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Menzer: Three is a magical number for No. 16 team

March 12, 2012, Joe Menzer, NASCAR.com

Three third-place finishes have Biffle leading points for first time since '05

Three has been sort of a magic number in NASCAR for quite some time.

But Greg Biffle, driver of the No. 16 Ford for Roush Fenway Racing, has used the number in a unique way to climb to the top of the Sprint Cup point standings after -- you guessed it -- the first three races of the season.

Going bronze


It's been quite the season for Greg Biffle with three third-place finishes in three races. Take a look back at his highlights and what he had to say about each race.

Biffle's third-place finish in last Sunday's Kobalt Tools 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway was his third third in a row. That's not a misprint. That's three No. 3 finishes in a row for Biffle -- and that equates to No. 1 in the current points standings because no one else has been able to match his level of remarkable consistency.

After a disappointing 2011 season during which he struggled to finish 16th in the points and missed the Chase for the Sprint Cup for the first time in four years, Biffle and his relatively new crew chief, Matt Puccia, are digging the fast start out of the box in 2012. Last year the only thing Biffle was digging at this time was out of the huge hole produced by finishes of 35th, 20th and 28th in the first three races at Daytona, Phoenix and Las Vegas, respectively. He never really recovered.

It wasn't until much later in the season, after Puccia replaced Greg Erwin as the No. 16 car's crew chief, that Biffle showed much life at all. He ended up tied for the series lead with three poles, all after Puccia's arrival, but the driver said Sunday that he knew he and his new crew chief were only beginning to scratch the surface of their mutual potential.

"It certainly started off to be a good season for us so far," Biffle said. "Just plain and simply Matt Puccia is the reason why we're running and competing and finishing where we are. This team needed leadership and he was willing to step up and take the task on and he's done a fantastic job so far."

Waiting on a win

While the fast start has been wonderful and the three consecutive thirds fairly satisfying, there is one thing Biffle and Puccia have not yet accomplished since being paired together -- they haven't won a race.

That's why Biffle admitted he was slightly less than satisfied with the latest third-place effort at Vegas.

"We were a little disappointed, to tell you the truth," Biffle said. "Certainly we ran third and we qualified ninth, so it was a good weekend. But we were faster last year [at Vegas] and were kind of scratching our head a little bit, so we knew it was going to be a tough battle [Sunday].

"We knew that some cars had better speed than us and that if we just hung tough and kept our track position and worked on it, we might be there at the end and that's certainly what happened. It was clear the No. 14 [of race winner Tony Stewart] and No. 48 [of runner-up Jimmie Johnson] were just a little bit better than we were. The No. 17 car [of Roush Fenway teammate Matt Kenseth] looked like he was a little bit better than we were, too, so we thought it would come out that we had about a top-five car -- and we finished third. We're super-excited about it, but, there again, we want to win like the No. 14 car did [Sunday] so we're going to keep our heads down and keep working hard."

"Just plain and simply Matt Puccia is the reason why we're running and competing and finishing where we are. This team needed leadership and he was willing to step up and take the task on and he's done a fantastic job so far. "

--GREG BIFFLE

It has, in fact, been 46 races since Biffle has guided the No. 16 Ford into Victory Lane. He last won at Kansas in October of 2010, suffering through his second winless season in three years in 2011 -- after his string of six consecutive seasons with at least one race win was broken by a winless 2009 campaign.

But he always has believed it's only a matter of time until he wins again. Now everyone else paying even a little attention to this Sprint Cup season has to feel the same way.

On the point

Meanwhile, at least Biffle can enjoy the fact he has the Cup points lead for only the second time in his 10-plus year career as a driver in the series -- and for the first time since June 2005. That time, he held onto it for precisely one week.

This time, he's hoping to hold onto it for a whole lot longer. He's hoping to show the kind of staying power that enabled him to strongly contend for championships four times in a six-year stretch that began with a six-win season and his first Chase appearance in that '05 season and ended with a two-win season and his last Chase appearance in 2010. He finished as high as second in points behind champion Tony Stewart in 2005, and was third in 2008.

He said the addition of Puccia to his team's lineup, plus the fact that Roush Fenway actually downsized from four teams to three, has strengthened the No. 16 group for the long haul this season. But he added it took some patience to get to this point.

"It has 100 percent to do with where we're at right now," Biffle said. "That's why we changed and put the crew chief in charge last year, and then we kept handcuffs on him. I wouldn't let him change any people or change out guys as he went two, three, four, five, six weeks into his job. We waited until the offseason.

"I say we -- [RFR general manager] Robbie [Reiser] and all the guys waited until the offseason to make the changes because we were waiting to figure out what we were going to do with the No. 6 car [formerly driven full-time by David Ragan, but now reduced to part-time status]. We were waiting to see what was going to happen because it would determine whether or not we had to downsize."

Once no sponsorship materialized for the No. 6 car, Roush Fenway worked hard to take the best pieces and parts and personnel from the No. 6 team to integrate it all into the remaining teams that included not only Biffle's, but also Kenseth's team and the No. 99 Ford team with driver Carl Edwards.

"We ended up having a bunch of people that we could move internally around the company, so with free reign, I think, Matt got to really pick the guys he wanted on the No. 16," Biffle said. "So it's all been Matt. He has done this whole thing himself with some guidance from the company."

Well, it takes a quality driver, too. With 16 career wins, Biffle has proven to be that the past decade. Now he's just getting the chance to remind everyone else of it -- and of what the No. 16 team could become in the very near future.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.

Watch highlights of the Kobalt Tools 400: