Greg Biffle scores upset
with the win at Daytona
Fuel strategy key to rookie's victory
By DAVID POOLE
The Charlotte Observer
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Greg Biffle didn't think his team's fuel strategy was anything out of the ordinary Saturday night. His surprising victory in the Pepsi 400 suggests otherwise.
Biffle, a 33-year-old Winston Cup rookie from Vancouver, Wash., driving a Ford owned by Roush Racing, made a split-second decision to top off his fuel tank just before a green-flag restart on Lap 80.
"What we did, I thought, just made sense," he said. "I looked in the mirror and saw some guys that looked like were going to come. I asked (crew chief) Randy (Goss) about it and he told me to come if a bunch of them came."
That decision was a key domino in what happened the rest of the evening. It meant Biffle needed just one more pit stop, on Lap 119, to complete the 160-lap race. Virtually everyone else would need to stop two more times, and that put Biffle in position to win.
It wasn't quite that simple - Bobby Labonte had been in that group that topped off and had also pitted along with Biffle, Ricky Rudd and Terry Labonte on Lap 119.
Bobby Labonte's Chevrolet was strong, too, and he had moved into second and onto Biffle's back bumper with less than five laps to go. But Labonte's car didn't do quite as well on fuel mileage and it ran out coming off Turn 2 on the last lap.
All Biffle, who has championships in NASCAR's Truck and Busch series on his resume but who had finished in the top five only once, at Bristol, this year, needed was to keep his Ford running for the final half lap to hold off teammate Jeff Burton for the victory.
He made it with ease.
"I feel numb," Biffle said. "I don't know if it has even set in yet. I don't feel it yet, like I've won a Winston Cup race and been in victory lane in Daytona.
"Winning here, I can't even fathom being able to do that. I watched Dale Earnhardt win his Daytona 500 (in 1998) in my pub in Vancouver at a Daytona 500 party."
The people partying most often at Daytona and its sister track, Talladega, in recent years have been Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Michael Waltrip, teammates who'd won eight of the past 10 races on those tracks where carburetor restrictor plates are used. And their Chevrolets were running first and second this time when a spin by Kurt Busch off Turn 2 triggered a multicar wreck on Lap 74 that wound up turning this race upside down.
Seven cars were damaged, but no one was hurt in the wreck. Earnhardt Jr. and Waltrip didn't pit at all under that yellow because it had come too soon for them to make the 400-mile distance on that and one more stop. They stayed out and back in front again on Lap 102 when they stopped under green.
Earnhardt Jr. was leading again, too, until he stopped for the final time on Lap 139. When Jimmie Johnson then stopped the next time by, Biffle took the lead for the first time and never gave it up.
Labonte was coming, but Roush teammate Matt Kenseth stayed between the leader and Labonte as long as he could before he had to get a splash of fuel in the waning laps, unwilling to make a gamble on going the distance and risking his lead in the Winston Cup standings in the process.
Biffle appreciated the help. "There are no words to explain how Matt helped me win this race," he said.
Burton didn't top off his fuel before the Lap 80 green flag, but he did nurse his Ford as much as he could on the next run and stretched his mileage well enough to take second. Rudd, also in a Ford with an engine built by Roush Racing wound up third with Chevrolet's Terry Labonte fourth and Bobby Labonte coasting home fifth ahead of Kenseth.
Earnhardt Jr. wound up seventh and moved back to second in the points race, 180 behind Kenseth. Jeremy Mayfield, Kevin Harvick and Dale Jarrett rounded out the top 10 with Waltrip getting 11th.
For Biffle, this win came pretty much out of nowhere. He started 30th and his No. 16 Ford hadn't finished better than 16th in any race since the fifth at Bristol. He was 25th in points and needed this win to move into first place ahead of Jamie McMurray in this year's rookie of the year standings.
"We've had a lot of ups and down, a lot of downs lately," Biffle said. "We can't worry about what's behind us or the mistakes we've made, as long as we learn from them.
"You have to put every race behind you. You can't dwell on the past. You have to go to each race focused on winning it or doing the best you can."
He couldn't have done better Saturday night.