News & Media

Track Smack: Biffle best bet for Roush Fenway at Texas

April 13, 2012, ,

Points leader has finished fifth or better in the past five of seven Lone Star races

1. They say everything is bigger in Texas, and that could include the level of confidence Roush Fenway brings to the Fort Worth track. Is Daytona 500 champ Matt Kenseth the best bet to lead his team to another victory there?

Jill Erwin: Kenseth is tough there, no doubt. And he could win. But if we're picking from the RFR stable, my money's on Greg Biffle. He's been down the past couple of years, and he still hasn't finished outside the top 10 at Texas in four years. Now he's on top of the world (or at least the points) and has all kinds of confidence. I think Biff's the guy to do it for Roush Fenway.

Joe Menzer: Nope. Matt Kenseth? You've got the wrong Roush Fenway guy targeted here. This is going to be points leader Greg Biffle's race. Check out these stats: In his past seven races at TMS, he hasn't finished outside the top 10. That includes finishes of fifth or better in the past three and in five of those seven. This is his weekend to break through and win.

David Caraviello: Texas to me means a few things, such as firearms in Victory Lane, big steaks, seeing cattle off to the side of the interstate -- not sure if those latter two are related -- and Roush cars in the mix for the win. It just wouldn't be Texas without one of the Roush boys up there, and given his breakthrough in the spring race there last season and his two wins already this year ... heck, how can you bet against Matt Kenseth at this point? That's a no-brainer, like picking the Cowboys to make the playoffs. Oh, wait ...

Jill Erwin: Well, Caraviello, obviously you can pick against Kenseth. Your BFF Joe and I just did!

Joe Menzer: Well, well, Jill. I guess great minds truly do think alike -- at least sometimes. As for Caraviello, well, mistakes are bigger in Texas, too. Sorry, bud, you're backing the wrong horse from that RFR stable.

Jill Erwin: Giving Caraviello some wiggle room, the one thing that concerns me about Biffle is that he's so hit or miss there. He's got nine top-10s in 16 starts, but his average finish is 17.2. If he's not in the top 10, he's usually in the 30s, and that's a dangerous tightrope to walk.

Joe Menzer: This isn't just about how Biffle is so good -- and so consistent -- at this track. That's a given. But that on top of the fact that he's running so well this season anyway, and due to win soon regardless of where they're running, this very well could be, arguably should be, his week to break through. So, Jill, don't back down. You have to look at the most recent results -- and he's not been up-and-down during the past seven races there for sure, or the past 10 if you want to stretch it out.

David Caraviello: Guys, I hear what you're saying about Biffle. Totally could see it happening. But Texas is one of those places that likes proven commodities, and drivers who win there often do so again and again. Say all you want about Biffle's statistics in Fort Worth, but the driver in the top 12 right now with the best average finish in Texas is Kenseth, and by a wide margin. We're talking an 8.7 average finish during 19 career starts. Next best? That would be Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin, tied at 10.2. Your boy Biffle comes home with a nice fat 17.2.

Jill Erwin: As Joe pointed out, that was the old Biffle. This is the new-and-improved Biffle. Married-father Biffle. Top-car-on-his-team Biffle.

Joe Menzer: Jill, do not let Caraviello try to influence you on this one. The Biff is the pick in this one. I don't understand why you guys are bringing up stats from eons ago when they don't fit my argument.

David Caraviello: Or more to the point: A Biffle who now has Matt Puccia as a crew chief. As adorable as it is, that baby ain't setting up the car.

Fantasy preview: Texas

Led by Matt Kenseth, the three current Roushketeers have a balance of recent momentum and career strength as they head to the Lone Star State.

Jill Erwin: Puccia's getting a lot of love, so it's hard for me to say he's underappreciated. But the effect he's had on that team is immense. Impressive, really.

Joe Menzer: Now you're finally talking some sense, DC! Could Biffle possibly have given Matt Puccia more credit for this season than he already has? He positively gushes about him every time he talks to the media. It reminds me of how excited Caraviello got when he learned that I would be joining the staff with him at the beginning of 2007.

David Caraviello: Oh, by the way, do you guys know which driver currently in the top 12 has the most DNFs at Texas? Take a guess. Humor me.

Jill Erwin: None since fall 2007, Caraviello! Now you're digging into ancient history for slams. Unbecoming.

Joe Menzer: I'm only looking at those past seven races. He's been golden.

David Caraviello: Jill, I'm getting all of this off the NASCAR statistical advance released just days ago. This is breaking news, people! And the answer is Biffle, with four. Kenseth, by the way, has zero. What a shocker. Ancient history would be Greg's one win there, which came in 2005. I believe Texas Motor Speedway was a road course then, wasn't it?

