Home » HEADLINE, NASCAR - Sprint Cup Series

Biffle Baffled By Roush Woes

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, March 22 2015

Greg Biffle says his team has a need for speed. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Alan Marler)

Greg Biffle and his Roush Fenway Racing teammates have been operating in the unusual roles of also-rans during the opening month of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.

Flat-out speed was the nagging issue for the Ford Fusions driven by Biffle, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Trevor Bayne during qualifying for Sunday’s Auto Club 400. Biffle qualified 29th in Fontana, Calif., after touring the 2-mile Auto Club Speedway in 39.693-seconds and 181.392 mph on Friday. In comparison, pole-winner Kurt Busch of Stewart-Haas Racing qualified his No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS in 38.889-seconds and 185.142 mph.

Among the Ford teams, former Cup champion Brad Keselowski of Penske Racing qualified eighth after a lap at 39.117-seconds/184.063 mph in the No. 2 Wurth Ford. Meanwhile, Aric Almirola of Richard Petty Motorsports qualified 16th in the No. 9 Medallion Bank/Mercury Marine Ford after lapping at 39.365-seconds/182.904 mph.

Stenhouse Jr. (181.557 mph) qualified 27th in the No. 17 NOS Energy Drink Ford and Bayne (179.314 mph) timed-in 36th in the No. 6 AdvoCare Fusion.

Biffle, driver of the No. 16 Clean Harbors Ford, attempted to shed some light on the myriad issues facing team founder Jack Roush during an unusual pre-race news conference Sunday morning in the track’s infield media center. A transcript follows, beginning with an opening statement from “The Biff-Man”:

GREG BIFFLE: We’ve been searching for a little bit of speed since we got here, but I remember last year here we qualified in a similar spot and drove up to fourth and then had a left-rear tire issue, and then we got grass on the grille and burned the engine up. So we’re hoping not to do that today and work our way towards the front of this pack. We were 14th in the final practice, 16th in the first practice on Saturday, so we found some speed in our car. We’re certainly not happy with that yet, but maybe a few more changes and what the guys looked at and ran through the simulator back at the shop will give us some additional speed today.

Q: THE XFINITY SIDE OF THE ORGANIZATION IS RUNNING WELL. CAN ANYTHING BE DRAWN FROM THAT?

GREG BIFFLE: That certainly is a boost for the organization that the XFINITY cars are running well. Unfortunately, they’re like black-and-white. They don’t have anything to do with the Cup side. The cars are completely different. The ride-height rule and all those things…and I’ll be perfectly honest with you. The ride-height rule change from 2013 to ’14 has really affected us on the Cup level. If you look at that change, which we were excited about and thought getting our cars on the track and what-not, that’s the way the XFINITY cars still are. They still have that minimum ride-height, and really we’ve kind of struggled when that ride-height rule came in. We’ve sort of struggled a little bit with that, so we’re still working through figuring that out. But it’s a positive that our XFINITY cars are running good. And there are some things we can take from that _ tire pressures, trends, what the track is doing, and things like that because they are running up-front and they are running fast.

Q: CAN YOU REMEMBER A TIME WHEN YOU GUYS HAVE STRUGGLED LIKE YOU ARE NOW? AND THE FACT YOU’VE COME OUT OF THIS SITUATION BEFORE, DOES IT GIVE YOU CONFIDENCE YOU CAN DO IT AGAIN?

GREG BIFFLE: Yeah, absolutely. I could give you so many instances where this sport has been up and down for us. You can sit back and look at any organization and say the exact same thing. To start off with, when I first came into the Cup Series we were in, I feel like, kind of in this position. We had five cars kind of struggling, missed a couple races, and really came out of that in 2004 winning a couple races, 2005 winning more than anyone in the series. These guys that are winning every week, I remember lapping them every week. It’s just the reality of it. That’s the way it was then.

Go back and look at the stats and the role is reversed today. It’s just the way this sport is, so to answer your question, then the next one was kind of ’07 and ’08, ’09 we were sort of at a struggle point. I went my first season ever without winning a race. I think Carl (Edwards) did. I think Matt (Kenseth) did. So we all went through that and then ’10-’11-’12 we were back winning races. Carl finished tied with Tony (Stewart) in the points. So that’s the way this is. You look at Richard Childress Racing, their cars are really fast right now. Historically, they’ve done the same thing, so has Hendrick Motorsports. Everybody has been there.

