News & Media

At end of 500, two cars weren't better than one

February 28, 2012, David Caraviello,

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Biffle, Junior tried to use two-car draft but couldn't close on leader Kenseth

For two weeks, they said, the tandem would win the race. Despite the fans' disdain for it, despite NASCAR's attempts to deemphasize it, drivers in the sport's premier division seemed almost certain that at the end, a two-car draft would be what claimed the Daytona 500.

In the final laps early Tuesday morning, those two cars belonged to Greg Biffle and Dale Earnhardt Jr. So Earnhardt's No. 88 hooked up with the back end of Biffle's No. 16 in a green-white-checkered restart -- and the tandem draft still couldn't catch eventual winner Matt Kenseth, who claimed his second title in the Great American Race.


Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Greg Biffle discuss how close they came to victory in the 2012 Daytona 500.

"This new package really didn't come down to tandem racing at the end," Earnhardt said. "I mean, me and Greg were pushing like heck and we couldn't get to Matt. So they have definitely made some strides in trying to make that not the definite way to win in a Sprint Cup level."

The tandem certainly seemed to be the difference-maker in last weekend's Budweiser Shootout, when Kyle Busch used the slingshot around Tony Stewart in a final-lap, two-man duel to claim the exhibition season opener. Yet a similar situation didn't play out in the rain-postponed Daytona 500, in which Kenseth led the final 38 laps. As it had shown in winning the second of two 150-mile qualifiers on Thursday, the No. 17 car was just too strong.

"Even on them restarts when Dale Jr. tried to push me, I tried to give him air and stay with him, but our car just ran so good, he couldn't quite keep up and stay attached to us," Kenseth said. "So I had to make other moves to keep the momentum up. I think when you come to plate racing, a huge, huge percentage of it is the car and how fast the car is. But I think Thursday was really good for us, because we learned some things in them last few laps that I think probably helped a little bit [Monday]."

Still, the drivers behind Kenseth were surprised they couldn't make up ground.

"Once we got straight, I pushed the gas down, I thought that we'd drive up on the back of the No. 17 without a problem," Biffle said. "It must have just pushed enough air out in front of my car that it pushed the No. 17 car out about five, six feet in front of me, and I couldn't get any closer. I thought, well, I need to get out from behind him because then we'll be able to go by him. So on the back stretch I moved up a little bit, and Matt is not stupid. We had no run at him. We were all going the same speed."

When Biffle moved over, Kenseth did the same. In retrospect, Biffle said he probably should have slowed down to try and put some distance between him and Kenseth, so he and Earnhardt could pair up and try to make a run at the leader.

" I thought [Earnhardt would] shove me right up to his back bumper. He had all night. I had no doubt it would happen then."


"Then we could have moved up beside him coming off the corner, and then Junior and I would have had to dice it out to the line," he said. "That's probably what I should have done, is just anchored down the brakes down the backstretch and put distance in between us. [That's] the only way we probably would have got a run at him. But I thought for sure I didn't need to do that. Of course, Monday morning quarterback, I'd do it now, but I didn't think I needed to. I thought [Earnhardt would] shove me right up to his back bumper. He had all night. I had no doubt it would happen then."

But it didn't, and instead it gave the impression that Biffle was blocking for his Roush Fenway teammate. Earnhardt, who eventually overtook Biffle for second place, didn't see it that way.

"This is the Daytona 500, and I don't know what it pays, but it's a lot of money. And his team, I know that they're teammates, but his group of guys that specifically work on that car or travel down here to pit the car during the race, his crew chief, Greg himself, they work way too hard to decide to run second in a scenario like that," Earnhardt said.

"I'm pretty sure that if I know Greg, and ... if he had an opportunity to get around Matt and had a chance to win the Daytona 500, he would have took it immediately. He's trying to do what he could do. If I were him, I can't imagine what his game plan was in his head, but if I were him, I would have tried to let me push him by and then pull down in front of Matt, and force Matt to be my pusher and then leave the No. 88 for the dogs. But that didn't work out."

It didn't for either of them. And although Earnhardt seemed pleased with his Daytona 500 run early Tuesday morning, he knew at some point the internal second-guessing would begin.

"I'm very happy," he said. "I'm really in a good place. I'm not frustrated at all, I promise. I'm in a great mood. I run second here a lot, though, so I know I don't feel it right now, but I know later [Tuesday] and [Wednesday] and the rest of the week it's going to eat at me what I could have done to win the race. So that is kind of frustrating."