NASCAR Media Conference
June 18, 2013
THE MODERATOR: Good morning, everybody. Welcome to today's NASCAR CAM, as we are joined by Greg Biffle who is the driver of the No. 16 3M Ford for Roush Fenway Racing, and of course, one our former champs in both the NASCAR Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series. Greg captured his first NASCAR Cup Sprint Cup Series win of the season Sunday at Michigan and climbed to 8th in the point standings in the process.
Now this Sunday, Greg and his fellow Cup competitors will head to Sonoma Raceway for the first road course test of the year at the Toyota Save Mart 350. Greg's record at Sonoma shows two top 5s and four top 10s in ten starts there.
Hey, Greg, last week you, of course, won at one of NASCAR's fastest tracks, and moving forward to a completely different style of track this weekend, how might that affect your team's momentum?
GREG BIFFLE: We do have a lot of momentum coming off the last few races, and I love to road race. It's a lot of fun. Sonoma's a great racetrack, and as long as I can stay on the course keep the transmission and the brakes on the car, we tend to end up with a good finish every time we end up going to Sonoma.
Q. I have two questions. The first one, if you could maybe speak about how generally speaking people take the road course races more seriously than maybe even when you first started? There was a time where it was kind of just trying to get through the two, and now everyone's really stepped up their game, drivers that you wouldn't necessarily consider to be road course guys are winning these races.
GREG BIFFLE: Yeah, definitely. That is a great thing because it's sort of weird how it transitioned. It's almost like before these road course ringers could come in and be super competitive, be a lot faster than the NASCAR guys. I think that two things have happened. One, the car technology has gotten much better, so the cars are much better and the driver cannot make up as much difference using that skill set he has for road racing only.
I think the cars are so good now and the drivers have gotten so good and have come around to road racing a little bit better. I think those things are some of the reasons why everybody is so competitive, and, in fact, we see oval track guys like Clint Bowyer and myself and others that run really good at road course races, and the road course ringers don't seem to do as well anymore.
Q. If you could speak to the new qualifying procedure, and is there a new strategy? Is this something that you think will be fun to do?
GREG BIFFLE: I absolutely enjoy this qualifying. I've been hoping for this qualifying for quite some time. I loved it in the truck and Nationwide Series when I did it there. It's almost like it's less pressure on the driver because you're not going out there by yourself, one lap, don't get a tire off anywhere. You've got to make a perfect lap. This gives you an opportunity to make two laps, typically two laps. The tires are falling off by the third lap.
But it kind of feels to me like it takes a little bit of pressure off, and I think it will definitely be more fun to watch the qualifying procedure but a little more excitement.
Q. Along that same line with the new qualifying, this is going to be the first time that the new car is going to be out there at Sonoma. How do you think it will adapt to the track and affect Sunday's race? And do you think that it will make for some more passing?
GREG BIFFLE: I definitely think that the new car is going to do very well under that circumstance. And it's kind of odd because we never know what to expect with this new car. It always kind of brings new things when we go to racetracks we haven't been to yet. I definitely think that this car has a much better opportunity to pass, simply because we're allowed camber in the rear axle housing now which we never had before. So it gives the car a little bit more rear grip. It should make for handling a little bit better, so maybe some more side by side, maybe some more passing. Though road racing inherently has been tough to pass because everybody slows down at the same point to go around the same corner.
So I think this car could definitely promote more passing and better racing because of the attributes it has over the old car.
Q. And we've had eight different winners at Sonoma, including seven first‑timers in the last eight years. Do you think it's your turn?
GREG BIFFLE: I certainly hope so. We've worked very, very hard on our cars and our road race program. I like that track. I've been kind of my worst enemy myself because I was leading there about three years ago on a restart, and went off the track going up the hill on the first corner on my own. So I just need to stay on the track and take care of my car. We typically end up up front and could challenge for a win. I certainly think we have the momentum on our side.
