April 23, 2009 9:44 AM

Ford Q & A with Greg Biffle

Greg Biffle, driver of the No. 16 3M Ford Fusion, is coming off a fifth-place finish in last week’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Phoenix International Raceway and moved into 14th-place in the point standings.  As the series heads to Talladega Superspeedway for Sunday’s Aaron’s 499, Biffle held a teleconference to discuss the second restrictor-plate race of the season.

GREG BIFFLE – No. 16 3M Ford Fusion – WHAT IS YOUR OUTLOOK FOR THE WEEKEND?  “Certainly I’m looking forward to the checkered flag at Talladega because that’s the big thing.  We always run well there and the thing is, obviously everybody talks about it, is missing that accident.  Inevitably, one is gonna happen at some point throughout the race when those cars are that bunched up and that’s what makes Talladega so exciting for the drivers and the fans – that bunched-up racing – but what we look forward to is being able to finish that race and get a good finish out of it and that’s certainly what we’re looking forward to.  There’s no doubt that we’re gonna run decent at Talladega this weekend.  The big picture is staying out of trouble and minding our P’s and Q’s at the end of the race.”

YOU HAD THE WORST LUCK THE LAST TIME AT TALLADEGA, GETTING WRECKED BY YOUR TEAMMATE. HAVE YOU EVER HEARD ABOUT THE TALLADEGA JINX OR CURSE, WHERE BOBBY ISAAC HEARD A VOICE INSIDE THE CAR TELLING HIM TO PARK THE CAR AND HE DID? “Yeah, I’ve heard about those stories a little bit.  I’ve never heard the voice, though.  I wish I would have last year and pulled down out of the racing groove at that point, but I felt like I had the Talladega jinx for a while because, I don’t know the exact stats, but out of seven races there I’d only finished two.  Like I said, we’ve always run well there and it seems like I’ve been in the wrong place at the wrong time on some of those things.  I’ve made it through a few at Talladega that I don’t know how, so I’ve been on both ends of the fence on that, but I’ve heard about some of those stories.”

WHAT DID MARK MARTIN’S WIN MEAN FOR NASCAR?  WILL IT MAKE DRIVERS STAY AROUND LONGER OR STAY IN SHAPE BETTER?  “Yeah, I think so. Certainly, I was so excited for Mark Martin and it was a big statement for NASCAR.  It was a huge statement that if you’re in reasonably well shape and you have good equipment and you’re a great driver, then you’re gonna win races when you’re 50 years old – just as easy as a guy that’s 18 or a lot better than a guy that’s 18 or 19 or even 25.  In our sport it’s just a little bit different.  There’s simply no replacement for experience.  Over and over again, just experience spells success a lot of times in our sport.  And, here again, the right equipment and you’re competitive and you’re focused like Mark Martin is and like I am or a lot of other drivers, you’re gonna be winning races, hopefully, until you’re 50 years old like Mark Martin without a doubt.”

WHY HAVE ROOKIES THE LAST COUPLE OF YEARS NOT BECOME CHASE CONTENDERS?  “I don’t know, other than the rookie contenders that you’re speaking of maybe aren’t as big of a group as they have been in the past.  But I’m here to tell you these cars are very, very hard to drive and very hard to compete at this level, and that’s what experience does for you.  It’s just a difficult spot to be in.  It’s so hard for a rookie not having a lot of experience at these race tracks.  I think we all can agree that Joey Logano does not have a tremendous amount of experience -- a full season of Nationwide or anything or Craftsman Truck Series or anything, so it’s the school of hard knocks here in the Sprint Cup Series.  You don’t come into this series without experience and run well, and it doesn’t matter what kind of car you get into.  You can get into a good car and run good for a while.  If you took Jeff Gordon out of his car and put a really good rookie or a Jimmie Johnson, he may run good for 10 races, but I think after that it’s gonna come onto his shoulders to continue that progression of what it’s gonna take to stay competitive in this sport, and that’s where you up with that empty void of the lack of experience and knowledge with these cars.”

