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Sunday's Texas 500: This one is Greg Biffle's

  Mr. Determination. Greg Biffle. Maybe he can be Mr. November (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   FORT WORTH, Texas
   Greg Biffle is so overdue this season it's painful.
   He and crew chief Greg Erwin dominated Texas Motor Speedway in the spring, until a pit stop problem (loose lugs) cost him the lead late. Biffle wound up third.
   And remember that loose lug nut here a few years back…that wound up costing Biffle the NASCAR championship….
   Biffle typically runs strong here, as do most Jack Roush men. Pick Roush to make it to victory lane Sunday, and you've got a darned good bet.
   And if you think Biffle isn't hungry, well, you probably didn't watch Talladega very closely. He was the most aggressive driver on the track.
   If he shows that much fire in Sunday's Texas 500, he could make Roush two-for-two this month, and show that the Ford guys are finally back on track.
   Sell on Monday, win on Sunday. And Ford just wowed 'em on Wall Street with that $1 billion profit.
   "We should have won the race at Texas earlier this year, but it just didn’t work out that way," Biffle says. And he is still winless this season, winless in over a year in fact.
    Biffle's championship hopes have faded; Jimmie Johnson has the title locked up.  "So right now all we can do is go out there and focus on winning and finishing the highest we can in the point standings," Biffle says.
    Erwin, running the car Biffle drove to third at Kansas City a few weeks ago, appears confident….though at this point of the season, with everything that has gone wrong, it's hard to really tell. The equipment has been pretty good, as good as any of the Ford stuff in what has up till now been decidedly a Chevrolet year. But Biffle's luck has been flat terrible.
    Erwin: "The track suits Greg's driving style – Texas allows fast and exciting racing.  Greg led 93 laps in the spring race…and we had a little problem in the pits, but he was able to come back from for a third-place finish."
   And now that Johnson has the title well in hand, with nearly 200 points on his closest challengers, maybe Johnson won't be a factor….
   Certainly Johnson won't have to be a factor, just cruise.
   And maybe Johnson can come up with some solution to the aggravating Talladega riddle.
   Johnson, who pulled off an amazing sixth at Talladega, on a day he seemed doomed to finish 30th, says NASCAR has forced car owners to keep fiddling with the cars and engines, while the problem is actually the Talladega track itself:
   Get out the bulldozers, that's Johnson's solution….and Roush's too, truth be told.
   Teams are tired of being told to fix their cars.
   Drivers are tired of being told to stop running into each other. So they tried to avoid that Sunday, and wound up in one big conga line
    "The bottom line is somebody is going to be unhappy," Johnson says.
   "The fans that want to see the big wrecks and want to see four and five- wide racing are going to be upset -- and right now they're upset because we were responsible as drivers and tried not to wreck earlier in the race. 
    "I guess it can stay this way…and it probably will stay this way.
   "But the only true fix is changing the race track.
   "Because we're trying to be responsible, we have more people upset than we've ever had before."  
    Johnson is beyond frustration both with the Talladega situation in general and the same questions he has to try to answer after each Talladega race: "We go through this every year -- You guys try to find new ways to have us answer the same question about restrictor-plate racing.
      "Yeah, we have the steering wheel, gas pedal, brake pedal.
     "But until somebody really has a chance to sit in these cars and understand how tough it is, well, it's easier to say these things from the outside. 
    "Inside the car we're racing, we're doing our thing.
    "We minded our manners during the race, single-file…and everybody was probably disappointed in that. But then we get racing in the end, and you have the big wrecks. 
    "There is not a new angle. The only way we avoid this -- these big wrecks and this type of racing -- is to eliminate the need for restrictor plates.
     "That means get the tractors out and knock down the banking. 
     "We have to let off (the gas in the corners) in order to avoid this."
    Those first two hours of Sunday single-file boredom? "People know they shouldn't race yet; there's no need to," Johnson says. "They might as well ride and log some miles.
     "I know it's boring for everybody else, but we breath better when it's single-file at the top."
    Of course there is the big one always just ready to happen. "Last year with 14 to go the guys riding decided to run up through there and caused a wreck," Johnson said. "So I was waiting for that to take place (Sunday) and it didn't."
   It came just a few laps later.

