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The Biff! The fastest driver in NASCAR, perhaps, and itching to get to Daytona for another shot at the 500

  Greg Biffle: 2010 could have easily been a five-win season...and that move in the Daytona 500 could have been the winning move, if only.... (Photo: Autostock)

   By Mike Mulhern


   This season is shaping up as a major driver contract negotiating season for many of NASCAR's big stars, who signed their current contracts back in the boom times before the economic recession hit.
   And Greg Biffle, who is one of those men, negotiating a new contract with Jack Roush, says some men may be in for a rude awakening.  
   "Jack and I have been in Minnesota working a sponsor summit with 3M," Biffle says, referring to his long-time sponsor. "We've been working on a new deal for four months now, on renewing for 2012. 3M is happy..and I'm pretty happy with everything that's going on, and technology.

   "One thing we all have to be cognizant of is there aren't that many opportunities out there. It used to be a big heyday, and the grass was greener, and all that.
   "Right now it's a little tougher economically."
    Sponsor 3M will likely renew for all 36 Sprint Cup events, Biffle says, "but they might sell six or eight races to outside sponsors."
    The primary sponsor selling off the quarterpanels for a few events isn't new in NASCAR. With some teams budgeting each Cup weekend at as much as $750,000, that's a $27 million or so sponsorship punch.
   Selling off races, though, isn't that easy: "When everyone is trying to sell races, it drives the price down," Biffle points out.
    "Then the economics don't get right, and the driver has to take an exorbitant pay cut.
   "We could all probably cut some fat, but we still have to operate the race team."

     Is that thing really street-legal? Oh, well, what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.....(Photo: Autostock)

  However the operating costs in NASCAR are pretty much driven by the man with the most to spend, and the rest of the owners either have to ante up or play in the dust.
   There are no spending limits in this sport. And, as Banjo Matthews liked to say "Money buys speed. How fast do you want to go?"
   And Greg Biffle is a fast driver, one of the sport's fastest. So how much is Greg Biffle worth at the wheel? After all he has won Truck and Nationwide championships and has been a frequent Cup title contender.
   Biffle could easily have won last year's season-opening Daytona 500. But he wound up victim of the triple green-white-checker.
   This time Biffle showed the fastest car in single-lap runs in Daytona testing two weeks ago. And he's studiously analyzing the two-car breakaway phenomenon.
    "If you win the Daytona 500, aren't your chances better, then, to win the championship too?" Biffle muses.
   "Or is it that the Daytona 500 is cursed?"
   Two ways to look at that:
   -- Lee Petty swept both in 1959, Richard Petty swept both in 1964, 1971, 1974 and 1979, Cale Yarborough won both Daytona and the championship in 1977.
    -- But over the past 30 years only two men have won both, Jimmie Johnson in 2006, and Jeff Gordon in 1997.
   Biffle says that while the Daytona 500 is this sport's biggest, most prestigious event, "I really want to win the championship…."


    Crew chief Greg Erwin's Pit Bulls, taking care of Greg Biffle at Texas (Photo: Autostock)

   And how to win this year's Sprint Cup title?
   "To win it will take, well, the right luck, you know that," Biffle says. "You have to be lucky.
    "You have to be very focused. You have to have fast race cars. You have to have good engines. You have to be mentally and physically prepared, to perform under the worst conditions.
   "I feel I have every single thing it takes to win the title this year."
   And Biffle came sooo close in 2005, when he missed by just 35 points….that dropped lug nut at Texas perhaps.
   "I feel as good about this year as about '05," Biffle says. "I'm in good shape, mentally and physically. We got our program going really good last year."
   While much was made last year about Ford's slow start and then furious finish, after a considerable drought, Biffle points out he could have taken the Daytona 500. And the rest of his season could have gone quite easily much differently too.
   The key issues for Biffle last season:
    "We blew up in Chicago; we probably would have won that race.
    "We finished third at Michigan, led the most laps. Probably should have won that race.
    "Indianapolis…..that was….Indy and the Daytona 500 I was so close.
   "Texas, I just slid it over there on a silver platter. Led 200-some laps. It didn't matter which row I restarted in; nobody could touch us that day.
   "So I look at how we ran, and with us now executing better, and with that new nose we should be a little better there. Our cars are a little lighter, a little this, a little that.
   "I really feel we can win six races.
    "I really, really we can win four races. And I felt that way into '05, because we came out of '04 on fire.
   "My only problem now is Carl and Matt nipping at our heels. They've got the same equipment."


