Biffle confident he’s hitting his stride as Chase approaches
Despite a slow start to the season for both the Roush Fenway Racing team and himself, Greg Biffle (left) has found reason to smile lately, as he has finished in the top 10 in the last three races and currently owns the final spot in the Chase for the Cup.
Greg Biffle, left, laughs with a crew member before getting into his car during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race on Friday, June 20, 2014, in Sonoma, Calif. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
NEWINGTON – For Greg Biffle, being the anchor driver and veteran ushering in a new era at Roush Fenway Racing can wait.
There’s a Chase for the Cup spot to secure first. And Biffle is confident that when 16 drivers line up in Chicago with hopes for a championship, he’ll be one of them.
“We’re really excited about our last three weeks of performance,” Biffle said during a visit to New Hampshire yesterday. “Ultimately we want to win and lock ourselves in, but at the same time, we just have to be smart and run as hard as we can.”
Biffle is in an interesting spot, and one that would seem to be cause for a dilemma in strategy on how to approach the remaining regular-season races in Bristol, Atlanta and Richmond.
On one hand, Biffle’s 11th place position in the points standings puts him in the 16th slot in the Chase picture behind race winners, so he can hold his position and get into the playoff fold. On the other hand, he’s only one bad race from being bumped to the outside, and there aren’t many chances left for a victory that can automatically wrap up that bid.
So what to do, go all out to get the win and take the points out of the equation, or back off in an attempt to prevent against a disaster?
According to Biffle, the tough decision isn’t tough at all.
“We show up to win every week. That’s our goal,” he said. “As far as competing on the track and driving, you’re 100 percent all the time. So there’s no conservancy whatsoever when it comes to that.
“Very seldom are the opportunities presented to where you can go, ‘Okay, are we going to try to win today or are we going to try to get 10th?’ Those just don’t happen.”
There’s still the matter of having a car capable of winning those races, which he readily admits hasn’t been the case at Roush Fenway. But Biffle knows the outlook is far sunnier than it was early in the season, primarily due to a recent stretch that includes three straight top-10s, the first of which was a fifth-place result at Pocono after Biffle led until a late pair of cautions, and the last of which was a steady 10th-place outing at Michigan’s two-mile track, an effort that showed the No. 16 team was gradually regaining its speed.
“We’re trying to get back, and Michigan we were right there,” he said. “We were (a) top-10, top-seven car, not far off the leaders. We were a tenth, tenth-and-a-half off their times, and sometimes matching their lap times. … We’ve closed in a bunch.”
Biffle said he hopes the speed will translate to the next race at Bristol’s notorious short track, but added that Atlanta – the following stop, and the kind of mile-and-a-half track that has bedeviled him and his team all year – will really show how far the outfit has progressed.
“We’ve been terrible,” he said. “I could tell you we’ve been ‘not so bad’ or this and that, but we have not been good on mile-and-a-halfs this year.”
Should Biffle make the Chase, the stage could be set for an early run. Loudon, the second stop, has been a good venue for him (he won at the Magic Mile in 2008), and Roush Fenway will be testing at Chicago, the first stop, which could pay off in a crucial race.
“We’re testing Chicago Monday and Tuesday, and I haven’t been more excited for a test in probably five years,” he said. “I’m excited because of the opportunity to find more speed, that last (bit). It’s easy finding the 60 percent, or the 75. Now we have to find the last 25.”
Confidence and optimism could have been hard to find around Roush Fenway after Carl Edwards, who’s already qualified for the Chase, announced he was leaving the team after this season for Joe Gibbs Racing. That puts Biffle in position to be RFR’s lead driver, the stabilizing presence ahead of young and talented, but unproven, drivers in Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Trevor Bayne, who’ll be driving his first full-time Sprint Cup season in 2015.
RFR has long been a veteran-laden squad, so this is definitely a shift in culture – but one that Biffle is eager to embrace.
“I make fun and I say I’ve always been the team leader or the anchor,” he joked. “We are going to be challenged taking two somewhat new guys. … Those guys aren’t veterans that have a lot of experience at these tracks. But you may not need that as much now as these rule packages keep changing and the cars keep changing.
“I’m challenged right now to figure out what’s wrong with our cars and get them faster. We’re headed in the right direction as a company. … It’s clear we’re in the right direction right now.”
(Drew Bonifant can be reached at 369-3340 or at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @dbonifant.)