  Jack Roush (R) and Greg Biffle (Photo: Autostock)

   And what was that 'no bumping' warning pre-race all about? And why didn't NASCAR enforce something, or penalize someone?
   Winning car owner Jack Roush said "I certainly don't want to hassle or pick a fight with (NASCAR president) Mike Helton or John Darby (the sport's Cup tour boss) or with anybody else in the organization, but the warning they gave (in the driver's meeting) was pretty much the same warning I've heard every time we come to Talladega.
     "But until they penalize somebody for bump-drafting and say 'Okay, this is the line. You cannot do 'this.'  You can go up to this
point and you can't go further,' it's very confusing for me.
    "And I'm sure it's confusing for the drivers -- nobody knows what are the consequences if you 'push' around the track. 
    "There were people that pushed around the race track, in the corners as well as in the straightaways….and on some occasions it was okay (though) I'm not sure it would have been okay for everybody in all occasions. And if you think it's okay some of the time, then you're inclined  to push…and therein is where the trouble starts."
    David Ragan put it succinctly, calling Sunday's 500 "just kind of a terrible race in general.  There was a lot of single-file racing. 
   "I know it's exciting there at the end, but what happens is NASCAR slows these cars down, and they're too easy to drive, and everyone just gets kind of crazy.
    "It's a shame to tear up a lot of good cars like that for kind of being stupid. But that's restrictor-plate racing. I'm glad we only have to do it three or four times a year."


Johnson Stays In Denial

Johnson talks about "how tough it is," yet refuses to accept responsibility. This is what makes this whole discussion so foolish. Johnson and these other outspoken drivers never talk about the greater violence of crashes away from the plate tracks; they never talk about multicar wrecks at places like Charlotte or Texas or Atlanta (places where it's more common than they seem to think). "We have to let off the gas to avoid this" doesn't work because it's not safer and it's boring racing.

Johnson has to ditch the talking points and face the reality that responsibility lies with the drivers, not the sanctioning body. Criticize Mike Helton for his bluff in the drivers meeting, criticize them for taking such a percentage of control of the racing away from the racers and giving it to the officiating tower, but stop blaming "bump-drafting" or "restrictor plates" or "the cars suck up too well in the draft" or "you don't realize how difficult it is unless you've been in one of these cars" or whatever other faceless mythical enemy you can cite. Blame yourselves. And forget about all of that and just race - never mind Mike Helton's bluffs, just race.

JJ the champion?

Shouldn't Jimmie Johnson take a stand on these issues more, since he's been the Cup champion for the past 3 3/4 years? Shouldn't he be more vocal? Or is Rick Hendrick holding him down? You just don't see him taking a hard stand on what's right or wrong in the sport. Not like Tony Stewart who blasted Goodyear for that ungodly tire that was used in the spring race at Atlanta and he finished second. Why was JJ smilin' and happy at Indy last year with that tire debacle? Oh, wait, he won the so called "race". Seems like when life is good and no drama. JJ won't be heard from. He's too busy laughing all the way to the bank.

So, I guess he's following your advice. Just race!

Too fast for the tracks

Drivers are more aggressive. This is true. But that's the only way for them to race now.

Part of NASCAR's problem is that the cars have gotten too fast for most of these tracks. The engine builders are getting 850 - 900 HP out of these cars now. Turn 1 entry speeds in Texas will be over 200 MPH this weekend. When the tracks were designed and built, the cars were a lot slower. Drivers had more time to react to problems. NASCAR responds with restrictor plates or tapered spacers. This just compounds the problem. The cars bunch up and have no throttle response. They're equally as fast in the turns, but can't speed up enough in the straights to spread out.

The big crashes are caused by two things: 1) bigger bunches of cars and 2) drivers being more aggressive and unwilling to get out of the throttle because they will get left behind.

We need engines (and tires) that allow drivers to get on the gas out of the corner, get to a speed in the straight and slow down to get through the next corner.


NASCAR's response hasn't compounded the problem. "The cars bunch up and have no throttle response." Throttle response is overrated as far as safety goes - what gets a lot of drivers into these wrecks is they try to race through it instead of check up; Johnson touched on this when he noted cars blasting by him when the yellow came out at the end, and Jeff Hammond made a point about this a few years ago in commenting on a BGN race where cars out back didn't check up for the wreck.

And cars bunched up is the endgame of competitive depth. They're supposed to be bunched up.

Throttle-control racing is not racing - it's handling getting in the way of racing. We need engines, tires, etc. that keep the speeds safely within what the tracks can handle, allow the drivers to race open throttle (the optimum handling situation), and make dirty air the ally of passing instead of the impediment.

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