Biffle off the fast start, but it could have been even faster
For the most part, any driver wouldn’t mind starting the Sprint Cup Series season with three consecutive third-place finishes. But Greg Biffle still wonders if it should have been better.
Biffle heads into Sunday’s race at the Bristol Motor Speedway as the points leader. More important, he’s been in position to win any of the first three races – particularly the season-opening Daytona 500.
As long as he stays on this pace, it gets a little easier to accept the finish at Daytona. But nothing, he admits, will ever make all the doubt go away.
Biffle ran on Matt Kenseth’s rear bumper for much of the final 100 miles of the Daytona 500. As teammates at Roush Fenway Racing, they worked in tandem with hopes of getting separation on the rest of the field, and then racing for the win.
The only problem with that strategy was Dale Earnhardt Jr. locked onto Biffle’s rear bumper. If Biffle tried to pass Kenseth, it could open the door for Earnhardt to win the race.
Biffle never mounted a charge. Earnhardt passed him in the final lap to finish second while Kenseth drove away to the easy win.
After the race, Earnhardt was just curious why Biffle never seemed to try to make a last-lap pass.
“This is the Daytona 500, and I don’t know what it pays, but it’s a lot of money,” Earnhardt said. “And his team, I know that they’re teammates, but his group of guys that specifically work on that car or travel down here to pit the car during the race, his crew chief, Greg himself, they work way too hard to decide to run second in a scenario like that.“
Biffle still insists there were no team orders to protect Kenseth’s win. He also said he tried everything he knew to make a run on Kenseth down the backstretch. Biffle led the final lap of the Budweiser Shootout exhibition race on Feb. 18 and again during one of the 150-mile qualifying races for the 500, only to get passed coming down the stretch.
When the roles were reversed on the final lap of the main event, he didn’t make a similar move.
“It’s easy to be a Monday morning quarterback, but you know, next time I’m able to do something a little bit different,” he said. “I still am a little blown away by the end of that – the end of the race that we weren’t able to push up to the back of the 17 car. I was kind of surprised by that.”
Third-place finishes at Phoenix and Las Vegas have done a lot to put distance between his position as the points leader and the disappointing finish at Daytona. Another top-three finish at Bristol will work wonders as well, especially since his career-best finish at the half-mile bullring is third in 2005 in 18 starts.
“Yeah, it certainly started off to be a good season for us so far,” he said. “Just plain and simple: (crew chief) Matt Puccia is the reason why we’re running and competing and finishing where we are. This team needed leadership.”
Puccia took over shortly after mid-season a year ago after Biffle struggled to finish in the top 10, much less win. Puccia has created a new attitude with the No. 16 team, and it’s become infectious.
After missing the Chase for the Championship a year ago – and going winless – Biffle is happy again to be disappointed with top-five finishes again.
“It’s all been Matt,” Biffle said. “Matt has done all this himself with some guidance from the company.”
Biffle has been so impressed with his crew chief he went on Twitter last Sunday to ask his fans to post comments on Puccia’s page.
As the only driver with three top-five finishes in three races, there is reason for Biffle and Puccia to be happy. But deep down, they will always wonder if it should have been even better.