NASCAR Media Conference
May 7, 2007
THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone, and we appreciate your attendance out here today at Lowe's Motor Speedway for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup teleconference and test. Our guest today is Greg Biffle, driver of the No. 16 Ameriquest Ford. Today's teleconference, a day earlier than usual, previews Saturday night's sold-out Dodge Avenger 500 at Darlington Raceway.
Greg joins us today from a two-day NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series test at Lowe's Motor Speedway that gets underway shortly here. He's a two-time defending race champion in Darlington. In fact, he'll attempt to do something Saturday night that only two other drivers have done at that track they call "too tough to tame"; that's win three consecutive Darlington events. Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt are the only other two drivers who have accomplished that feat.
Greg ran 133.8 best of any driver, average running position is 2.519, best of any driver. Saturday's race also marks the fifth Car of Tomorrow event of 2007, and the Car of Tomorrow's NASCAR Next Generation race car that is running in 16 of 36 scheduled events this season.
Greg, we'll open it up. I know Darlington is a special track for you and many of your competitors. Talk about how special it is going for a third straight win at Darlington.
GREG BIFFLE: I tell you, I really, really love Darlington. Obviously going there and winning the last two years, and truth be known, we almost -- it was almost three in a row. We had a dominant car and was probably going to win the last race that Terry Labonte won. I'm excited to see Terry Labonte win there, but we broke a wheel and we were able to win one race prior to the two. We always run very, very good there.
I like the racetrack because it is tough. It's the toughest racetrack we go to. It's a tire management racetrack, which we don't have any more on the circuit except for Atlanta because of the tire we race on today, and it's just a challenging -- very, very challenging place, and that's the most thing -- that's what I mostly love about that racetrack is how tough it is.
And people talk over and over again about how difficult that racetrack is, and that's one of the things that I like about it.
Q. (Inaudible - About catching up to Hendrick Motorsports by end of the year).
GREG BIFFLE: There's a couple of things that come to mind when you talk about that, and you know, these just may be rumors of people saying, you know, things. But, they say that Hendricks have almost 100 days of testing in the COT car. I don't know if that's true or not. I don't know if that's double what they have. I have no idea. It seems pretty farfetched to have that many days testing in that car to date. I do know that they have done a tremendous amount of testing and spent a lot of time working with that car.
The second thing is, we've spent nine days testing. So a little bit of a difference between how many days spent at the racetrack between the two groups. The second thing is, that everybody said that this car was going to level the playing field for everybody. That's the whole key to this COT car is it's going to level the playing field and put everybody on the same even keel. It hasn't done that to this point.
It has, although, raised a few of the other teams, which it intended to do; the 96, the 70, the 66, the 22. They have run better as a group than in past years with this car. So maybe it has brought the teams a little bit closer together. But it not the great equalizer that everybody suspected it was going to be in the beginning.
The other thing, we just -- you've got to catch up. The teams that there's no way to level out the powerfulness of certain teams and how much technology and how advanced they are. Richard Childress put in this -- and Gibbs put in seven post-shaker rig which you hear a lot of people talking technical stuff, terms about today, years ago, 2001, or 2000. So they spent seven years or six and a half years, six years, messing with this thing. We have one on order and we're going to have it toward the end of the year.
So, you know, those are things that have got us a little bit behind and other teams have gotten behind. You know, the thing that gets that you far behind is having success. You know, we've won championships. We've won a lot of races without those things. So it's hard to justify yourself to say, gosh, that's what we need, you know, because look at Childress three years ago. They were -- Kevin Harvick couldn't finish on a lead lap on a lot of those races and then he wins a lot of races, makes the Chase and then you've got the organization really turned around.
So it was hard to say five years ago, four years ago that, gosh, we'd better get that stuff or we're going to be behind in 2007. But that's what happened. That's what happened. And it's really hard to catch up. The hardest thing about catching up is it just like trying to catch up to somebody that's older than you in age. You're not going to get any closer because the more that they learn, the more you're learning. So you're both learning at the same acceleration, but you're behind them.
So it's really hard to leapfrog and then get to their level. It's difficult to do.
