Preseason Rank: 13
Former Roush Fenway driver Mark Martin has earned comparisons to Dan Marino over the years for being one of the best in his sport without a championship, and it seems like Greg Biffle is following in those footsteps. Martin, a five-time Cup Series runner-up, was loyal to team owner Jack Roush for years, even when it seemed like the best equipment the team had to offer was going elsewhere. Last year, Biffle signed a three-year contract extension to stay at RFR, securing sponsorship and additional support despite failing to make the Chase for the first time since 2007.
“We’ll see, but the plan is to finish my career driving for Roush Fenway,” Biffle said when announcing the new deal last April.
But could staying loyal turn lethal for Biffle’s career? The 16-time Cup Series winner was the only one of four RFR drivers to end the 2011 season without a victory. After Biffle collected only three top-5 finishes — the lowest total since his rookie season in ’03 — it’s impressive main supporter 3M signed on while support continues to trickle in for teammate Matt Kenseth, a former champion and three-time winner in 2011. Given the type of year that Biffle and the No. 16 team endured, you either have to give him credit for looking past the bad luck and misfortune or wonder if he needs to have his head examined for wanting to stay with the status quo.
Where this Roush Fenway team seemed to fall a step behind its Ford counterparts last season was on pit road. Race after race, Biffle seemed to have a solid finish locked up only to have a bad stop or poor fuel mileage ruin his day. NASCAR’s new rule eliminating the catch-can man turned into a serious stumbling block, causing blunders that negated a possible win at Las Vegas and top-10 finishes at several other tracks.
“It is so tough because once or twice, you think, ‘No big deal.’ Shake it off and get back on the bicycle. I know we can do this. I’ve done this before,” Biffle said last September. “When it happens literally week after week after week, you start doubting whether you’re going to finish this race where you’ve been running, or you get to that three-quarter point of the race and you start thinking to yourself, ‘What could possibly go wrong?’”
That kind of apprehension in a driver isn’t a good sign. To help negate those issues, Roush made a crew chief change at midseason in 2011, replacing Greg Erwin with a rookie in Matt Puccia. It didn’t work; in the final 18 races, the new combination scored an equal number of top-10 finishes as the first half (five) while stumbling to 16th in the final standings.
If there’s one thing to build on within this camp, it’s qualifying: Biffle won three poles last season, all at intermediate ovals, which are his strength. But they don’t pay the points for Lap 1, do they? Even with Roush downsizing, cutting its focus from four teams to three, Biffle’s team still appears to be behind those of Kenseth and Carl Edwards. That doesn’t bode well for a driver who, while impressive on paper, seems destined to always be the sidekick rather than Roush’s main squeeze. That said, the raw talent and equipment are there for a Chase bid. Whether this group can return to its playoff-caliber ways remains to be seen.
What the Competition is Saying
Anonymous quotes from crew chief, owners, media members and fellow drivers
To say 2011 was a disappointment for Greg Biffle would be a gross understatement. Poor luck and inconsistency led to zero wins, missing the Chase and a midseason crew chief change.
“He missed the Chase while teammates (Carl) Edwards and (Matt) Kenseth were title contenders. He’s capable of better,” says one insider.
“Jack Roush probably put the finger down on Greg during the offseason,” says another. “He is the only fully funded RFR car. That’s pressure. Will going from four cars to three at RFR help? We’ll see.”
Another says the blame isn’t limited to the driver. “Biffle’s biggest obstacle is his team. If he got out of the pits a half-second faster every stop, he’d have won three or four races last year. The team has got to stop shooting themselves in the foot.”
Top 5s: 3
Top 10s: 10
Laps Led: 351
Laps Completed: 10,471
Lead Lap Finishes: 23
Bonus Points: 17
Races Led: 15
Average Start: 15.0
Average Finish: 16.8
After First 26 Races: 15th
Final Points Standing: 16th
Driver Rating: 85.9 (14th)
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