mean that in a good way. I think Nicole Briscoe would be a better fit, all the way around. Would it be considered a conflict of interest if her husband was in the starting field? I certainly don’t think so. I think it would be a great side-story.
So, think what you will about Ryan Briscoe. He may not be the best driver in the paddock, but I would put him in the top-third. I’m not sure how scientific these rankings are, but that’s my opinion. But he’s a good and likeable guy that sponsors seem to enjoy associating with. Word has it that NTT Data loved him at hospitality events. It’s too bad that Chip Ganassi apparently didn’t share that love.
But I would really like to see Nicole Briscoe involved with the few ABC/ESPN telecasts of the Verizon IndyCar Series for next season. She’s bright, funny and knows this sport inside and out. Having her husband in the series would just make her presence that much more intriguing.