Roush Fenway driver runs out of steam on the homestretch
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Another Daytona 500. And another opportunity for Greg Biffle to finally claim the Great American Race.
The Roush Fenway driver seemed in prime position, given that the final-lap leader of a restrictor-plate event is often so vulnerable to being overtaken by the drivers behind him. And there was Biffle, second to Jimmie Johnson as the field drove beneath the white flag -- and without enough car to make a move to win NASCAR’s marquee event.
It wound up being another frustrating close call for a driver who finished third here last year. In that race, Biffle was also second at the white flag -- but couldn’t mount a challenge to eventual winner Matt Kenseth, and was passed by Dale Earnhardt Jr. for second on the final lap. Sunday, he didn’t have enough at the end for Johnson, and fell to a sixth-place finish after he slid back in traffic before the checkered flag.
"More frustrated now than I was last year."
--Greg Biffle, on his sixth place finish
“More frustrated now than I was last year,” Biffle said in the garage area. “Just angry that I didn’t pin that thing on the yellow line and forget -- whatever happens behind me, happens behind me. That doesn’t mean I was going to win, that means I may have still finished second behind (Johnson). I just didn’t think that bottom row was going to go. We saw all day the bottom row just didn’t have any steam.”
We saw it all Speedweeks, in fact. Biffle made what seemed the sensible decision, to remain in a high line that had been the ticket to the front at Daytona ever since last weekend’s season-opening Sprint Unlimited exhibition race. It was the high line that helped Johnson win Sunday, given that he chose the preferred outside lane before what proved the final restart.
And really, Biffle didn’t have much choice. His car wasn’t as fast as some of those around him, he said, and having the speedy green vehicle of pole winner Danica Patrick immediately behind him was proving a benefit. Plus, no one had been able to make the low lane work -- until Dale Earnhardt Jr. jumped down there on the final lap, and drove to his third runner-up finish in the Daytona 500 in four years. Mark Martin followed and claimed third.
“I couldn’t have done much without Mark helping me there at the end,” Earnhardt said. “I was hoping he was thinking what I was thinking as we came off Turn 2 on that final lap.”
He was. Biffle, though, wasn’t able to follow.
“We had a little bit slower car than everybody else around us, so I certainly couldn’t go down there,” said Biffle, who has won a summer race at Daytona, but never the 500. “I needed to stay in line and be the sandwich, if you will. That’s what I needed to do until the last lap, the white flag, to make my move. Some guys had fast cars, and could get it done. … We just hung in there today. I’m frustrated, but happy with a top 10, I guess.”
Biffle and the other drivers in the outside line saw Earnhardt coming and got on the gas, providing them with the momentum that Johnson needed to stay out front long enough to win the race. Biffle said he thought about blocking, but knew his car probably wasn’t fast enough to make the move stick, and didn’t want to cause a wreck. It was Johnson who eventually moved down off the final corner, shutting the door on Earnhardt and securing his second Daytona 500 victory.
Biffle, meanwhile, could only consider what might have been -- for a second consecutive year.
“I was in a bad position right there,” he said. “Some years you’re in the right spot, some years you’re not.”
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