    Greg Erwin (R) has been with Greg Biffle for four years now, and maybe this will be their championship season together (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    At Daytona the two-car draft seems much, much quicker than the big 30-car draft, because of sheer aerodynamic inefficiencies in the big pack.
   However the trailing car in a two-car draft doesn't get much cooling air to the engine, "and it heats up fast," Biffle says.
   Biffle figures the men in a two-car draft will have to swap positions every two laps or so.
   And everyone seems to feel that the two men who can figure out the most efficient way to swap those spots, without losing time, will have an edge. It could a matter of exquisite timing.
   Any two-some who botch the swap will likely get swamped by the train coming up behind them.
   "Daytona is a long way around, 2-1/2 miles….without air to the engine," Biffle says.
   And Biffle points out that there are tricks to making the swap, tricks that may be different this season because of the new nose aerodynamics.
   In fact Biffle – and others – says that the trailing car must rely on the lead driver actually hitting the brakes, dragging the brakes, a bit in order for the two to match bumpers and bump-draft, or pass.
   "There is this bubble in front of you, and you just can't get any closer to that guy in front of you," Biffle says. "You have to have the leader step on the brakes a little, to pop that 'balloon.' And then my momentum will catch him.
   "However when you pop that balloon, if you can't stay together and get that magnet, the lead car will squirt away again.
   "And the deal is you're only two cars, remember.
   "So when you do the switch, you have to get reestablished right away, before the pack behind you catches up.
   "So the guy in front is going to have to understand what's going on."
   Which makes teammates so crucial, it would appear. Rivals will not be working well together, presumably.
   "Here's what I think is going to happen – two guys will break away from the field," Biffle predicts. "And you'll have a three-wide behind them.
  "But Daytona is so narrow (much narrower than Talladega). So where is that three-wide going to go? Daytona isn't that wide.
   "And those guys will be coming up on us 13 mph faster…."

  Greg Biffle (R) is hoping he'll being going through cases of champagne this season (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


  On top of that, it's impossible to see through the windshield of the car right in front of you. So drivers are really driving blindly in this.
   "And everyone is going to have to check up all of a sudden…because we can't see through them," Biffle says. "You don't know what's going on up there.
   "We've asked for a long time for some help in being able to see through these things. It's like going down the interstate behind a semi; you can't tell what's in front of him.
   "I'm probably not going to pull down; I'm going to make somebody hit me. And it's going to accordion everyone behind you.
   "If we're two-wide, it's okay. But if we're three-wide catching these guys, there's going to be an issue. Somebody is going to have to give."
   So play the rope-a-dope, and lay back, and wait till the end for a charge? Drivers have done that at Talladega at times. "But Daytona is so much narrower, and it's harder to pass," Biffle says.
   The bottom line, of course, Biffle concedes, is that the Daytona 500 will almost certainly finish with three green-white-checkered sprints, again. That's exciting for the fans, of course, but it's devilish for drivers trying to play tactics.
   "Yep, three green-white-checkers," Biffle says.
   So is the low groove, on this new asphalt, going to be better than the high groove? At Talladega the higher groove usually seems more favorable.
   Biffle says he's not sure yet.
   On a green-white-checkered, Biffle says, the leaders, on the front row, might be at risk, because the men behind can get up to speed quicker.

   Of course, The Biff has more on his mind at the moment too – a baby on the way, his first-born. And teammates Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards also now have wives in the family way.
   And Biffle says he is indeed quite nervous about it.
   July 10th is the deadline for the new Biffle. "We do babies by races, of course, so Matt has a Phoenix baby, I have a Daytona baby…
   "We found out when we got home from California last fall."
   And the race day game plan? For Biffle that would be the Sunday after the Saturday night Sprint Cup race at Kentucky Speedway.
   "I don't have one yet," Biffle says. "I am a notorious non-planner. I don't know where I'm having lunch today, or what I'm having for dinner."
   But having a driver ready to stand by would be smart, it would seem. Who might Biffle have helmet in hand that weekend?
   "Nobody? That's weird to think about, it really is, because this is all so competitive. It's 'your deal,' you know.
   "I haven't thought about it, never even considered it. I'll have to do that.
   "This is my first….and there's a lot to be said about being there when your child is born.
   "But we can't control everything. And there are a lot of people – like our soldiers – who don't have the opportunity….
   "Part of me says that car is very, very important to me. To be in that car driver it.
    "But my family is very, very important to me too.
    "It will be a very tough decision."
    One reason for the dilemma is NASCAR's long-standing rule that a team cannot get driver credit for its car's performance unless that specific driver is at the wheel for at least the start of the race. That rule has long been controversial because it forces a driver to get behind the wheel and take the green, no matter how badly injured or ill he might be, if he wants his team to get points toward the Cup championship.
    "Hopefully it doesn't come down that…and it's hit-or-miss, you know,"  Biffle says. "What if it happens when you're buckling in the car? What if it happens on lap 50?
   "I just don't know how it's going to work. I've never even thought about it. Do you pull in? Well, you're probably not going to make it there in time."

  TV's Krista Voda, with Greg Biffle during Daytona testing (Photo: Autostock)





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