Bruton Smith's Bristol Motor Speedway, from the window of Jimmie Johnson's plane Friday morning (Photo: Jimmie Johnson)
By Mike Mulhern
"Four weeks now I've had superior cars," Biffle says. "Now I'm not going to have those all year, we know. But I'm going to enjoy this as long as I can."
Biffle not only has a new crew chief, Matt Puccia, but an all new over-the-wall team, all in all 20 new guys. "I'm still learning all their names," Biffle says.
"I had a fair bit of pressure last fall to go with (crew chief) Drew (Blickensderfer), because he was long-time with the company. But I wanted to stay with Matt."
Blickensderfer then moved over to the Richard Childress camp.
Biffle's lap at 125.215 mph (15.324 seconds) was far off Ryan Newman's 2003 track record of 128.709.
Biffle has played in the shadows of teammates Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth the past year or so. But this year he appears to be breaking out again.
Puccia took over the team boss spot Greg Erwin held with Biffle for several years. "Greg Erwin did a great job as well; we made the chase three of the four years we were together," Biffle says. "But the deck was just stacked against us last year."
Greg Biffle, on the Bristol pole, and riding the wave (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
Biffle appeared on the verge of winning the Daytona 500 three weeks ago. But he couldn't catch Kenseth, even with a push by Dale Earnhardt Jr.
And Biffle is still chaffing at all the second-guessing: "Daytona, we beat that horse until it was completely dead.
"The mistake I made at Daytona was, going down the back stretch I did not get on the brakes (to hook up tighter with Earnhardt). And I didn't get five or eight car-lengths off of Matt's bumper and then make a run at him.
"I thought -- like everybody else in this world -- that Dale Jr. would be able to eventually migrate up to the rear bumper of Matt….and that once I got there I would pull out or side-draft him or go by him.
"It just never happened.
"I am in disbelief we didn't get there.
"I think the same thing happened to Kevin Harvick: Jeff Burton was pushing him, same as Junior was pushing me, and they still couldn't go by Denny Hamlin, who was by himself.
"I wish I could go back and do it over. I would have slowed down (to hook more tightly with Earnhardt and gain speed).
"But when you are coming for the Daytona 500 win, you aren't thinking of putting on the brakes and slowing down."
Again the next week at Phoenix Biffle had a shot to win late. "At Phoenix I needed to be a little better; I picked the wrong front shocks in final practice."
And again last week at Las Vegas: "I would have thought third was nothing to shake a stick at, but there were a few cars faster than us.
"We've got a little bit of work to do to catch up to Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson on the 1-1/2-miles. But we know we are real close to them."
Yes! Bristol Motor Speedway is one of the Seven Wonders of the American sports world (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
And next week's two-mile test at Los Angeles' Auto Club Speedway?
"I am really excited about Fontana; it is one of my favorite tracks," Biffle says. "We have a brand new car, that has really good wind tunnel numbers. We feel it's our best car in our fleet so far.
"With the new fuel injection, and all the data, we will be able to keep a better eye on not burning our engine up…which is what we did there that one time."
The other two big stories Friday: Robby Gordon and Bruton Smith.
Gordon -- the man who, with Roger Penske's pending defection to Ford, is the only man still on the Dodge roster for 2013 – failed to make the 500 field after his engine failed to fire for practice.
That would normally not be a major story here; however the situation surrounding Gordon's problems made it one.
"Robby was out there on the line ready for practice, and then the car just wouldn't fire," crewman Randy Rodriguez said. "Four McLaren engineers came running over there to help, and they spent 1-1/2 hours with it, but couldn't figure it out.
"So we have to go home. No practice, you can't qualify."
NASCAR officials, asked about the situation, referred reporters to McLaren engineers, who could not be found.
Dodge execs, likewise, could not be found for comment.
Gordon, one of only three NASCAR drivers this year running Dodges (along with Penske men AJ Allmendinger and Brad Keselowski), says he has called Dodge boss Ralph Gilles since Penske announced two weeks ago that he would be moving to Ford. But Gordon says Gilles has not yet returned his inquiries.
Gordon had engine problems at Daytona and tried to get an engine from Penske, the only other team owner building Dodge engines. But Gordon said Penske's price (which he wouldn't specify) was too high.
Dodge itself apparently doesn't build NASCAR engines or have any other engine building source.
And then there's Bruton Smith, who owns this track, and Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and several other major NASCAR Sprint Cup venues.
Smith, never one to shy away from the spotlight, is making big waves with his surprising proposal to build a copy of the legendary 23-kilometer-long German track the Nurburgring ( http://bit.ly/dC6pWQ ) within 10 miles or so of his Las Vegas track.
And then Smith topped that by announcing he had applied for one of those casino gambling licenses New Hampshire is proposing. Table games and all, Smith said, if he gets approval for a casino somewhere near his New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon.
Smith says the proposed new Las Vegas area track – a copy of what Formula 1 legend Jackie Stewart called 'the green hell' – would be built on land owned by the federal Bureau of Land Management, though he still didn't know the precise location.
Smith also said the new track would be used only for street-car testing, by car makers, not for racing.
And Smith's description of the project appears to have a number of curious holes.
One, Nurburgring is trademarked.
Two, building a hilly track like Nurburgring in the flat Nevada desert might seem improbable.
Three, constructions costs.
Stay tuned. There's probably a lot more to all this than Smith has so far let on.
A new 14-mile long road course, modeled on Germany's Nurburgring, in Las Vegas...and a full-boogie casino near New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Bruton Smith certainly knows how to make some headlines. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)