Victory Signals Return Of 'The Biff'
Despite having a driver that is second in the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings, it has been a quiet season for Roush Fenway Racing. Sure, Carl Edwards has been the “best in class” in a year when four-time Brickyard winner Jimmie Johnson has dominated the standings. But the three drivers at Roush Fenway had just one trip to victory lane this season, and that came in the second contest of 2013 when Edwards won at Phoenix.
Leave it to “The Biff” to break that streak last Sunday at Michigan International Speedway.
Greg Biffle gave team owner Jack Roush a victory at his “home track” – just a short drive from Roush Enterprises’ headquarters in Livonia, Mich. It was also the 1,000th NASCAR victory for Ford Racing, including all three of NASCAR’s national touring series.
The victory moved “The Biff” to eighth in the Cup standings, giving Roush a chance to have two drivers in “The Chase” if Edwards and Biffle can maintain their top-10 status during NASCAR’s “Race to the Chase” that ends with the 26th contest of the season Sept. 7 at Richmond International Raceway.
The big event in the “Race to the Chase” is NASCAR’s annual trip to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Crown Royal Presents the “Your Hero’s Name Here” 400 at the Brickyard Powered by BigMachineRecords.com July 28 – the centerpiece event in the Kroger Super Weekend at the Brickyard.
“We're starting to figure out some areas that have gotten us a little bit of speed,” Biffle said of his keys to success last Sunday. “So we're focusing on those areas to continue to bring up that speed. It's been well-documented that the Hendrick Motorsports cars the last few weeks; it was the Joe Gibbs cars prior to that. It's almost like they passed the baton to who seems like they have the fastest cars right now. We're continuing to really, really gain on those guys, especially second in a win.
“We love where we're at right now. We're gaining speed every week in our cars. I think they are, too. We may be gaining a little faster. The next 10 weeks will tell the tale. I like where we're at because it seems that we're really ramping up our program, and that bodes well for if we make the Chase, having some momentum heading into the Chase. Versus last year, we're leading the points the whole way, and four, five, six races before the Chase, we weren't that strong. It looks like we're kind of the other direction this time.”
Edwards and Biffle are the two veteran drivers at Roush Fenway Racing with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. competing in his rookie season after taking over the Ford that was driven by longtime Roush driver Matt Kenseth, who left for Joe Gibbs Racing.
At one point during the race last Sunday, Biffle had a chance to help Edwards when some debris was stuck to his front grille. The team wanted Biffle to drop back to help Edwards brush off the piece of paper that was stuck to his car, but Biffle knew he was in a race to the finish with Jimmie Johnson charging through the field. Biffle had to maintain his pace, or he might lose the race.
Johnson suffered a right front-tire failure with three laps to go, which allowed Biffle to easily win the race.
“We had a brief conversation in our call-in, but we had all the team engineers and crew chiefs and drivers,” Biffle said. “That really wasn't the proper time to take up the meeting time to discuss all of those things, but we talked about it briefly. We're going to have a follow-up meeting. Everybody had different schedules this week, so we're going to sit down and talk a little bit about it and just the expectation and understanding of what can you do to help another competitor. Certainly, I've backed up to Carl before to get stuff off his grille, and he's done the same stuff for me. But at a big racetrack like Michigan, there is a certain probably distance that a guy can back up. At the same time, you have to ask yourself, is it advantageous for me, the guy that's got stuff on my grille to back up to the car behind me and get the stuff off my grille, versus having that guy back up to me. So there are a lot of things that play factors in there.
“Our crew chief also had a strategy that we needed to be so many seconds ahead of the second-place car so that we could pit under green and come back out. If the caution came out, we'd still be on the lead lap, and that's exactly what happened. We pitted. We were on pit road when the caution came out. The very thing he was trying to put himself in position for happened. We came out the leader of that sequence, and ultimately that's probably what ended up winning us the race. So we want to work together at all costs, but we have to be reasonable about asking one another to do. When I got the message that Carl had paper on his grille, which I had paper on my grille too, I was looking for somebody, as well, a lap car waiting to get the paper off on a lap car. He was a long way behind us before we got the message to us and just didn’t feel that it was close enough to help him.”
