Biffle And Team Leave Texas With Guns Blazing
FORT WORTH, Texas – Overshadowed in recent seasons by teammates Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth at Roush Fenway Racing, Greg Biffle says his perch atop the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point standings is the product of persistence and perspiration.
“I could say it’s about time, but hard work still pays off today,” Biffle said Saturday night at Texas Motor Speedway, shortly after winning the 16th annual Samsung Mobile 500. “And that’s what this is about –the team and (crew chief) Matt Puccia putting together the guys that he has, the engine shop, how hard they’ve worked on the fuel injection and the engines. I am just thankful to get the opportunity to drive these cars as fast as they are. We knew it was a matter of time we were going to win one of these things.”
Indeed. “Foaming at the mouth” to end a 49-race winless streak, Biffle directed his pent-up frustration on Jimmie Johnson during the closing laps of the season’s first night event. Biffle relentlessly tracked down Johnson, the five-time Cup champion, following a round of green-flag pit stops with 101 laps to go and completed the race-winning pass low through Turns 3 and 4 of TMS’ 1.5-mile quadoval on Lap 304 of the scheduled 334.
“Catching the No. 48 car (of Johnson) at the end, I had to dig deep,” said Biffle, driver of the No. 16 3M
Filtrete Ford Fusion. “And it seemed when I got to him it was too easy.”
Almost as easy as snapping that winless streak, dating to Oct. 3, 2010 at Kansas Speedway.
Biffle’s first win of the season was his second at TMS (also 2005), the 17th of his Cup career (in 337 starts) and put the wraps on a weekend sweep for Roush Fenway Racing at “The Great American Speedway.” Rising RFR star Ricky Stenhouse Jr. prevailed in the Nationwide Series O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 Friday night in the No. 6 Pure Michigan Ford Mustang.
It was the third such sweep here for team-owner Jack Roush, whose organization has stamped TMS as a “Roush House” since Mark Martin (Nationwide) and Jeff Burton (Cup) swept the inaugural NASCAR races in April 1997. RFR drivers have won 18 NASCAR events in Cowtown, with Biffle giving the organization its record-extending ninth Cup victory.
It also was the 127th win all-time in Cup and 303rd overall in NASCAR for Roush Fenway Racing, and the 607th in the series for Ford Motor Company.
“Well, it’s my pleasure and my honor to share the moment with Matt and with Greg,” said Roush, sporting his second white Cowboy hat of the weekend. “I realize how hard they worked and the path that Greg and Matt have both taken individually to get where they are in this business to be able to win at this level. They both worked hard for it, and they don’t take it for granted and assume that it’s easy any more than I do.”
At 42, Biffle is the elder statesman among drivers at RFR. Puccia, meanwhile, stands as proof that not all the company’s rising stars are drivers. Biffle’s win was the first in Cup for Puccia, 35, who replaced Greg Erwin as crew chief heading into the 19th race of the 2011 season. Biffle failed to win a race for only the second time in nine full seasons last year with RFR en route to a 16th-place point finish.
In comparison, Edwards waged an epic battle with Tony Stewart for the 2011 championship, tying
“Smoke” in points after 36 events and losing the title via the most-wins tiebreaker. Edwards began the season as the logical choice to dethrone Stewart, now a three-time series champion. Ironically, “Cousin Carl” – working with longtime crew chief Bob Osborne – has yet to lead a single lap through the season’s first seven events in his No. 99 Fastenal Ford.
Kenseth, meanwhile, won the season-opening Daytona 500 in February in his No. 17 Best Buy Ford –shining the media spotlight on himself and veteran crew chief Jimmy Fennig. In comparison to Fennig (34 Cup wins) and Osborne (18), Puccia rates as a household name basically in his own household.
“At the end of last season we sat down and established what our weaknesses were and what we needed to work on, and we went to work,” said Puccia, a native of Watertown, N.Y. “Robbie Reiser (RFR’s general manager) has done a lot for us and this team, and we assembled a good team here, went to work on our cars and it’s showing. We started the season off and we’re running really good and the team is focused and we’re ready to go into the rest of the season.”