Q. If not you, who else is a good first‑time winner?
GREG BIFFLE: A good first‑time winner? I think there are a lot of talented guys running at the top level. It's so odd this year. The teams are so mixed up, who is performing at certain racetracks. I couldn't pinpoint who is going to be fast at that venue this weekend.
Q. Obviously, with the last two weeks it's been a great couple of weeks for you. What kind of a true indication does that give you where you guys are when you look at how fast the Hendrick cars have been in the last couple of weeks on the big tracks? Obviously, they had their problems. Also, factoring in the thing that TRD has kind of detuned their engines in the last couple of weeks to make sure they survive. For as great as your results have been what kind of a true indication or how do you truly see where you guys are at this point stacking up with the other teams? Is it easy or is it challenging because of these other factors?
GREG BIFFLE: I think we always continue to be faced with challenges. All teams are. Whether it's the rocker ratio is too aggressive or the valve springs or whatever issues Toyota is having, whatever that might be. Same with Hendricks, they're having engine failures.
When you start pushing that envelope, we all know we're right on the edge. We all do that when it comes to suspension, aero, engines, so we're always constantly trying to get the last (no audio) out. We don't feel like‑‑ with this new car, we've only been with it for 15 weeks. So we know we have a long ways to go, and we have a lot more to learn about our car and what it likes.
We're starting to figure out some areas that have gotten us a little bit of speed. So we're focusing on those areas to continue to bring up that speed. It's been well‑documented that the Hendricks cars the last few weeks it was the Gibbs cars prior to that. It's almost like they passed the baton to who seems like they have the fastest cars right now. We're continuing to really, really gain on those guys, especially second in a win.
We love where we're at right now. We're gaining speed every week in our cars. I think they are too. We may be gaining a little faster. The next ten weeks will tell the tale. I like where we're at because it seems that we're really ramping up our program, and that bodes well for if we make the Chase, having some momentum heading into the Chase. Versus last year, we're leading the points the whole way, and four, five, six races before the Chase we weren't that strong. It looks like we're kind of the other direction this time.
Q. I also want to ask you about this weekend. Jacques Villeneuve is entered in this weekend's race in Sonoma in the 51 car. Certainly he has a reputation for his abilities, but also for being aggressive, and that has kind of upset some drivers in some of the things he's done at road course races in the past. With someone like him coming in where you‑‑ I don't know if you've raced against him much or against him at all, how much does his reputation play into how you might race him if you're on the track? How does that reputation kind of carry over for somebody like him since that's somebody you don't race regularly?
GREG BIFFLE: You've hit the nail on the head because what happens is it's sort of like we're used to‑‑ all the NASCAR guys are used to racing each other and sort of know where the give and take is. It's kind of an unsaid‑‑ when you get a fender inside a guy, we all have spotters, and road racing is completely different. If you look from the V‑8 Super Car series to Daytona prototypes or anything else, the racing is much different how they pass and how they get beside one another and things like that.
So just kind of knowing what the guy is thinking, and does I know you've got your nose in there and you've got the position? That's very difficult when a guy comes in that you don't race with a lot and their background is a little bit different than ours. So that does create some‑‑ does create a little bit of animosity sometimes, or whatever the word is I'm looking for, that you've got to have some extra awareness around some of those cars because you're not really sure exactly what his plan is a lot of times and whether he knows you're there or I know he's there. Those things can happen.
Q. This is a bit off topic, but Daytona announced a $400 million dollar renovation to its grandstand area in the next three years. Can you just give me your thoughts on what that means to the sport, having a place like Daytona doing that much work to get the place spruced up to make it kind of a league leader in NASCAR?
GREG BIFFLE: Well, it's sort of the Brickyard or the iconic racetrack of NASCAR. I think that's good for our sport to showcase what Daytona is. The racetrack is a world class facility. The infield and the garage area are very nice. I think it will be a great asset to the sport to see a renovation like that in the grand stand area.
Certainly, I wouldn't say it needs it, but it's certainly going to do a great deal for the sport and for Daytona and for the track to attract a lot more fans and folks to come and see what a great place it is.
