DAYTONA BEACH, Fla — Greg Biffle had the cards stacked against him this year. His new team had just announced that they’d break back into NASCAR’s premiere series and did so in a matter of days, not weeks, ago.
Despite that, he feels like he has a shot to win Sunday’s 64th annual Daytona 500 (2:30 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN).
“I feel like I’ve got as good an opportunity as anybody, and I feel like I’m in a position to — I didn’t know being — not to say dysfunctional, this team came together so late and we’re kind of an underdog, but now on the racetrack, that’s a different story,” Biffle said. “It wasn’t until tonight that I feel like I got an opportunity to win the 500 for sure. There are 40 other guys, 39 other guys do, but I really feel like I do.”
Before we get to Sunday you first have to rewind to last weekend. Biffle wasn’t sure this was even going to happen. He says he’s been talking to the NY Racing Team for the last few years about making this happen but it never fully developed.
Last Friday, the team received their car. A day and a half later, the fired the engine on it. By Tuesday, it was on track at the Daytona International Speedway for practice. 48 hours later, he’s in the show.
It’s remarkable in the sense that Biffle, 52, hasn’t ran a Cup race in several years. That was by design though. By the end of his tenure with Roush Fenway Racing, he was sick of just riding around and hoping to be happy by finishing on the lead lap. That wasn’t fun to him.
So, he walked away.
“I said in ’16 when I walked away is to be honest with you, I was tired of running in the position we were running,” he says. “I didn’t want to try and stay on the lead lap. It wasn’t my goal in racing was show up at each race and try and be on the lead lap at the end of it. I didn’t want to do that anymore. I want to win, and if I don’t feel like I have the opportunity, if that truck inside that trailer going to the racetrack I don’t think I can win with it, then — we knew we were beat before we left the shop, and I’d had enough of that.
“Unfortunately that’s when I decided to walk away. I always said with the right opportunity I’d come back, or a situation like this where a guy needs a hand up and they want to start a new team, and if I feel like I can help them, I would come back and see if I can.”
Now, ironically enough, RFK Racing sweeps both Duels on Thursday night and Biffle races his way into the Daytona 500 with an underfunded team.
“I’m so happy for that organization,” Biffle said of RFK Racing. “I still have a ton of friends there. I talked to Jack for probably 20 minutes in the garage. I respect Brad’s decision to go over there and try and help that organization and become part owner. That was a huge risk for Brad to leave and go take that on.
“I think it’s great for those guys. They needed that. You know, we were on — after Carl left or after Matt left and then after Carl left, we were on a path that we needed an influx of something to get — to change the course of the organization, and we were just doing the same thing every week with hoping for a different result is what it boiled down to.
“We just couldn’t bend the needle. There was just no evidence that that was going to change in the near future. That’s sort of when I talked to them about just doing something different.”
Why did he come back? What was his motivation to make his first Cup appearance since Nov. 2016?
“You know, I think the opportunity to drive good equipment was intriguing,” said the Washington native. “It was RCR build with a Hendrick engine. That was an intriguing thing for me to come back. Obviously the new car, I wanted to see what they’re about, what they drive like.
“To be honest with you, I’ve been talking with John for a couple years about putting a program together, so it’s ironic that it just came together last minute and this happens to be the car, because potentially it could have been last year, but I’m glad it came together when it did.”
Biffle, with an underfunded team with a race car that just came around six days ago, is now in the Great American Race.
“It feels really good,” a relieved Biffle said in his post race media interviews. “I’ll tell you, I have not slept much in the last couple days just trying to keep a cool composure. I’ve been nervous about this race because there’s so many things that can happen and so many ways it can go. We’ve talked the scenarios all the way, and I watched the first race and I saw the 62 car was in the lead of the cars, and I thought, well, if he finishes in front of those guys and the 50 actually runs in the second race, we’ll be in on time.
With only one car and no spare parts really available, Biffle had to be careful this week. He needed to be quick, needed to learn this new car, needing to learn this new team but also couldn’t afford to wad it up in a crash.
“Yeah, you know, let’s face it, when you start a program, there’s a lot of things you need,” Biffle said of the situation. “One analogy that comes to my mind is you’re going to go camping for the weekend, you need everything. You don’t have anything, right? Down to every last piece. You don’t know that until you get there, and you know, oh, no, we don’t have this or we don’t have that.
“We had a lot of equipment, but do we have the right equipment for this new car, and that’s what posed a big problem for us. We only got 10 minutes of practice in the first practice because some of those new car issues that we weren’t quite ready for.
“It’s been a challenge all weekend, but I think we got our feet under us now, especially with the way the car drove. The car drove amazing. Really, really good. I watched some guys that looked like they were too free and have handling issues, and I didn’t experience that.”
Now, he’s going racing on Sunday in the 64th annual Daytona 500.
Well, with Jacques Villeneuve having issues all race but already having raced his way into the Great American Race via his qualifying speed, it left the 40th and final spot on Sunday to Biffle vs. Timmy Hill.
Hill, had a tough night and fell four laps down. That basically gifted Biffle the spot. Still, he had to finish and with a fuel problem with two laps-to-go, he says it was a blessing in disguise.
“I knew that we had gone by Timmy a couple times, so I knew he was two laps down I thought. My biggest fear all night and these last couple days was losing the draft. So we come down to pit, and we’ve got some new guys there, and we had an issue getting fuel in it, and I knew we lost the draft.
“We were lucky enough that some other guys had issues. I don’t know what happened, but the 48 car was in the middle there, so he picked us up and pushed us for a while, and then we were actually able to get back together with some other guys.
“We also — I guess I hadn’t mentioned this yet but we also ran out of fuel two laps to go, so fuel light came on, and I had to move out of the — coming to the white, I had to move up and let the 42 go and get out of the pack in Turn 3 and 4 because the motor started laying down, down to about 22 pounds of fuel pressure.
“I wasn’t sure if we were going to get stuck on the racetrack or make it around, and I got back in line and was able to draft into 1 and 2 and then that wreck happened on the backstretch. That kind of — I think we would have made it, I guess, but I’m just not sure. I don’t know how the fuel system works in these cars yet, but it kept running all the way back to the checkered flag and then of course around on the cool-down lap it kept running. I guess there’s some hidden fuel in there somewhere.”
Now, as the oldest driver in the Daytona 500 field, he feels like he truly has a shot at winning the Daytona 500 on Sunday.
This Next Gen car leads to a wide open field in what already is a wide open race. How crazy would it be if Biffle and NY Racing Team could pull this off?
“Makes me feel good for the 500 on Sunday that I’ve got a competitive car that I can challenge for the win,” he says. “Not just can we get in the 500. When I was running 10th there and foaming at the mouth looking at the lead, I was like, I know I can’t — I’m just going to stay in line. I’m not going to be a good boy right now.”
He’s a 19 time winner in the Cup Series including scoring his first ever Cup Series victory here in 2003. How fitting would it be 19 years later to end up in victory lane for what may be the final time of his career in the biggest victory of his life?
“Now it’s up to me on Sunday to take care of the car and get it in position at the end.”