Jill Erwin: Joe and I have our "recent history" goggles on. Heck, if you don't go by recent runs, then Bobby Labonte's got to be the favorite somewhere, right?

Joe Menzer: If you guys really want to mix this up a little more, what about Carl Edwards? He has three career wins at the place, and you remember how he dueled with Tony Stewart at the venue during the Chase last fall. I expect he'll have something to say about which RFR driver does the best. I would expect all three of those guys to have strong runs. But this is the Biff's time. I feel it, and the stats as far back as I care to read 'em tell me I'm right. So don't worry, Jill, you're on the right side here.

Jill Erwin: Yeah, we kind of are overlooking Cousin Carl. Oh well. Hazard of Track Smack! I get fixated on something, i.e. Biffle's upcoming domination at Texas, and I fail to care about anything else. Sorry, Carl.

David Caraviello: Joe, I was just thinking about how the Rousher with the most wins at Texas had gone unmentioned. He could have won that fall race. He has the fourth-best driver rating at the place. So if we were ranking the Roush drivers based on how much likely they are to win Saturday night, I might put him second behind Kenseth. He's not having quite as strong of year, but his track record at the place speaks for itself. Perfect place for Carl to vault back into the top 10.

Joe Menzer: My goodness, David, what do you have against our current points leader? Did you and Biff get in a tiff somewhere recently?

Jill Erwin: So now not only are you not putting Biff first, you're also putting him third? Of three? My mind can't even comprehend that, Caraviello.

David Caraviello: Of course, then there's the driver who won the fall race at Texas, and has won twice this season, and has won seven of 16 races dating to last fall. Yeah, Tony Stewart very well might have a voice in this, too. Can't underestimate the guy.

Jill Erwin: Now we're getting totally off-topic. The question was who's the best bet to lead RFR to the win. If Tony Stewart can do that, well, that's doubly impressive but troubling. Taking a page from the Menzer playbook and referencing the NFL, Caraviello is moving the goalposts.

David Caraviello: I have made my picks: 1. Kenseth; 2. Edwards; 3. Chad Little; 4. Todd Kleuver; 5. Biffle. I kid, Greg! I kid!

Roush Fenway drivers at Texas

DriverRacesWinsTop-5sTop-10sAvg. St.Avg. Fin.
Carl Edwards1435614.415.5
Matt Kenseth192101316.88.7

Joe Menzer: Have I ever told you guys I used to cover the NFL?

2. Denny Hamlin is fresh off watching buddy Bubba Watson win the Masters. If he claims another pair of six-shooters to go with his friend's green jacket, can we say his championship hangover of 2011 is officially behind him?

Jill Erwin: Quick answer: If Tony Stewart can go from not being worthy of the Chase in August to winning the whole thing in November, then two wins by mid-April doesn't mean someone will have a successful season. It will be a nice turn for Hamlin, and one he's worked hard for with Darian Grubb, but it's not necessarily a sign of what's to come.

Joe Menzer: I know one thing: If he does win at Texas, crew chief Darian Grubb should refuse to don the giant cowboy hat in the post-race presser. Speaking of Hamlin's infamous 2011 collapse, that's where I remember seeing his former crew chief, Mike Ford, opening mouth and inserting foot. It was like somebody put an ego-booster in the brim of that cowboy hat Ford put on, and suddenly he couldn't stop talking about how much better his team was than the No. 48 of Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus. He spewed out more bulletin board material in those 20 minutes than I can recall him ever doing before or since. It definitely ended up working to that team's disadvantage.

David Caraviello: Gang, that hangover is long gone. It ended the minute Darian Grubb came to the No. 11 team, and it was kicked to the curb officially when Denny won at Phoenix. The No. 11 team isn't having a perfect year, but it's better more times than not, and Texas is Hamlin's kind of track. He's a multiple-time winner there, and as we mentioned earlier, this track really likes drivers who have experienced success there before.

Hamlin's 2012 results

Las Vegas17200

Jill Erwin: Ahem. I think you mean as "you" mentioned earlier. I love Mike Ford more than possibly anyone else who covered this sport, and that was the weirdest thing I'd seen.

David Caraviello: Man, you guys really are digging up ancient history now, aren't you? I still think all Mike was doing was trying to build up his team's confidence. The pit call at Phoenix in late 2010 was one thing, but let's give Mike some slack. He and Denny had a good run together. It was just time for a change.

Jill Erwin: I was cutting him slack. I love that guy. It was just ... so out of character. I couldn't wrap my head around it. But yeah, the time for a change had come.