Q: WHAT IS YOUR GUESS ON WHAT PENSKE RACING IS DOING THAT YOU’RE NOT?

GREG BIFFLE: I’ll pay you a lot of money if you tell me and if you can go find that out for me (laughing). A lot of people point to Penske as it being a manufacturer deal and it truly isn’t manufacturer related, in my opinion, because we look at when Hendrick wasn’t as dominant, look at when Childress wasn’t as dominant as they are today – look at Stewart-Haas when they weren’t as dominant as they are today. So it’s not necessarily Ford, Ford or Chevy, Chevy because when one of those Chevy teams weren’t dominant another one kind of was lurking around like Penske is, so I wouldn’t say it’s manufacturer- related.

But to answer your question: ‘What are they doing different than us?’ It’s no different than what is Chip Ganassi doing different than we are. These cars are real similar aerodynamically. The suspension and chassis, they could be identical. You could take one of those cars, cut the body off and put a Ford body on it and have the same suspension and shocks and springs that they have today. They’ve figured out whatever they’ve figured out that we’re trying to figure out. They’ve figured it out like the other guys have and we feel like we’re gaining on it.

Certainly Las Vegas was a high-point for us. Last year we finished three laps down and had no speed. This year we go there and ran top-10, finished decent (14th) and I had a good run and something to build on. We were excited about that and then came here and we were kind of scratching our heads a little bit on what we missed off the truck. We’ve gotten better now, but it’s just a matter of these new cars. We’re still figuring out the trend.

Q: WHAT DO YOU FEEL COULD BE IMPROVED?

GREG BIFFLE: The sport has changed so much. I remember the day when the driver _ Mark Martin, Jeff Burton, myself, Matt _ we would say, ‘This car needs a 2-3/4 front sway bar. Add 50 pounds of rear spring to it. Do this. Do that. Do that.’ Today these cars are so complicated and they’re so different and the aerodynamics and the splitter and no ride-height rules and all those things react so different in the car that there are so many more factors. So it’s hard for me.

One thing I know it’s not is the engine. Now, could it be improved to give us a little more speed or make a little more power? Sure, anything could, but Penske uses the same engine we use. So it’s kind of like we can check that off, so we know it’s not that. Then we start looking down the line. Is it suspension or aero? Well, it may be a combination of the two that we need to improve or it may be one or the other. We just keep looking for what creates speed in the car and just keep working in that direction.

Q: WHAT KIND OF RACING WILL THE FANS SEE TODAY?

GREG BIFFLE: Every racetrack, it doesn’t matter where it’s at, the ground kind of shifts over the years and just like the street ends up with a new little dip or something in it. Like every racetrack this continues to change a little bit. They did grind some of the backstretch up. I think it was like that last year, but I heard a couple drivers comment it’s on the straightaway, so it doesn’t affect the car as much when you get down in the corner because that’s where the car really needs to grip the racetrack at, but you can try to move different lines and try to get around.

That’s what we love about this track _ you see guys running the fence, some guys running the middle, some guys running the bottom. That’s what makes good racing and this racetrack provides us an opportunity all the way from the bottom to the top and it does have some bumps you have to negotiate as well. I think it’s gonna be a good race.”

Q: ARE YOU ENCOURAGED AT ALL BY THE NEW CAR ROUSH FENWAY IS WORKING ON FOR TEXAS MOTOR SPEEDWAY IN FORT WORTH NEXT MONTH?

GREG BIFFLE: Absolutely. It’s a collaborative effort through our organization. We’ve been working on that car since the end of last season and through the winter. We’ve already had one test with it at Charlotte and I know there weren’t fireworks going off after the Charlotte test, but still this car is our next version of what it needs to be or where we feel like we need to go. So I’m excited to get to Texas and get driving this car, so we can start working on it. Certainly, the first time you have it out of the shop and on the racetrack you may not have everything right on it. So with three or five of us, or however many we’re gonna have at Texas over the next couple of intermediate tracks, hopefully we can dial that thing in.

Q: YOU MENTIONED THE SPLITTER BEFORE IN YOUR COMMENTS. IS THAT AN ISSUE?

