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The silence of winter is about to be shattered, and Greg Biffle can't wait for some Daytona action


Greg Biffle: the future's so bright I've got to wear shades (Photo: Autostock)


By Mike Mulhern



   The long silence of winter, an off-season with virtually no NASCAR testing, is about to end, finally. And Greg Biffle says the silence has been deafening….and the boredom too much.
    "I've been by the shop a few times this winter, and there's not a lot going on…just talk about last season and this season," Biffle says. "I had to go by a couple of weeks ago just to make sure we're still racing in February. 
   "It's been awful quiet."
   Now Daytona's usual January testing may seem boring to those having to sit and wait, and wait and wait for a clean track, but not even having that has been surprisingly tough on these go-go guys.
   Maybe when NASCAR schedules next January's pre-season testing, officials can come up with a better game plan. After all, much of those single-car runs here are to set up for pole qualifying, which means virtually nothing these days – nobody is in the stands to watch that three-hour show, and drivers certainly need drafting practice more.
   "I did miss it," Biffle says. "I had to go make sure my seat was still in the car and the sport was still alive, because it's been so quiet."
  Well all that is about to end.
   Thursday Biffle and the rest of the NASCAR gang will feed the media (such as there is covering this sport these days, with so many newspapers simply dropping coverage entirely) in the annual Daytona 500 Media Fest.
    Then Friday they'll all actually get in their cars and run some laps.
   Now testing at Daytona may sometimes seem meaningless, but January testing at California Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway --  both tracks were closed this time for any runs – is much more important. Not only does testing at the Los Angeles area's two tracks give the sport a pop in marketing and promotion, but those two tracks are typically very difficult to set up for. And some of the worst racing of the season has been at those two tracks lately.
   So it's more than a bit of a surprise that NASCAR didn't open the two West Coast tracks for testing and promotions.
   The effects will likely be felt not only in the action on the track but in the grandstands.
   "We all know how tough it is," Biffle says. "One indicator is obviously the stock market, and I've watched the ups and downs…and that drives a lot of businesses that drive jobs. 
    "And then you see how wide-spread it is that things are scaling back….
    "So we're excited to get this season started -- we feel that's going to create some excitement, and hopefully get some things going again."
    The sense is that, without Daytona testing last month, this 500 should seal in the advantages that some teams showed last season – check what happened at Talladega last fall for a good indication – and that smaller teams will be just so much fodder.
    But Biffle says there's enough practice time here these next two weeks that losing January – at this track at least – won't mean that much.
   "We get a tremendous amount of track time at Daytona – It's the only race of the season where we run a 150-mile race just for the starting lineup," Biffle points out. "So we get a tremendous amount of track time prior to the green flag for the Daytona 500. 
   "Now if we were going to California cold-turkey – with only two hours of practice, then qualifying and then racing, that would be different. 
    "The best place to go without having any testing is Daytona.
   "And we've got the Bud Shootout. So that will give us time to get our feet wet before we jump into the 500."
   However California's Auto Club Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway are much trickier tracks, and the lack of any practice may hurt….hurt the teams that weren't dialed in last fall.
     So Biffle himself isn't concerned. He was hot down the stretch, had a shot at the championship.
    No testing is fine with him: "It's going to be business as usual.  We'll start off where we left off last season, and use our notebooks. 
   "A lot of guys have tire-tested for Goodyear -- Carl Edwards, Jamie McMurray, Martin Truex, me, and Juan Pablo Montoya and a few others at Atlanta.
    "So we're not starting cold-turkey.
    "And I hope this season starts the way last year ended: with us very, very competitive."
    The chaos in many other NASCAR camps, Biffle figures, will only play into his hand: "I'm hoping that will be an advantage to us. 
    "We know there is some turmoil in other teams.
   "Us being organized, and not changing a lot from last season, hopefully that will give us a jump start on some of those teams that may have a little stumbling block."


Greg Biffle (L) listens to some words of wisdom from car owner Jack Roush (Photo: Autostock)


But Biffle still has one big worry ahead of him: figuring out a way to beat Jimmie Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus and the Rick Hendrick operation.
   "They're still the team," Biffle says. "We closed that gap on them last year…but obviously didn't close the gap on Jimmie.
   "And it's hard to break momentum. 
    "Plus, Jimmie and Chad have been very good at overcoming adversity.  The beginning of last season wasn't as good for them; they struggled. But they really got their mojo back and got going toward the middle and the end of the season.
    "That team is going to be hard to beat…because they're very good at retaining people, and taking notes, and building on what they've learned. 
    "That's the persistence and devotion that team has."
     Biffle knows the frustration of taking on the Hendrick guys: Sometimes even winning isn't enough: "I won the first two races of the chase last fall and still wasn't leading the points," Biffle points out.
   The wild card, Biffle and other drivers figure, will be Goodyear. The tire giant had some big mistakes last year, and its engineers have an ambitious program to catch up with the unique problems created by this new car-of-tomorrow, which so few teams have figured out.
   And depending on what Goodyear comes up with this year – harder tires, softer tires, wider tires – the edge that teams had last year could be out the window.
    "There are so many ingredients – and you've got to remember we're developing still, and one is the tires," Biffle says.
   "Goodyear was thrown a huge curveball with this new car -- with an extremely high right-side load. 
    "So one thing really exciting is I just did a two-day tire test at Atlanta (a notorious track for tire wear), and one of the left-side tires they brought put a lot of drive-ability back in the car….almost like 'old Atlanta.'  The car would run the bottom a lot longer; the car turned down into the corner better, and turned off the corner better.
   "So we're making progress not only with that car but with the tires."


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