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NASCAR's drivers may be black-and-blue before SpeedWeeks is over

  Greg Biffle has been champing at the bit to get out on the track and roughhouse....and it hasn't taken long for the action at Daytona to get heated (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   Will this Daytona 500 be the Roughhouse 500, as NASCAR boss Brian France appears to want?
   Well, if the first two hours of SpeedWeeks practice are any indication, yes.
    Two crashes in Thursday Shootout practice for Saturday night's sprint put more than a little edge on things here.
    And teams are already pulling out backup cars.
    It could be a very long SpeedWeeks.
    But for Greg Biffle, hey, this stuff is like good red meat – he relished the challenge.
    With the reputation as the fastest man in NASCAR, Greg Biffle carries a lot on his shoulders.
    A winless 2009 didn't help things.
    Twice now Biffle has come so close to winning the Sprint Cup championship.
    And as last season's dry spell dragged on, Biffle's attitude dragged too, noticeably. Here during Media Day it was hard to read his attitude heading into Saturday's Shootout. But suffice it to say he's got an attitude about things right now, and you might want to give him the spot out there on the track if he's got a run on you.
    Biffle's run at Talladega last fall, just after NASCAR's Mike Helton had issued firm warnings against bump-drafting there, showed that he's not willing to give up an inch. Biffle bumped-drafted through much of that race, without penalty.
   Will Biffle again here be the guy to test NASCAR's limits on aggressive driving?
   "Yeah, I'm going to test it," Biffle says, almost defiantly. "I'm going to push until somebody spins out.  That's the only way to find out.
    "We all know what the limits are.  Now that NASCAR has said 'We're not going to be the limit,' the limit becomes when the guy in front of you spins out. When you push him too much.
    "So we have to regulate that ourselves. 
     "Just like at Talladega (two years ago) when (teammate) Carl (Edwards) spun me out (with a little excessive bump-shot) in the middle of the corner, and we wrecked a bunch of cars. That was the limit.  NASCAR wasn't enforcing the no bump-drafting, and we all wrecked. So we know that's the limit. 
    "Now we don't have to worry about NASCAR, we can just ride on that limit."
    Which Biffle says makes him more comfortable.....well, with most of it. "I may be a little more nervous with some of the other people I'm going to be racing with; they don't maybe quite know what the limit is.
     "We test the limit every lap, whether we're at California or Vegas. But when you talk about testing the limit at a restrictor plate track, that's different.  Testing the limit becomes 'How much can you push that guy in front of you?'
    "And the limit becomes when he takes off upside-down.  That's the limit.
    "There's going to be more action, because people are going to be testing that limit and pushing more. So it's going to be a little bit
more aggressive....and inevitably maybe another accident or two along the way."
    Biffle turned out to be prescient – Shootout practice was less than an hour old Thursday when Mark Martin and Denny Hamlin triggered a crash.
    "It's going to work," Biffle said of the 'hands-off' approach NASCAR says it will take here, "because the self-police part is until that guy in front of you spins out or somebody causes a wreck.
    "The idea is to push the guy in front of you...until something happens. 
     "That's what racing is about."
    More bump-drafting isn't the only new part of the Daytona 500 equation. NASCAR has given drivers the biggest restrictor plate in 20 years.
    "To try and give us a little more throttle response...to give us more bump-drafting and let us police it," Biffle says.
   And later this spring NASCAR will switch from the rear wing to a the old-style flat-blade rear spoiler, which Biffle says "is going to turn this world around. 
    "I drove the car at Texas with a (blade) spoiler on it, and the car acts completely different.
    "Now I was by myself.  Maybe when you get other cars around it'll be the same (as now, with the wing), I don't know. 
    "But when I put the spoiler on I felt it was different. It turns better on corner-exit. That's what these cars need, and I think it'll make the racing a lot better."
    But the Daytona 500 will be run with the current wing.
    Aggressive driving?  "I can't wait to strap in and go. That's what this is going to be about," Biffle says.
    "Now keep in mind Daytona has been very hard to bump-draft in the corner, because the corners are really rough (and bumpy). You can watch the cars in the corner, and the car moves up and down a lot. So we never really bump-drafted in the corner here that much. 
    "We could at Talladega because Talladega is like a piece of glass."
    But there is considerable bump-drafting at Daytona on the straights, and the trioval may be the most tricky spot for that here. That's where there were two crashes during Thursday evening Shootout practice.
   The extra horsepower from the larger plates will also change some driving tactics, Biffle says: "Closing rates are going to be more.
    "They've put a little bit more drag in the car, so the car (with larger plates) is going to have a lot more acceleration.  You're going to be able to push the guy better because you're going to have more throttle. So when you get behind a guy, and not have that air on you, but have more power, you'll be able to push better."
   Of course a big part of the season's game plan for Biffle and crew chief Greg Erwin is to get their cars fast enough through the corners at the tour's many tracks to be able to challenge Jimmie Johnson for the title.
    "We've got a little more downforce on the car, maybe 10, 20 or 30 pounds of downforce...we found a front geometry that creates a little more jacking force....we have revolutionized into a newer, better bump-stop....we've been working hard on our pit crew...we've got the (new) FR9 Ford engine coming along," Biffle says. "You take all those things and we say that's what's going to beat Jimmie Johnson this year."
    And if not....
   "Find him in a dark alley?" Biffle replies.

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