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From the Notebook: Puccia, Biffle took similar paths to Victory Lane

April 17, 2012, Dave Rodman, NASCAR.com

Roush duo definiton of successful feeder system; Truex, Martin thriving at MWR

How similar the paths Greg Biffle and his Roush Fenway Racing crew chief, Matt Puccia, took to reach Texas Motor Speedway's Victory Lane last Saturday night is a refreshing look at how a feeder system can work.

Both driver and chief mechanic entered owner Jack Roush's racing combine based on recommendations: Biffle by former Cup Series champion and broadcaster Benny Parsons and Puccia by former RFR Truck Series crew chief John Monsam.

Statement victory


Greg Biffle finally made it back to Victory Lane at Texas and David Caraviello says the manner in which the No. 16 took the victory will have others talking.

Biffle's rise to the Cup Series was far more spectacular, with rookie of the year and series championships in both the Truck and Nationwide series on his resume. But Puccia's rise from a truck mechanic to serving, and winning as a crew chief in all three series, is rock-solid.

And Biffle, who broke a 49-race winless streak Saturday night, knew it.

"[Hard work] is what this is about," Biffle said. "The team and Matt Puccia putting together the group of guys he has and the engine shop with how hard they have worked with the fuel injection and engines and all that. I am thankful to get the opportunity to drive these cars as fast as they are.

"We knew it was a matter of time and we were going to win one of these things. We have been running so good. We've had good pit stops and good cars. At Vegas we were off a little bit and that ate at us a little because that is a good track for us. We came here and really focused on our car to get it driving good."

Biffle currently leads the Cup Series standings. Midway through last season, Puccia took over as crew chief from Greg Erwin. It's similar to the turnaround the 35-year-old engineered for Erik Darnell in 2008 when they won the pole at Daytona and Darnell won his first race at Michigan while going on to finish a career-best fourth in the championship.

Before hooking up with Puccia, Darnell's best had been 12th. Puccia's work ethic was epitomized by his attending Friday night's Nationwide Series race to track tire characteristics. And of course, he spread the credit around.

"[Our success] is everybody involved," Puccia said of his team's bounce-back from failing to make the 2011 Chase. "At the end of last season we sat down and established what our weaknesses were and what we needed to work on and we went to work. Robbie Reiser [RFR general manager] has done a lot for us and this team and we assembled a good team here.

"We went to work on our cars and it has shown. We started the season off and are running really good and the team is focused and ready to go into the rest of the season."

The fact is, now that the floodgates have been opened, Biffle and Puccia could easily win a couple more of their upcoming races. Biffle has won at both Kansas and Darlington, and his first of 17 Cup Series wins came on a restrictor-plate track.

"Jack gave me this opportunity in the Truck Series and it has been a great progression with the company," Puccia said. "I have been really fortunate for Jack and Robbie and everyone giving me this opportunity.

"Looking ahead to this season and what we have built and what we have in front of us with great race tracks coming, Kansas and Richmond and Talladega and Darlington, we look ahead and there is not one race we can't go and run good and be in contention to win every week. I am looking forward to getting going on this next part of this stint, here."

All-Star fever


Getting ramped up for the 2012 Sprint All-Star Race? Make sure you check in on the race site for both the Sprint Fan Vote and all the information on the eligible drivers.

Biffle said the performance of his entire race team has been the difference in him leading the points more than he has in his entire career. And he gave Puccia, a Watertown, N.Y., native most of the credit for his great cars and flawless pit work.

"That gives me huge confidence," Biffle said. "I knew that from about the third race that these guys that Matt has put together -- we kind of held the handcuffs on them a little last year until we got to the end of the season. He revamped the entire team over the winter and I really like my guys. They are doing a great job. They are really focused and they all work really hard and they care about this team and that is good to have.

"There is a lot of energy, no matter how we run. They are pumped-up and that means a lot. You are right; there weren't any mistakes [on pit road]. We had to be perfect and that is what we did."