Biffle and Puccia have collaborated on four top-three finishes in the season’s opening seven events and have led the championship chase since a third-place result at the 1.5-mile Las Vegas Motor Speedway in Race No. 3 on March 11. Biffle heads to Kansas Speedway, another 1.5-mile layout, for Sunday’s second annual STP 400 with a 19-point lead over Kenseth and Dale Earnhardt Jr. of Hendrick Motorsports.
“That gives me huge confidence,” said Biffle, who locked-up a spot in the 2012 NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race on May 19 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, yet another 1.5-mile layout. “I knew that from about the third race that these guys – the guys that Matt had put together – we kind of held the handcuffs on them a little bit last year until we got to the end of the season and he revamped the entire team over the winter.
“I really, really like my guys. They’re doing a great job. They’re really focused. They all work really hard and they care about this team. Lots of energy. No matter how we run, they’re pumped-up and that means a lot.”
Biffle won six races and finished as championship runnerup to Stewart in 2005, and ranked third overall in 2008 during Johnson’s staggering five-time title run.
“You know, I’ve been where I won six races in a season and you cherish those moments because you don’t know when the next one will be,” said Biffle, the Camping World Truck Series champion in 2000 and Nationwide champ in 2002. “To win like this and put a bunch of ground (points) on the guys, all the cars behind us, that certainly makes a statement, I think, for all the people that were wondering if this was kind of a fluke that we were still leading the points this far in.”
Puccia joined RFR in 2004 and began his crew chief career in ’06 with the No. 50 Camping World Truck Series team, working with Edwards and David Ragan among others. In 2009, Puccia graduated to the Nationwide Series as crew chief for Paul Menard on a partial schedule that became a fulltime job in 2010. Menard and Puccia finished fifth in the 2010 Nationwide standings, a workmanlike run of success that impressed Roush.
“Yeah, Jack gave me this opportunity in the Truck Series and I got my first win with Roush in 2008 with Erik Darnell,” Puccia said. “It’s been a great progression with the company. I’ve been really fortunate for Jack and Robbie and everybody giving me this opportunity.
“Looking ahead to the season, what we’ve built and what we have in front of us, we’ve got some good racetracks coming. We’ve got Kansas and Richmond and Talladega and Darlington and we look ahead there’s not one race I can’t say we can’t go and run good and be in contention to win every week. So we’re looking forward to getting going the next part of this little stint here.”
Biffle jokingly noted he was privvy to some last-second information that proved useful prior to the start of Saturday’s race, based off of Stenhouse Jr.’s victory on Friday.
“Well, this goofy guy leaned in the window,” said Biffle, referring to Roush – seated to his left during the winner’s news conference. “And (he) told me that Ricky…they were having right front tire trouble, so he kind of took care of his tire there on the last run of the day. Felt like that’s what made the difference for him and he was able to beat those guys on the restarts, kind of saved him a little bit.”
Roush said he was surprised that anything he said registered with “The Biff-Man.”
“You can’t imagine how hard it is to say something that’s interesting and relevant to one of these drivers before the race starts,” Roush said. “They’ve got their head on something else when they get ready to go. They generally look at me when I walk up to them and say, ‘Here he is again…what’s he going to say tonight?’^”
Played out before an estimated crowd of 159,200, the race was completed without a single crash. Despite windy conditions featuring gusts up to 30 mph, the event produced a record-low two caution periods (both for debris) and a total of six yellow laps. At one point, the drivers rattled off a record 234 consecutive green flag laps, breaking the former mark of 122 set in November 2009.
Biffle’s winning average speed of 160.575 mph wiped out the previous record of 152.705 mph set by owner/driver Stewart of Stewart-Haas Racing in his battle with Edwards during the AAA Texas 500 on Nov. 6, 2011.
“This is the third time we’ve had a (Nationwide/Cup) sweep (at TMS),” Roush said. “I don’t know if this is my last sweep or not, but I’m going to remember this one for a while.”
– John Sturbin can be reached at email@example.comNo Comment