News & Media


Biffle looks for turnaround after changes to No. 16

January 26, 2012, Joe Menzer, NASCAR.com

CONCORD, N.C. -- It wasn't just what didn't happen that was so annoying for driver Greg Biffle and his No. 16 Ford team last season.

It was what did happen for Biffle's Roush Fenway Racing teammates Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth and David Ragan.

"I'm a believer that you make your own luck. But last year we had the crappiest luck that I've ever seen in my life. Ever."

--GREG BIFFLE

"The 16 car didn't have the best season," Biffle candidly admitted Tuesday during the NASCAR preseason media tour. "Yet Matt and Carl both made the Chase, and Carl almost won the championship."

Even Ragan, who found himself out of a job at the end of the season, at least won one race. Kenseth won three and finished fourth in the season's point standings, while Edwards, though he won just one race, lost out on the championship to Tony Stewart on a tiebreaker after tying him for the overall points lead.

Meanwhile, Biffle struggled through his second winless season in three years after six consecutive seasons with at least one visit to Victory Lane and finished 16th in points. For a driver who had made the Chase for the Sprint Cup the three previous seasons while finishing as high as third and no lower than sixth, it was a real eye-opener.

The same could be said for Robbie Reiser, RFR's general manager. He saw problems with the 16 team long before the end of the season, and set about attempting to fix them.

Reiser could not do that in earnest, however, until season's end. Then he really got to work.

"Obviously they started out the year and Greg Erwin was the crew chief. They had run well the year before, but some of that chemistry had worn out a little bit," Reiser said. "So in the middle of the season, we decided a crew chief change was in order. That crew chief situation on the 16 was not working, so we made the change and went to Matt Puccia.

"At that point, we kept the rest of the 16 crew together -- but whenever you change the management of a team, you change the character of it. Once we were able to get to the end of the season and downsize some of our personnel, that allowed us to pick some of our personnel apart and change that team dramatically."

In other words, Biffle's team may benefit from the fact that RFR has gone from four Cup teams to three, and also downsized its Nationwide Series program.

"Obviously the 3M team over the past three years has been a competitive team, but not a championship-driven team," Reiser said. "We had to sit down and say, 'OK, here are some of the things we needed to change.' We went back and changed our whole travel group. A lot of it was just to put some enthusiasm and younger guys in that were different from what they had before. We also looked at their over-the-wall group and kind of did an evaluation of some of our younger talent vs. some of our older talent, and made some changes there. That's why it's given us such a different look."

Biffle said he liked the new look at first glance during recent testing at Daytona International Speedway.

"I think those guys are ready to race hard and bring it to another level. ... I watched them work at Daytona and they were quick and smooth and got the car turned around in a hurry," Biffle said. "I really feel like it's going to be a good season."

"If we start out the year and we don't have what we need on the 17 [of Kenseth] or the 99 [of Edwards] or the 16, we're going to make some changes. That's just part of the sport, and we need to be aggressive with that."

--ROBBIE REISER

Biffle said much of last year's woes were brought on by a flood of poor racing luck.

"I'm a believer that you make your own luck. But last year we had the crappiest luck that I've ever seen in my life. Ever," Biffle said.

In Las Vegas, for instance, Biffle felt he had the fastest car in the field at the start of the race but ended up finishing five laps down. At Michigan, a caution bit him on the final pit stop of the day, costing him a chance at victory.

"We show up at Charlotte and what can possibly happen?" Biffle added "Then you're sitting on pit road and your cool box is blowing hot air on you. I'm like, 'What's going on? I haven't even left pit road yet.' So then you go through all that stuff, and you come down to the end and you've got half a straightaway lead on the field with three laps to go. And Jimmie Johnson blows up and the caution comes out.

"You can call that bad luck; you can call it coincidence. Whatever it was, it just happened. We couldn't do anything right."

It got better after Reiser pulled the trigger on the crew chief change, replacing Erwin with Puccia. What bothered Reiser most was that he knew RFR was consistently putting good cars under Biffle, without consistently seeing the desired finishes.

"I think when you look at car performance, you have to look at the organization. And I think as an organization, we probably presented some of the best cars every week," Reiser said. "I don't want to say we were any better -- because there were a lot of cars that we went out there and competed against us that also were in good equipment. But we obviously worked hard to keep that up, where we could come in and run well right out of the box.

"So then we had to look at his team, and then take it apart and put it back together. We just looked at what would work best with Matt Puccia and his style, and have tried to get him some engineers to work with that fit his style. You start from the top and work your way to the bottom, trying to get him the pieces of the puzzle put together."

Biffle said he takes heart in the fact that Stewart's No. 14 Chevrolet team turned a struggling season into a championship one over the final 10 races in 2011. That gives him and his own team hope that they can execute a similar turnaround in 2012.

"The funny thing is that at one point, four or five races before the Chase, we were neck-and-neck with Tony Stewart, trying to take that Chase spot from him," Biffle said. "He'd be ahead of us and then we'd be ahead of him. And then he made the comment that they didn't even deserve to be in the Chase. We were like just clawing at his heels, trying to get that spot away from him.

"That'll give you an idea of how tight it can be and how things can suddenly turn for a team. It's the perfect example. The 14 team, they got it turned around a little bit, got upright in the boat, started popping the water out, made the Chase -- and then the rest is history. We just need that to happen now to the 16 team. That gives me the confidence that we can make it happen."

One thing is certain: if it doesn't happen right out of the gate, Reiser isn't likely to have much patience waiting for magic to occur. He admitted the jury is still out on the newly-configured 16 team, and more changes will be in order if it struggles again.

"Time will tell. Let's go into the season and see what we've got," Reiser said. "I will tell you that we won't be afraid to change some of this stuff. If we start out the year and we don't have what we need on the 17 [of Kenseth] or the 99 [of Edwards] or the 16, we're going to make some changes. That's just part of the sport, and we need to be aggressive with that."