Biffle focused on regaining intermediate edge
February 09, 2014, Zack Albert, NASCAR.com
Uncharacteristically, short tracks became one of Greg Biffle's stronger suits last season. But increased performance on NASCAR's bullrings came at a cost, specifically on the intermediate-sized speedways that used to be his Roush Fenway Racing team's safe haven.
Was the trade-off worth it? Biffle isn't so sure.
"We had a stranglehold a little bit on those (intermediate) type of race tracks," Biffle said during late January at the annual Sprint Media Tour. "Last year, we were just average. It felt like we lost our edge. We weren't really sitting below those other guys, we just lost that stranglehold, it felt like, on those tracks. Although: Better at Richmond, better at Martinsville, better at Loudon, but I don't know if I want to trade that for the dominance we had on the intermediate tracks.
"And it seems like you can never have both. It's like, take your pick, you're only allowed to have one. That's been so hard of a balance."
The focus shifts back to regaining the intermediate-track advantage this year as Biffle embarks on his 12th season driving Roush Fenway's No. 16 Ford. From a personal standpoint, Biffle enters a contract year with optimism about an extension with longtime sponsor 3M. From a team view, Biffle was the head of the Roush Fenway class last season with a ninth-place result in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points, but the team made it clear that finishes of ninth, 13th and 19th in the final standings were not acceptable.
Biffle has had brushes with the Sprint Cup crown before -- a runner-up finish in a six-win season in 2005, third place in 2008, and fifth as recently as 2012. For the 44-year-old veteran to have a chance at becoming the first driver to win championships in all three NASCAR national series, Roush Fenway's general manager Robbie Reiser said the team has to hold up its end of the partnership.
"I believe on Greg Biffle's part, it's a little more on our shoulders to be able to help support what he's doing there," Reiser said. "Greg's got all the ability in the world to win the championship and we've got to supply a team, and parts and components around him that can go out and do that. We've got to look in the mirror on that one and be able to understand that we've got to build a better company for Greg to be sitting at the head table at the end of the year."
Biffle, who has driven for team owner Jack Roush in all but three of his 55 NASCAR national series wins, isn't quite ready to assign blame -- not when he watches his crew grind through double shifts and manage the rigors of an extensive testing schedule to get ready before the season-opening Daytona 500 on Feb. 23.
"You're never going to have the fastest car all the time. So to say they need to provide better cars or wish we had faster cars or this or that, it's hard to point fingers," Biffle said. "Yeah, do we wish we had the fastest car all the time? Sure. The one thing I bring out of that is, the second that you feel like the team or the organization is not doing every single thing possible,that's when you get upset. ...
"That's never the case with us. ... We're doing everything we can to have the fastest cars, so that's all I can ask of them."
Biffle led just three laps all last season at the intermediate-sized 1.5-mile tracks that used to be the team's best venues. The flip side to the performance trend was finding himself among the top 10 cars on a more consistent basis on short tracks.
The key to improvement this year will be transforming the top-10 efforts into top-five finishes, and not just on a certain style of track.
"We want to run in the top five the whole race, but then again, so do 42 other guys. Only so many of us are going to," Biffle said. "For us to be running in the top 10 at those races, that's not far from being in the top five. Like I say, it's stepping stones. You're not going to win unless you're running in the top five, right? You're not going to win from 12th, normally. You're not going to win from ninth or eighth. You're going to win from fourth, third, second, fifth -- you're going to win from there. So that's the progression."