Q. Do you think this sends a message to people in the sport too where we're not standing still and we're growing and we're trying to get better every turn?
GREG BIFFLE: I think so. It definitely does. It definitely makes a statement and a commitment to NASCAR and to the sport that Daytona is going to continue to be a world class facility, and with all the renovations and all the things going on it also indicates the health of our sport. It seems the economy is getting a little better. We're seeing attendance is better, and this car is putting on great races.
We know our TV ratings have increased a little bit. There are a lot of fan and fortune 500 companies and a lot of interest in this sport, and I see it every day. I think that renovation is going to be a good thing for us.
Q. This is the 25th Anniversary of Cup racing in Sonoma, and I'm curious what your earliest memories were of watching the race on TV, and if any particular race stood out in your mind as far as watching road racing in so Sonoma?
GREG BIFFLE: I remember watching some Cup races there, guys getting into that tire barrier, and Ricky Rudd and some others having spectacular crashes off the racetrack. Because of the challenges of a road course, there is high speed and dirt right next to the racetrack, we're not used to that. They've made a lot of safety improvements over the years, and I think the track is much better today. But some of the earliest memories of watching and myself racing there, that's always been a fun racetrack for me.
Q. Touched on this earlier, last year's race only had like two caution flags. Did you walk away from that race kind of surprised there were only two cautions in that race?
GREG BIFFLE: Yeah, you know, it's so weird. You just never know what's going to happen. Sometimes there are a lot of cautions, and sort of we know in the sport that cautions breed cautions as well. The other thing is NASCAR hates to throw a caution flag or not that they have the choice, but during pit cycles and everything else. And we all know that a caution flag in that race can change the race instantly. There are several different strategies that people have pitting six laps in so they have enough gas. It dictates when the caution flag flies to who is going to win that race a lot of times that is a determining factor. Whether you just pitted, did you stay out, did you pit under caution? That can certainly change it in a hurry.
They're very particular about the cautions, and I guess a lot of guys didn't have trouble getting off the track last year. So you just never know what to expect.
Q. I was asking about the surprise of a lack of physicality, I guess, for lack of a better word to the year before where it seems like it was almost like a short track race where all the cars coming off had a little bit of damage, it seemed like.
GREG BIFFLE: Yeah, and I think the drivers, I don't want to give ourselves too much credit, but getting smarter in the fact that we've got to give each other a little bit of room to put on a good race. We've got to stay on the racetrack. So maybe guys kind of got bitten by it the year before and said, hey, I got off the track and got on the tires and was racing a little bit too hard and got a bad finish.
Maybe this year I need to focus on stay being on the race course and getting a little better finish. So you just never know what's going to happen. It may be like two years ago, it may be like last year, we just don't know yet.
Q. Have you and Carl had a chance to talk about where the line is with one teammate helping another in a situation like Sunday where one of you is trying to win the race?
GREG BIFFLE: We had a brief conversation in our call‑in, but we had all the team engineers and crew chiefs and drivers. That really wasn't the proper time to take up the meeting time to discuss all of those things, but we talked about it briefly. We're going to have a follow‑up meeting. Everybody had different schedules this week, so we're going to sit down and talk a little bit about it and just the expectation and understanding of what can you do to help another competitor? Certainly, I've backed up to Carl before to get stuff off his grill and he's done the same stuff for me.
But at a big racetrack like Michigan, there is a certain probably distance that a guy can back‑up. At the same time, you have to ask yourself, is it advantageous for me, the guy that's got stuff on my grill to back up to the car behind me and get the stuff off my grill, versus having that guy back up to me. So there are a lot of things that play factors in there.
Our crew chief also had a strategy that we needed to be so many seconds ahead of the second‑placed car so that we could pit under green and come back out. If the caution came out, we'd still be on the lead lap, and that's exactly what happened. We pitted. We were on pit road when the caution came out. The very thing he was trying to put himself in position for happened. We came out the leader of that sequence, and ultimately that's probably what ended up winning us the race. So we want to work together at all costs, but we have to be reasonable about asking one another to do. When I got the message that Carl had paper on his grill, which I had paper on my grill too, I was looking for somebody as well, a lap car waiting to get the paper off on a lap car. He was a long way behind us before we got the message to us and just didn't feel that it was close enough to help him.