GREG BIFFLE: These cars are so, so sensitive. Every single little piece of paper. Like I said, I remember moving the fender in and out with the braces. You could loosen them with a wrench and move the fender and it was driver-to-driver. Matt may have his right-front fender different than my right-front. It was something we looked at. It was a tuning tool on the car and it’s funny because now we’re talking about pieces of paper-width of getting the splitter close to the ground and all that. We know the speed is in keeping that splitter right at the racetrack all the way around and that’s what everyone in the garage is trying to achieve is that attitude.

Some guys have figured out how to achieve that attitude just perfect and then some cars are not doing that _ rolling up, kind of bouncing a little bit and that’s where that speed is coming from _ so the splitter is very, very important. These cars are very aero-sensitive and once you get that attitude right they have a ton of grip and they stick to the racetrack very well, but when the thing moves around a little bit that’s when it will start sliding or let go of the racetrack, so to speak.

Q: DOES THIS CHASE FORMAT GIVE YOU A WIDER MARGIN OF ERROR BECAUSE YOU HAVE MORE TIME TO FIX IT AND JUST WIN ONE AND BE READY FOR THE FINAL 10?

GREG BIFFLE: Yeah, I think so. I love the Chase format because you can win on a restrictor plate track like Denny Hamlin did last year at Talladega and it puts him in _ his only win. He came from pretty deep in the points and so did A.J. Allmendinger and the No. 43, Almirola, so those guys came from way deep in the points and were not even close to making the Chase and got an opportunity to get in. So I really like the win-and-you’re-in format. I think it makes it more exciting. It makes it more dramatic for me. I made it in on points last year and every guy that won bumped me down a position, but we were 11th in points going into that, but with all the win guys in front of us it put us 15th. There are two ways to get in and I like that.

Q: ARE YOU LOSING TIME IMPROVING BECAUSE YOU DON’T HAVE EXPERIENCED DRIVERS ON THE TEAM OR IS IT BETTER TO HAVE YOUNGER GUYS WHO HAVE DRIVEN IN XFINITY AND CAN TRANSFER THAT KNOWLEDGE?

GREG BIFFLE: That’s kind of a difficult question. It seems like the speed in these cars are built at the shop and the driver _ I wouldn’t say is less of an influence on what the car actually needs more than…the driver sometimes can tell you the front end geometry is not right or the toe setting is not right. It’s so hard to put it in the driver’s hands, but on the flip side of that you need the driver to say, ‘I feel the car rolling in the corner and it feels like we have to keep the left-front down and I feel it dipping back in the right-rear. We need to add some right-rear spring or prop that corner up.’

So the driver can have some influence to steer it in the direction and that’s what we’ve been doing with the No. 16 team. I wouldn’t say we’re leading the way, but we’re on that edge of figuring out what we need to make our cars better. It’s not like the old days and the thing is all three of us are saying the same thing. We sit in the debrief meeting _ Ricky, myself, Aric Almirola, Trevor _ we’re all saying the exact same thing so it’s not like we have a difference of opinion among the five of us. So we know what we need, we just have to figure out how to get our mouse trap to do what we need.

Q: WHAT DID YOU MEAN BY YOUR COMMENT ABOUT “DYING A SLOW DEATH” THE OTHER DAY AFTER QUALIFYING?

GREG BIFFLE: It’s difficult as a competitor to show up at a place you’ve won twice at and come off the truck 32nd in speed. This is difficult. I didn’t mean we were dying a slow death. You want to unload off the truck and be 10th, or you want to unload off the truck and be in the top 10 or top 15. You take Las Vegas for instance. I like to use Las Vegas because last year we finished three laps down there and didn’t have any speed and the car was undriveable. We go back to Las Vegas and we were fairly competitive, ran up in the top-10 for part of the race and ended up with a decent finish and we were really excited about that.

We come here with guns blazing, ready to go, unload off the truck and we just missed it. I was really frustrated about that because I was running fourth here last year and I knew with that car we’re not running fourth right now. Granted, we got it much better yesterday. We were 16th and 14th in the final practice on speed, so we got it better, but you feel crushed when you’ve worked so hard, and everybody has put in so much effort into it, the guys at the shop and the aero department and engineering and our new management and new engineer.

To come here and come off the truck with that kind of speed really crushed us and I think that’s what I meant. That was a blow to us that we ended up in that position off of the truck. Now, we obviously got back to where we were at Las Vegas, which is certainly positive for us and we’re excited about the race today. They ran some stuff through the sim and think we’re gonna be better than we were. But still, that’s a blow when we have all the confidence and that happens to us.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, March 22 2015
No Comment

Comments are closed.