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Biffle And Puccia Head East First In Points, Smiles

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Wednesday, March 14 2012

Greg Biffle and the No. 16 Roush Fenway Racing team are moving forward this season. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

One week ago, Greg Biffle was doing the rub the hands together in excitement thing. He was about to take to the track at Las Vegas and he figured that racing at that 1.5-mile tri-oval would give him and his Roush Fenway Racing team a good look at their competitive tea leaves.

“I think that you can answer that question when you leave here,” Biffle said when somebody asked him how the No. 16 Ford stacked up against the rest of the Sprint Cup field this year. “I really do.”

If Vegas was some sort of acid test for Biffle and his team, they all must be heading to Bristol Motor Speedway for this weekend’s Food City 500 feeling big time good.

Biffle finished third at Las Vegas. It was his third third-place finish of the three-race-old season. As a result, he will arrive in Bristol this week as the series points leader.

Third at a restrictor plate track, third at a short track, third at a 1.5. Nice, he said this week.

“It certainly started off to be a good season for us so far,” Biffle said.

Certainly better than last year, when the No. 16 team, despite having fast Fusions, finished 35th, 20th and 28th to start the year.

The rest of the season didn’t go so well, either. Not by Roush Fenway standards. The entire first seven months of the season were a tension-filled, hammer-and-tong cage match to get into the top 10 or win

Greg Biffle is off to a fast start. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Christa L Thomas)

races in an effort to make the Chase.

Again, all with pretty fast cars. It was goofy screw-ups and bad luck which was holding the team back. And that only made things more frustrating as the season wore on.

At the midseason point, Roush officials had seen enough. They replaced veteran crew chief Greg Erwin with young, less-experienced Matt Puccia.

Results did not improve with Puccia on the box. But less tangible things did. More changes were made in the off-season and when the team headed to Daytona in February, it was with a new look and hopeful attitude.

Biffle qualified on the front row and led 44 laps in the 500. Easily, he could have won as he was right there as the front of the field headed out of Turn 4 for the final time.

After his third podium of the season, Biffle explained his quick start.

“Just plain and simple, Matt Puccia is the reason why we’re running and competing and finishing where we are,” he said. “This team needed leadership and he was willing to step up and take the task on and he’s done a fantastic job so far.”

There are other reasons, too. All realated to massive off-season changes of personnel.

“It has 100 percent to do with where we’re at right now,” Biffle said of the changes. “That’s why we changed and put the crew chief in charge last year, and then we kept handcuffs on him. I wouldn’t let him change any people or change out guys as he went two, three, four, five, six weeks into his job. We waited until the off-season. I say we – Robbie (Reiser) and all the guys waited until the off-season to make the changes because we were waiting to figure out what we were going to do with the 6 car.

“We were waiting to see what was going to happen because it would determine whether we got a sponsor for the (No.) 6 or not, so if we had to downsize we were gonna have a bunch of people that we could move internally around the company, so Matt got to really – with free reign I think – got to pick the guys he wanted on the 16, so it’s all been Matt. Matt has done this whole thing himself with some guidance from the company.”

Biffle has made a couple of decent runs at the Cup championship. Notably in 2008, when he finshed

Greg Biffle says new crew chief Matt Puccia and he have a team that could contend in 2012. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

third.

But he hasn’t led the Cup standings in over six years and last season, he missed the Chase.

His chance of taking another step, this weekend, toward The Goal looks good.

Biffle’s average finish at Bristol is among the best in the series – 11.8. He has never won there but has six top-fives and 11 top-10s in 18 starts. A year ago, he finished eighth, giving him his first top-10 of the 2011 season.

“Bristol is high on my list and it’s one of my favorite tracks to go to,” he said. “The important keys to getting around Bristol are qualifying well and getting a good pit box to keep your track position. Being the point leader we are still showing up with the same exact plan. What we always try to do is win, and I want to win at Bristol sine I’ve never won there. We know we are capable of running in the top five, we just have to figure out how to be there at the end.”

Puccia said hopes are hight to continue the 2012 roll.

“We are looking forward to going to Bristol this weekend and bettering our triple third-place finishes we’ve had so far this season,” he said. Bristol is the fastest half-mile track we go to on the circuit, and with the new progressive banking from when they reconfigured the track, it allows for a lot of side-by-side racing. We’re looking to finish a spot or two ahead of third this weekend.”

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Wednesday, March 14 2012
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