HOW ARE DAYTONA AND TALLADEGA DIFFERENT?  “It’s just so different.  It’s hard for a fan to get their arms around and grasp because they look the same on TV or if you look at them probably from the grandstands, but Talladega is so smooth.  It’s incredibly smooth and it even drives like it doesn’t have a lot of banking to it.  It’s kind of backwards because Daytona feels like it’s got more banking and it’s rougher – you drop down into a corner and it gives you the effect like Dover, where you go off into the corner and it kind of goes down.  It’s very rough and the surface is very coarse like Darlington used to be, and now Darlington is very smooth, so it’s almost like you have a big, fast race track and it’s almost the grip level or aggregate like Darlington was, where you don’t have a lot of grip or you have grip for a few laps like Atlanta or something, whereas Talladega is more like Las Vegas or Charlotte now, where you run that same speed lap after lap after lap, and the race track configuration is big enough and wide enough and the corner entry and exit are kind of wide open that there’s just no handling involved.  It’s almost like you’re going slow at Talladega to explain it because the car handles so well and the track is so smooth.  You sort of lose that sensation that you’re going that fast, so from Talladega to Daytona is just a completely different animal from all the others and they’re nothing alike.”

WHY HAVE THERE BEEN SO MANY PROBLEMS ON PIT ROAD THIS YEAR?  “Certainly pit road continues to be very critical more and more.  As you group the field tighter and tighter together competition-wise, what happens is it makes it harder and harder to pass on the race track, so to gain a position on pit road is big because a lot of times you can’t gain it on the race track.  Technically, the race is pit road now instead of on the race track.  It’s not that literal, but it could almost be viewed as that.  NASCAR came out with a longer wheel stud for safety reasons to make sure the lugnut had enough thread showing, so what that’s done is it’s put more stress on the teams to want to stay on that wheel stud longer to get that nut down tight, and, two, to keep that lugnut on the end of that wheel, the stud is so long that sometimes it’s falling off and that’s just an issue the teams are working through and they’re having a little difficulty with that change.  That tells you what a fine-oiled machine these pit crews are that when they get a change like that, it becomes very difficult to change their routine and to overcome some of those very minor changes issued.”

WHAT’S IT LIKE IN THE SEAT AT TALLADEGA?  “I wish there was a seat right next to me like yourself that could ride with me in these Talladega restrictor-plate races and see how intense it is inside there.  You might as well bring a gun with you because you want to commit suicide before you go through all the things you go through on a race track, but you explained them all very well.  There’s so much stuff going on all around you.  You have two cars wide on the bottom, you’re third wide, there’s a guy outside of you and you’re four-wide.  Is there another car looking on the outside of him to make it five-wide?  Then the lane moving in front of you, you’ve always got to be looking in the mirror to be ready for a guy to push you from behind.  If you’re not expecting it and that guy bump drafts you from behind, and you’re thinking about moving over just a little bit, you turn the steering wheel a tiny bit, the guy hits you and now you’re crashing, and the spotter is talking to you constantly, so there is just so much going on all at one time – constantly – that that’s how these accidents start.  You cannot process the information quick enough with everything that’s going on around you and a lot of times what will happen is somebody will get beside another car and that guy will have to move up the race track and this guy doesn’t know it.  It’s very, very intense and it’s either feast or famine.  You will either be single-file driving around like the most boring thing you’ve ever done in your life, or it’s just chaos and you’re two- and three-wide, and that’s how it is most of the time.”

WHAT IS IT LIKE FOR YOU GUYS AFTER THE RACE?  “You feel really, really worn out.  You feel as worn out as you’ve ever been because of the mental capacity it takes to constantly be thinking and processing – can I get through that gap?  And is that lane gonna move?  Or, two cars up is that kind of a mediocre car?  He’s not very fast today, so you have to get the 43-car field registered in your head.  What guy is running good?  What guy isn’t?  Who should I be in line with?  Who is in line three cars up?  So all of that kind of sits on your shoulders and a few hours after the race you’re like, ‘Man, I’m glad that’s over.’  It’s kind of a relief and it’s amazing how draining it is, too.  Plus the physical aspect of it.  It’s very hot inside the car.  Those cars don’t have a lot of air circulation on a restrictor-plate track and there’s a lot going on.”

