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Jack Roush's Fords may not have Daytona speed like Chevys and Toyotas, but Greg Biffle says handling may be more important in the 500


Greg Biffle may not have all the speed he wants at Daytona, but at the moment he'd simply rather have his luck turn for the better (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   By Mike Mulhern

   If Greg Biffle gets battered around anymore here, he's going to get really ticked.
   "My thoughts right at this second are that, hopefully before SpeedWeeks is over, I get to finish a race," the frustrated Biff was saying on the eve of the NASCAR season-opening Daytona 500.
   "We've had a few off-road excursions…and these cars aren't nearly as good in the grass as they are on the pavement."
   And the Biff isn't the only Jack Roush guy to find this SpeedWeeks bumpier than usual.
   Maybe it's partly the pavement itself. This mammoth 2.5-mile oval hasn't been repaved in years, and one trip around it with Jimmie Johnson, in one of those new Camaro pace cars, shows that this place is indeed really just a very high-speed two-lane country road, albeit with a very famous name.
   At just 150 mph in the pace car Johnson showed this place, particularly the middle of the first turn, is amazingly bumpy. Since the key to speed and front downforce at any track is to get that nose as close to the pavement as possible, well, bumps like this track has makes shock work a nightmare for engineers.
    And then drivers have to hit the biggest of the first turn bumps just right, or the car gets thrown sideways.
   "The car seems a little harder to drive -- it doesn't quite have as much grip like at Talladega," Biffle says. "That's just Daytona….but there's a little different tire as well, which is probably giving the car a little instability."
    Side-by-side racing, when it's two-by-two, is not that bad. But make it three-wide, and the guy in the middle is usually in some serious trouble.
    Then throw in a few joker moves to four-wide, like Kyle Busch will do, and place your bets on who's going to be around for the next lap.
   So the logical solution would be to repave the track?
   The drivers are virtually unanimous in screaming "No!"
   First, they point out, newly repaved tracks are typically much, much faster, which means they have to throw out all their notebooks….and so does Goodyear.
   Now Goodyear has become very adept at find good tires for repaves the last few years. But at a track like this – which is like no other in the world, and completely dissimilar to wide-and-smoother Talladega – well, laying new asphalt might create a lot of issues.
   Robin Braig, the track president, has said he is looking to put a complete repave in the budget for three years down the road. That far out, though, it sounds more like a stalling tactic.
   And honestly, this track really doesn't need new pavement. It's not cracking up. Heck the cars spend more time in the air than on the ground, it seems.
   But that new Talladega pavement was such a marvel that the France family might well go for new pavement here too. Might make January testing here not just a must for teams, but a must-see for fans.

Greg Biffle is tired of being kicked around at Daytona (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


So just what do the Roush guys have here, facing a horde of very fast Chevys, at a track where Chevy has typically dominated?
   "We've had some fast cars, and they're driving very well, so that's definitely positive news for us," Biffle, whose crew chief is Greg Erwin, says.
   "But we have been involved in a few incidents. Hopefully we've got them all behind us."
   Biffle has won here, and teammate Jamie McMurray won here last July, and teammate Carl Edwards was one of the top 500 picks when SpeedWeeks opened.
   Still it's been a while since a Ford won the Daytona 500.
   However three of the six fastest in Saturday's final drafting practice were Roush men. "It means we're gaining on it," Biffle says.
   "I'll have to tell you that I was a little disappointed once we got here. We saw a few teams that were a little better.
    "We are off just a hair to some of the other teams.
    "But our cars drive really good…and that's more important than speed. Driving good in the 500 is important, and that's what we have.
    "We knew we were giving up a bit of speed, but that has never normally won the Daytona 500, and I don't think it will this year."
     Roush men have traditionally been more known for power-and-strength at the NASCAR tour's mid-sized tracks, and Edwards won Race Two and Race Three at California and Las Vegas last spring, among his league-leading nine tour victories.
   So despite his current run of hard luck Biffle says "I'm looking forward to this season. 
   "We tested well at Atlanta, and we're ready for California and Vegas, and those are some of my favorite tracks," Biffle says.
    "We're running fairly well here, and I'm pretty happy with the way the car is driving.  We're certainly still off a little bit on speed and drive-ability, compared to some of the cars around us. That showed in the second 150 race (Thursday), as well in Carl's race -- He ran ninth or so, and you can see we're not quite as good as our competition."
    At Daytona the line has usually been whatever you roll off the hauler is about what you're going to through the entire SpeedWeeks, because it's not easy to find more speed here. 
   With these car bodies essentially common-template cars, too, the edge the Rick Hendrick Chevys and Joe Gibbs Toyotas have shown would thus likely be under the hood.
   Biffle points to those two camps "obviously in the lead on restrictor plate cars at this point, it's pretty clear. 
   "Watching Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin, they're just in a league of their own, along with Mark Martin (Hendrick's newest). It just doesn't look like anyone can run with them.
    "Those are going to be the cars tough to beat in the 500. 
    "But it gets mixed up with Kevin Harvick winning the Bud Shootout  -- It depends on being in the right place at the right time, if you get the right push."
   Harvick though has had to go to a backup.


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