Joe Menzer: Are you kidding me? You think what transpired at Texas had nothing to do with setting up that team's demise? Maybe it was because I was there and witnessed it in person, but I distinctly remember sitting there and thinking he was making a big mistake. Dude, he definitely called out the 48 team. No question about it. You don't poke a sleeping bear, my friend. It's stupid. And that's what he did.

Jill Erwin: He didn't poke it. He dangled a hunk of meat in front of it while dancing a jig and branding it.

David Caraviello: Let's not forget, Mike Ford virtually built that No. 11 team into a contender out of the ashes of the Jason Leffler era. All that can't be swept aside just because of some things he said in the heat of a championship run in 2010. They had a lead with two to go. They had just won the race. Why wouldn't he think that way? And are we really dissecting something that happened two years ago in this Track Smack?

Joe Menzer: Listen, I've always liked Mike Ford, too. He always had time for me any time I had a question about anything. I appreciate that. But I've got to be honest and call it like I saw it. He ended up putting more pressure on his team and making it easier for the 48 team to get motivated, like they needed any help at the time.

David Caraviello: All I know is after Kenseth wins Saturday night, I hope Jimmy Fennig stands up on the press table and proclaims, "We are the best team in NASCAR!" Although something tells me that won't happen.

Joe Menzer: There is something about that cowboy hat that brings out the bravado in everyone. I'd love to see Fennig don one, but that would mean Caraviello was right and we were wrong and we'd never hear the end of it. So never mind.

Jill Erwin: I would pay good money to see Fennig get up on a table and yell anything. Did I mention I'm wearing a cowboy hat right now? I'll settle for Puccia in a hat, deflecting credit, thank you very much.

Joe Menzer: And hey, the question specifically asked if "the hangover from 2011" was gone. Wasn't that the question? My guess is that it is, mostly. But I still would stay away from the cowboy hat and bold proclamations if I'm Grubb and Hamlin wins.

David Caraviello: To bring this Mike Ford slamfest back to the present, Denny is having a pretty good year. He's definitely in better shape in the points than he was this time a year ago, and his car is fast almost every week. He's not getting the finishes he'd probably like all the time, but there's no question he's taking big steps toward getting back to where he was in 2010.

Jill Erwin: I guess I take back my initial post. The "hangover" and having a successful season aren't the same thing. I don't think Hamlin wakes up every morning bemoaning Texas post-race and Phoenix any more. So in that way, the hangover is in the past. But I also think there's a ton of racing left to do, and Hamlin's in a better position to run well than he has been in two years. So that's good.

David Caraviello: All I know, Denny probably hopes his Texas weekend is a little less adventurous than his buddy Bubba's was at Augusta National. You go into the trees in NASCAR, there's no getting out.

* Hamlin experiences Augusta National inside the ropes

Jill Erwin: I'd rather have guns than a green jacket. Where in the world can you wear that thing?

David Caraviello: Something tells me that with two six-shooters, you can get any green jacket you want.

Joe Menzer: Bubba likes pink clothing -- and drivers. So he probably liked Denny's firesuit in that one commercial. But I still have a hangover from watching it.

Jill Erwin: David Reutimann loves love.

David Caraviello: Let's leave the pink firesuit home this weekend, shall we? It would clash with the black cowboy hat.

3. One of the best drivers to come from Texas, Bobby Labonte, is 22nd in the Sprint Cup standings. Did his JTG/Daugherty team pick the wrong time to split from Michael Waltrip Racing?

Joe Menzer: Too soon to tell. I don't mean to sound like the expert on JTG Daugherty Racing, but during their breakfast on the media tour -- when others were still sleeping -- I spent a good bit of time with team co-owner Brad Daugherty and new GM-crew chief Todd Berrier. They fully expected to struggle a little out of the gate and hopefully get better as the year goes on. So this is not entirely unexpected. In fact, I think they might have feared it would be a little worse at the start.

David Caraviello: Boy, talk about bad timing. JTG/D splits off just as MWR shows all appearances of taking the next step toward being the kind of team that can contend for race wins and Chase spots on a consistent basis. Of course, I guess there's no guarantee any of that would have rubbed off on JTG/D, but it's impossible not to notice that the team has slid a bit in the other direction since the two organizations parted ways.

Jill Erwin: In comparing the two team's finishes, sure there's a gap. But it's not like Furniture Row runs where Hendrick does. With all due respect to Bobby Labonte and JTG Daugherty, they had to split at some point, and this just looks like an unfortunate coincidence.

Moving ahead

JTG Daugherty Racing knew it would take a step back when it decided to split with Michael Waltrip Racing but is confident it eventually will put Bobby Labonte back in Victory Lane.