DO YOU HAVE A THEORY ON HOW TO AVOID A WRECK?  “Certainly we all have ideas how you avoid a wreck.  A lot of people say, ‘Well, if you can stay at the front, that’s your best opportunity to stay out of a wreck.’  I was running third in a Nationwide race and Scott Riggs flew upside down across the hood of my car when I was running third, so I guess that didn’t really work out.  That wasn’t the safest place to be, and yet I’ve been caught up in accidents at the back, so it is difficult.  Some people feel the top is a safer spot than the bottom.  I really don’t feel like there is a better spot to be.  Certainly, not being in the middle probably is a safer spot – either the bottom or the top gives you an opportunity where at least you don’t have another car there.  On the bottom, there’s nobody below you.  It doesn’t mean you can drive down there, but at least you’re not gonna get hit from that side.  I don’t think there’s any safe spot to avoid a wreck, but those are some things you can do – not be in the middle, probably, and just really paying attention to what’s going on around you and being prepared.”

WHAT GOES INTO THE THOUGHT PROCESS OF WHEN TO PULL OUT AND WHEN NOT TO?  “When you pull out of line to try to make a pass, there are a lot of things that lead up to that.  There are cars closing behind me.  Who is behind me?  Is it a teammate?  Who might run with me?  What has that lane done all day?  Certainly at the beginning of the race there’s no problem trying it and seeing what happens, but the game changes and the rules change at the end.  If you pull out at the end, the guy right behind you might go, ‘Well, that’s a spot I just gained,’ instead of, ‘Hey, I’m gonna try to gain three or four or five.’  He may elect to stay in line, whereas earlier in the race he went with you.  So it’s definitely a dancing game to see who ends up being a partner.”

MARK MARTIN MADE THE COMMENT THAT TROPHIES GET INVISIBLE AFTER A WHILE.  IS THAT TRUE?  “Yeah, they do.  I think you think about the next one.  A lot of times what happens is we all say it, you never know when that next win is gonna come or if that’s your last one.  What happens is you’re flying home from the race and you’re thinking of next week already because you know next week is a challenge that that’s one week you haven’t won, then two, then three.  The racer in us wants to win.  When I won at Loudon last year I’m on the way home thinking, ‘How am I gonna win at Dover?  What am I gonna do?  How is the race gonna play out?’  So you do, as Mark said, those trophies become invisible – they’re a thing of the past.  It’s funny, I’m spring cleaning my office and my area at my shop and moving some stuff around and seeing the trophies with 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 on them, it does kind of bring back memories, but, at the same time, it reminds you how important it is to still win races.”

IS EVERY RACE STILL AN ADVENTURE FOR YOU?  “Every race is an adventure, absolutely.  And you look at that race as this is my opportunity right here and you don’t get that many of them.  What’s frustrating for a driver that people don’t understand is how when you finish the race – like I finished third at Texas and I was mad, there was a lot of anxiety like, ‘I should have won.’  Well, everybody wants to win.  When you’ve led and you’ve had one of the fastest cars and you finish third, you’re not very happy.  Then, on the other hand, when you run 10th, 11th, 12th to seventh and you work your way up with good pit stops and you finish third, you’re all excited because I got a third-place finish.  So you can be excited and disappointed with the same finish depending on how it comes, but we all want to win so bad.  Keep in mind, we only have 36 chances a year to put a trophy in the trophy case.  Thirty-six chances is it in an entire year.” 

HAVE ANY CONCERNS ABOUT ROUSH FENWAY HAVING TO DOWNSIZE NEXT YEAR FILTERED DOWN TO THE TEAMS?  “I don’t know if it makes it easier or not, but we’ve known for some time that we’re gonna have to reduce the number to four teams.  We’ve worked hard on putting in place an alliance with Yates Racing that our teams can still communicate and still share technologies with all of us being Ford teams, so I think we’ve positioned ourselves well that it’s gonna be a seamless change between moving one of our teams or selling one of our teams over to Yates.  I would imagine that would be what’s gonna take place.  I don’t know that for a fact, but I would anticipate that’s what would happen – to move a team over there and have those guys run it over on their side.  I don’t know.  I haven’t really thought about it.  I continue to focus on the 16 and winning races and making the chase, and I know that situation will just work itself out when it comes time.” 

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