Q. Was Carl a little more calm about it? Were you surprised about his reaction?
GREG BIFFLE: Well, we all have different reactions when we're in the car or when we just get out of the car and our finish or result isn't what we wanted because of a certain situation. So I've done the same thing. In fact, there was something that I've been quoted saying as well that isn't what I meant, but it's what I said at the time.
So in his meeting on Monday, he was looking at every way we could work together as a team. He thought it was on great for our organization to qualify on the pole and win the race, the 1000th race for Ford. So I haven't read owl of the stuff. I did see the front page of something, I don't remember what it was, but that he's not a teammate of ours or we're not teammates or something like that. I'm not sure.
But I understand. I've been there. And sometimes things get taken out of context of what you actually meant and what you said. I understand that part of it.
Q. Do you feel you guys are on good terms and you'll help each other in the future?
GREG BIFFLE: I mean, you've got to put into context let's help each other. If this situation rises again and I'm a third of a starightaway out in front, I'm not going to back up a third of a straightaway lead to help get paper off his grill. If it's six car lengths or five, no problem. We all understand that. But you can't ask another competitor to give up a quarter or half, third of a straightaway lead. It's just not practical; it's not feasible.
Q. One other thing I wanted to ask you, does the distance of Kurt Busch, 20th in points and Stewart in 10th, it's like 33 points now. In the last few years it's been more than double that. Does that indicate the racing has leveled out and it's more equal across the board in the top 20 or so or is that reading too much into it? What do you think?
GREG BIFFLE: No, I think you're right on point. This sport continues to get more competitive and more competitive every single race. As we narrow the box down, it seems like, as our cars get, we get ‑‑ each team gets more competitive and closer in, that it becomes more difficult and we end up getting literally on top of each other. That's a good example of going from having a 20th place car that you can hardly drive to having a fifth place car. The window is so small, such small adjustments, and these cars are very, very sensitive. Because we've optimized to about every point on the car, the same thing is happening in the points. We're so fine-tuned that a little bit either way can move you way up‑and‑down in points or can put you from running in a Top 5 car to running 20th, and you're wondering what in the world is wrong with my car. So it is getting to be very, very difficult and challenging.
Q. Would that height and Chase implications there, does that change the way drivers look at these 11 or so races with the chase? Will they become more conservative for every point or will they still be aggressive out there to change things?
GREG BIFFLE: I think every driver knows, and back to last year at Sonoma, a question was asked there were only two cautions. I think every driver knows that you've got to get good finishes and you have to take chances. You have to mitigate those chances, and you have to have a good finish. You've got to be aggressive. So we're doing all of them the best we can, but we know we've got to have the end result though.
So I think these next ten weeks, guys that are on that bubble, like me, have to get all we can, but we just can't make mistakes.
Q. You've mentioned momentum several times. Are you a strong believer in momentum, and could you talk about the effect that it has on your teammates as well as you?
GREG BIFFLE: It is a weird thing. I can't honestly explain why momentum is a good thing or a bad thing. But I can tell you that it definitely makes a difference. Whether it's the energy level, whether you feel good so that things are smoother, things go your way. I can't explain it. Maybe you're more upbeat, more alert, but momentum definitely plays a factor in this sport.
When you're on that down momentum like we were three weeks ago or four weeks ago, we couldn't do anything right. We'd pit and the caution would come out. We'd do this, and something would happen. The last two weeks it was like we couldn't do anything wrong. Every restart we got, we got the outside lane, which was good for us.
You look back to Bristol, and every restart but one we started on the inside and lost a bunch of track position. So it just seems like momentum is important and when you have it, you have it; when you don't, you don't. You've just got to figure out a way to break that trend and get it going the other way.
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