Biffle and Edwards are fierce competitors and understand the role of teammates in NASCAR. But being a good team player doesn’t mean sacrificing a chance to win a race over helping another driver get a lap back or assist in getting debris off the grille of a race car.
“Well, we all have different reactions when we're in the car or when we just get out of the car and our finish or result isn't what we wanted because of a certain situation,” Biffle said of Edwards’ reaction. “So I've done the same thing. In fact, there was something that I've been quoted saying as well that isn't what I meant, but it's what I said at the time. So in his meeting on Monday, he was looking at every way we could work together as a team. He thought it was on great for our organization to qualify on the pole and win the race, the 1000th race for Ford. So I haven't read all of the stuff. I did see the front page of something, I don't remember what it was, but that he's not a teammate of ours or we're not teammates or something like that. I'm not sure
“But I understand. I've been there. And sometimes things get taken out of context of what you actually meant and what you said. I understand that part of it.
“You've got to put into context: Let's help each other. If this situation rises again and I'm a third of a straightaway out in front, I'm not going to back up a third of a straightaway lead to help get paper off his grille. If it's six car lengths or five, no problem. We all understand that. But you can't ask another competitor to give up a quarter or half, third of a straightaway lead. It's just not practical; it's not feasible.”
In the middle of June, drivers such as Biffle have to keep an eye on where the other drivers trying to make the Chase are located in the standings. Kurt Busch is 20th in points, which is the last position for a driver who hopes to grab one of the two “Wild Card” positions based on victories. Brickyard legend Tony Stewart of Columbus, Ind., is 10th in points but only 26 points behind Biffle, so Biffle knows there is no easing up on the competition.
“This sport continues to get more competitive and more competitive every single race,” Biffle said. “As we narrow the box down, it seems like, as our cars get, we get … each team gets more competitive and closer in, that it becomes more difficult and we end up getting literally on top of each other. That's a good example of going from having a 20th-place car that you can hardly drive to having a fifth-place car. The window is so small, such small adjustments, and these cars are very, very sensitive. Because we've optimized to about every point on the car, the same thing is happening in the points. We're so fine-tuned that a little bit either way can move you way up and down in points or can put you from running in a top-five car to running 20th, and you're wondering what in the world is wrong with my car? So it is getting to be very, very difficult and challenging.”
Biffle is a big believer in momentum and hopes he has some of that as NASCAR Sprint Cup hits the road for the first of two road-course contests this season beginning Sunday at Sonoma Raceway.
“(Momentum) is a weird thing,” Biffle said. “I can't honestly explain why momentum is a good thing or a bad thing. But I can tell you that it definitely makes a difference. Whether it's the energy level, whether you feel good so that things are smoother, things go your way. I can't explain it. Maybe you're more upbeat, more alert, but momentum definitely plays a factor in this sport.
“When you're on that down momentum like we were three weeks ago or four weeks ago, we couldn't do anything right. We'd pit, and the caution would come out. We'd do this, and something would happen. The last two weeks it was like we couldn't do anything wrong. Every restart we got, we got the outside lane, which was good for us.”
Biffle has 19 career Cup wins, but none at Sonoma. The road course in California’s Wine Country has featured eight different winners, including seven first-time winners in the last eight years, so Biffle hopes it is his turn to win in Northern California.
“I certainly hope so,” he said. “We've worked very, very hard on our cars and our road-race program. I like that track. I've been kind of my worst enemy myself because I was leading there about three years ago on a restart, and went off the track going up the hill on the first corner on my own. So I just need to stay on the track and take care of my car. We typically end up up front and could challenge for a win. I certainly think we have the momentum on our side.
“I think there are a lot of talented guys running at the top level. It's so odd this year. The teams are so mixed up, who is performing at certain racetracks. I couldn't pinpoint who is going to be fast at that venue this weekend.”