Q. What are you looking for in the testing, what are you hoping to find out today?
GREG BIFFLE: Certainly we're going to try and see what the track surface is like here. And, you know, typically in the past, I think that the tracks rubbered up really on the first day, and into that night, the track continues to pick up speed.
The second day is when we really, really feel like we get a chance to see what our car set up is like and we're going to be testing two cars; one brand new car that's the best in the wind tunnel to date, and those are things you like to hear because we're constantly trying to build a better mouse trap.
So our latest version is the best one that we've ever had. So that's good for us as a team and as an organization that happened to be my car, and we're going to test it against something that's proven, something that we ran at Texas and ran very well with. So we're going to compare the two cars, pick a car for the All-Star race, pick a car for the 600 out of this test, and then, you know, we'll go to those races the best prepared, the best setup that we can possibly come up with in these two days of testing.
Q. Let's assume that the rumor that Hendrick has tested 100 days is exaggerated by 50 percent. So let's give them 50 days, and you guys only have nine. So whose fault is that? Are they to be condemned or praised? Why such the disparity?
GREG BIFFLE: Well, I think that they would have to be praised for being as well prepared as possible, you know, and we don't know -- I mean, obviously we could go find out all the facts. But I know that, you know, Gibbs spent, you know, three days at Iowa last week and then Childress or somebody else did and we ended up talking about it.
We are discussing internally right now what we need to do; what's the best approach; what are other teams doing. So that evaluation process start to come up.
I heard that Scott Wimmer spent a great deal of time at Iowa for Childress R&D and figuring out their cars and whatnot. And then the thing I'm talking about is -- my theory is today is that we need to be worrying about the mile-and-a-half program right now. We need to worry about our COT mile-and-a-half program, today.
Yes, we have to finish this season out running these mile racetracks, this year. But, you know, we'd be better -- I think better benefitted by trying to start on our mile-and-a-half program now. So when it comes to all of these mile-and-a-halfs next year, maybe then we're on a level playing field, or possibly we could be better prepared than those teams are.
So that's something that we need to look at strongly now is not do we sacrifice a season. Certainly we're not going to give up on the mile racetracks that we have left to go. We have got to test at Dover and we ran very well at Richmond, which I'm excited about. The only place we didn't run well as a group was Phoenix. We didn't feel like we ran that well there. Matt ran well, but he didn't really like his car, couldn't keep his track position and didn't feel like he was competitive. That's where I see we really need to work on.
And the mile-and-a-half stuff will trickle down to the mile stuff. I think when we learn a spindle in front or suspension combining that works well, I think it's going to work well at Richmond and all of these other places. So it's kind of hard to worry about Darlington right now, you know, when we're going there this week. There isn't a lot we can do. Let's focus on something that's going to make us better in the future and the rest of the season, and then be as better prepared -- the best prepared we can.
Q. There's been a lot of back and forth from the old car to the new car, back to the old car, back to the new car. What has that been like for not only you as a driver, but your team overall, just getting prepared for each of these races, whether it be in the Car of Tomorrow or in the car of yesterday?
GREG BIFFLE: Well, I think it's the -- I think it's the most difficult on the teams, you know, because everything is different. They have got to have two complete sets of tools in the shop. They have to have splitters and all of these items and trinkets that go on this car and they have to have all of that over here for the old car down to the seats mount differently and the mirrors brackets are different because the mirror has to be lower and just so many items that are different between the two cars. It's very, very difficult on the teams.
You know, they are really stretched out, and a lot of people have talked about, do we just switch next year completely. Well there's two arguments there. One would be, well, it would just make it easier for everybody. But the second is, there's only going to be just a few races left in the old car if we just did the two-mile-and-over downforce racetracks. So we have got all of this inventory that we have got already done and prepared.
You could literally have all four cars ready for the whole season and just sitting over there waiting to go and then just concentrate your COT on the mile-and-a-halfs, because the mile-and-a-half and two-mile, there's no difference in the car, there's no difference. It's exactly the same car; the downforce, mile-and-a-half, two-mile cars, identical. I've won at California, Texas, Michigan, Homestead, all in the same car, all in chassis 239s. That car can be the same.