David Caraviello: Well, Joe, appreciate that little bit of dawn patrol insight. Good to know, because there are a lot of good folks over there, and you want to see them do well. I also am guessing that a split was inevitable at some point. It's just tough to see the team kind of off the radar right now, after a few years of making noise here and there.

Joe Menzer: JTG Daugherty had to make the move to its own shop to pursue its own plan, for better or worse. The split happened so late that the team was really behind the curve in getting its new/old shop up to speed, and now it's paying the price for that. But this is the path it chose and felt was necessary to become a two-car team by next year, where it isn't relying so heavily on another team for support.

Jill Erwin: So pretty much everything I said. I do love this Track Smack!

David Caraviello: The only thing I wonder is since MWR is building cars now that are so much better than before, would that have trickled down to their satellite team? But there's no real way of knowing that, I guess.

Jill Erwin: Right. Without knowing exactly where the lines were drawn and what was being shared and what was proprietary, there's no way to play fortune teller and guess.

Joe Menzer: And let's face it. Look around the garage area. Two-car teams are the way to go, especially if you can get the kind of support from Toyota Racing Development that they hope to get, that's supposedly now being shared more completely between all the Toyota teams. In that regard, they're still privy to much of the information they would have received under MWR's roof anyway.

David Caraviello: Also, Joe, if I remember correctly, JTG/D wanted a bit of brand identity. It wanted to be known as its own organization and not some spin-off from another team. I guess that short-term benefit off the race track, though, comes with some short-term (at least) struggle on it.

Joe Menzer: Going back a little bit, I think what really hurt was when Marcos Ambrose lost that race he should have won at Sonoma a couple of years ago. He wins that, maybe he stays at JTG/Daugherty. He blew it, started looking around for greener grass and a change and ended up bolting for Richard Petty Motorsports. Ambrose was and still is an up-and-coming driver. Bobby Labonte, despite Daugherty's insistence otherwise, is not what he once was. Although to be fair, Daugherty insisted that last year it was the team's fault on the lack-of-performance side by not giving Bobby the type of equipment that it should have. Labonte still can wheel it to a degree, but if you'd ask anyone who they would rather have behind the wheel at this stage of their particular careers, I think it would be Ambrose hands-down.

Jill Erwin: Joe Menzer, JTG/D expert! I love it. But yeah, with Ambrose this is a markedly different team. In my opinion anyway.

Joe Menzer: Don't underestimate Todd Berrier's role in all of this, either. He knows what he's doing, and he's implemented wholesale changes there on how they prepare the cars and approach the races. But he warned that it was going to take some time and that he expected them to be much better during the second half of this season than they would be during the first.

David Caraviello: To be fair, much of what noise JTG/D often made was at road courses with Ambrose behind the wheel. It was always a threat at Sonoma and Watkins Glen. But it had moments at Bristol and some other places too, if memory serves me correctly. Maybe the team will get back there again. No questioning Labonte's street cred or his status as a past champion, which will come in handy if things get worse before they get better. Hopefully, though, it won't come to that. And it's one thing to slam Mike Ford. But slamming Bobby Labonte? Man, Menzer. Good thing you're not going to Texas.

Jill Erwin: That wasn't a slam. That was fact. I don't think even Bobby would tell you he's at 2000-level driving any more. Age is vicious, Caraviello. My knees could tell you that, and I'm about 10 years younger than Labonte.

Joe Menzer: And wait a minute, I slammed Bobby Labonte? Hardly. I just said that at this point in their two careers, I think most people would pick Marcos Ambrose over him to put behind the wheel of a Sprint Cup car. Do you disagree? Are you trying to pick a fight? Seems to me Mr. Eddie Gossage still has those boxing gloves on hand that he used in promoting Carl vs. Tony in last fall's Chase. We could settle this in Texas -- if I wasn't going to Rockingham for the Camping World Truck Series race instead this weekend.

David Caraviello: I think its cars have to be much improved before anybody does better at JTG/D, whether it's Labonte or someone else. But don't worry, Menzer, I'll bring those boxing gloves home from Texas and meet you in your man cave. What did Boris Said say about your guy Biffle at Watkins Glen last year? I'm coming to your house, Menzer! I'll show you what you really need!

Jill Erwin: My money would be on Caraviello. He's scrappy and quick-footed. Joe would be easy to hit in that cowboy hat, and he'd just be spitting out his mouth guard to talk about how things were done in the NFL anyway.

Joe Menzer: And unfortunately, you do know where I live. Maybe I'll bring a piece of the Rock back with me from the Truck race for possible self-defense. And hey, guys, did I ever tell you I used to cover Brad Daugherty in the NBA, too?

Jill Erwin: Hit him, Caraviello!

The opinions expressed are solely those of the participants.