Puccia is relatively quiet, but his limited words spoke volumes.

"There are so many emotions going through me right now -- excitement, definitely," Puccia said. "I can't say enough how much everyone on this whole team has worked to get to where we are at [Saturday]. It is momentum. It is going to keep us going into this next little bit."

Biffle's better than good with that.

"I am so happy for Matt," Biffle said. "He has worked so hard and he is a great guy and has great character and work [ethic] and his life is about racing. He has worked his way up from the Truck Series and his first time as a full-time [Cup] crew chief he is leading the points and now has his first win.

"You look at the experience level and depth of this team and it is not very deep compared to some of these teams out here. These guys are doing a phenomenal job with the tools they have and taking advantage of the tools they have. I wanted to win more for Matt than for myself. I know I hadn't won in a long time but I wanted to get a win for him."

Martin buffs-up teammate Truex

Mark Martin had high praise for his Michael Waltrip Racing teammate, Martin Truex Jr., after the Texas pole winner finished sixth, for his fifth top-10 this season in eight races. Martin was ecstatic to come home third.

"Martin Truex Jr. has been phenomenal -- phenomenal," Martin said. "The teamwork I'm feeling right now at MWR is second to none I've ever been at. Martin Truex Jr. is really, really engaged, and he's working hard to help the whole program."

Martin and Truex Jr. had previously raced together at Dale Earnhardt Incorporated, but Truex, the MWR team leader in his third season with the operation, has gotten Martin's attention.

"We're racing three cars to put two in the Chase for sure and win races and try to go toe-to-toe with the likes of Hendrick and Roush and those guys," said Martin, who's racing a partial schedule. "That's a tall order for right now. I'm very proud of the results we're getting. It's coming from a lot of good attitudes and hard working people."

Press Pass: Martin beams after third-place at Texas

Ross Kenseth hitting the books

There was a lot of racing going on from coast-to-coast last weekend, including the Camping World Truck Series and UARA Late Models at Rockingham Speedway. But post-race at Texas, Matt Kenseth said his son, Ross, who's a student at Clemson University while also fashioning his own racing career, hadn't raced.

"He's studying this weekend," Kenseth said. "He's been working really hard at school and I think it's been harder than he expected, so he's having to work really hard at that.

"The racing stuff hasn't started off great this year, but he's got two weeks of school left and he'll be pretty wide-open on the racing deal, for the summer."

Hamlin schooled Bubba?

Denny Hamlin, an avid amateur golfer, had a real bucket-list moment a couple weeks ago when he caddied for his buddy and now, Masters champion Bubba Watson in the Par 3 tournament that was held the Wednesday of Masters week.

Hamlin jokingly took credit for Watson's creatively spectacular escape from the pines that landed on the green and enabled Watson to win the tournament on the second playoff hole.

"Of course that trick shot I taught him on Wednesday paid off on Sunday," Hamlin said. "It's just one of those things where it was an amazing accomplishment for him and his family. I know he struggles with getting nervous down at the end. I could even see it, even in the par-three. You step on the first tee and you see the nerves start. So for him to overcome that and battle through and obviously have a great win at the end was great for him and obviously good for me and my storytelling.

"It's not too often you get to caddy for the 2012 Masters champ."

Hamlin said he met Watson, who lives in Phoenix, in 2010 and was at a loss to explain the depth of their friendship.

"It's tough to say," Hamlin said. "I think a little bit is I'm right-handed, but I play [golf] left -- which is probably why I'm so bad. We're both lefties. We both obviously like racing. I grew up loving the Dukes of Hazzard, and he obviously does as well.

"I don't know what it is about our personalities, but we seem to get along. It was right from the get-go. We met on a golf course and we've played 10 rounds together probably, since then. You learn a lot about him and the way he does things. I was just generally nervous for him on [Masters] Sunday. It was just one of those days where you are proud to be someone's friend."

Related: Hamlin experiences Augusta inside the ropes

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.

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