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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

NASCAR Driver Preview: Greg Biffle

Greg Biffle Age: 37
2 wins, 8 top 5's, 14 top 10's, 19 top 15's
Avg Start: 14.4, Avg Finish: 18.8
Points Standing: 13th Driver Rating: 94.9
#16 Ameriquest Ford Crew Chief: Pat Tryson

After winning a Cup best six races and finishing 2nd in the points, Greg Biffle was on the short list of Nextel Cup contenders. Then the 2006 season got off to a rotten start. Biffle led laps in the first ten races except for Martinsville, but only had one top ten finish to show for it. He packed an entire season of bad luck in the first ten races: Crashes at Daytona and Texas. Blown engines at California and Talladega. Flat tires at Atlanta and Bristol. Ran out of fuel at Phoenix.

Biffle began getting his deserved finishes with a fourth at Richmond, followed by a win at Darlington. It was his second straight win at one of the toughest tracks in NASCAR. It also spurred a run of seven straight top ten finishes. The hot streak continued into July. After a 3rd place at Loudon Biffle entered the top 10 for the first time all season. It wouldn't last. He suffered last lap at incidents at Pocono and Indianapolis to effectively end his chances of making the Chase. He only scored two top tens in last seven races leading up to the Chase.

The final ten races the focus shifted towards 2007. Biffle suffered three more DNF's, giving him six for the year. That marked the most since his rookie season in 2003. He still managed three top fives during the Chase, including his third straight win at Homestead. It wasn't the season many expected, but Biffle still managed to close on a strong note.

Biffle did have a slow start, but the problem was not always performance. His 94.9 driver rating was eighth best compared to his 13th place point finish. The driver rating gives a better indication of how he ran at times. He was third in laps led, and won multiple races for the third straight season. Despite his numbers hinting at strong runs, he was not getting the deserved finishes. As the season wound down, it was obvious that Roush was in transition.

The theme for Biffle and Roush Racing in 2007 is change. After a sluggish 2006 season, changes were expected. Pat Tryson moved from the #6 car to Biffle's team to replace departing Doug Richert. Tryson was also allowed to assemble a new crew from the best members of the two teams. A change was needed, but was nudging Richert out the door the right move? Biffle and Richert combined for ten wins over the past three seasons.

Talent-wise, there is no drop off from Richert to Tryson. Tryson is a top crew chief in his own right. He captained Mark Martin to three straight Chase berths. While the talent level is the same, chemistry with different drivers is never a guarantee. Biffle's definition of loose is surely different than Martin's. It may take time for the new pairing to jell and perfect their communication.

After an almost flawless 2005 season for Roush, things didn't go as smoothly last year. All five of the Roush cars slumped at some point during the season. Excluding two wins by Matt Kenseth, Roush struggled too often at the 1.5 and 2 mile tracks, the company's unquestioned strength in past years.

Biffle has incredible car control, making him great at qualifying(15.5 career starting position) and also capable of winning at almost every track. He is best when tracks are slippery and have less grip. His ascent at the Cup level coincided with Roush Racing's dominance at the intermediate tracks. His wheelhouse is tracks like California, Michigan, Texas, and Darlington. That doesn't mean he is strictly a speedway star. He has a restrictor plate win, is excellent at Bristol and has had very good runs at Richmond, Phoenix and Loudon.

Despite Roush's struggles, the team still won six races and sent two drivers to the Chase. They have some of the deepest resources in Cup. It's a good bet that the teams will correct some of the problems from last season. With other teams expanding and Toyota entering Cup, the Competition is tougher than ever. Roush and Biffle have a smaller margin of error for early season troubles.

The biggest key for Biffle's season is how quickly he can connect with Tryson. He will have the best tools available at Roush to help him return to the Chase. Biffle is again a contender for the Nextel Cup. If the cars are improved Biffle should win at least three wins. With two additional Chase transfer spots, Biffle will also have less trouble making the Chase. Once there is a threat to win it all. If he does that, he'd also be the first driver to win Championships at all three of NASCAR's major levels.

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