So as we not worry about having enough COT cars built for the entire season, we could use -- basically we're going to have, you know, nine cars that we could use at four racetracks, you know, because if we use the old car for those four races or however many it is. So you're going to have a huge amount of inventory for only those, so the worrying load is going to be a lot lighter and a lot easier to manage. Right now, it's 16 and I know -- whatever the number is. So right now, it's chaos. Where next year if it's just a selected number and you've already got your cars basically sitting there, you know, that's what the team owners I think are saying is, hey, we've got all this inventory; why not use it.
Q. (No microphone).
GREG BIFFLE: Not really. It may be more difficult next year. We go to California or we go to Michigan, and it's completely different than what we just got done racing at Texas and Lowe's and all of these other places. Yeah, it might be a little bit, but really it's about four or five laps and you kind of get the hang of the car or the way it drives and travels and all that.
Q. When you go to Darlington, so many people have been looking to that race and saying, whoa, this is going to be so different from the half-miles, kind of all bets are off, can you kind of weigh in the balance? At least you've got -- granted it's a different car, but you've got your skill at setting up the old car, plus your love of driving the place. Can it be at all an equalizer for you guys or is it still -- is it going to be Hendrick and Gibbs, that they are just going to go in there with the COT and they are going to work the unknowns better than anybody else? And also, it sounded awhile ago that you're going to Darlington this week but something you can't do anything about, are you saying Darlington is already a lost cause for y'all in the COT?
GREG BIFFLE: No, not necessarily. I'm saying that if we sit down in the meeting and think about what we need to work on and what we need to focus on right now, you know, focus in on Darlington. I'm talking about testing and learning and data and what our procedure is going to be. You know, Darlington is this week. So we really don't have any time to do any R&D for that race. You know, we need to look ahead in the future a little bit more to diagnose that.
We did a tire test for good year at Darlington and we got to go for one day, about three-quarters of a day by the time we got our car ready and got there, because Chevy, Dodge and Toyota got invited to do a tire test without Ford. And we kind of raised the question of why those three manufacturers got to go and not us. And so they let us in there on the second day to run their control fire for a while.
We were the fastest. The 24 was there. The 41 car I believe was there and the 22 maybe. I don't remember who was there for Toyota. But we were the fastest COT car there at the test and ran probably the most consistent laps it looked like or real, real close to it.
So I'm real confident that I can go back to Darlington and have a chance at winning again to make it three in a row, because the racetrack drives a little bit different; meaning we are not down in those bump stops as much. The track drives more like Bristol where you're on and off the spring and on and off the bump stop more. And the slickness of the racetrack; I think that what Hendricks has kind of got dialed in as much may not be as big a factor there since it's a faster place that is slick and you're on and off that bump stop, if that kind of makes any sense. It's the smooth places where you're right down locked onto the track they have got that program a little bit better than we do right now.
Q. So basically right now, if anybody is going to stop Hendrick on COT races, Darlington is the place to stop them?
GREG BIFFLE: I would think so. And I hope so -- let me rephrase that. I hope so. Because I feel like I have a good opportunity to win there.
Now, they may finish first, second, third again, we don't know, but we feel like -- I feel like we have a good opportunity there. I tell you, to be honest with you, I was a little bit better in the 48 this weekend at times. I don't know if they worked on their chassis or not, but, you know, I was as good as the 5. The 24 was right in front of me for the whole run, and I caught the 48 and passed him at one run. And then we had a couple bad pit stops in a row and I got cycled back a little bit and then got spun out by the 66. So I don't think we were that far off at Richmond. You know, even though they both finished first and second and were way up front, I don't think they were that far off.
Q. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. this morning let loose on the Car of Tomorrow, I'm quoting now, he said: "It's ridiculous that these cars are so bad and they don't drive worth a damn." Is this just normal grumbling with a new car or new environment, or is there deep-seated frustration among the teams that you're sending a message about that to NASCAR?
GREG BIFFLE: Well, certainly Dale Junior has a little bit more star power, and Tony Stewart, than I do. So I have to be careful what I say because I get a little bit more ripped or branded than they probably would.
It is a difficult car. It is a difficult car, to get to what do you want it to do. It's hard to influence the car to do stuff, because it doesn't have -- and it's hard because it's all technical stuff. It doesn't have a lot of travel before the front balance piece hits the ground. So you don't have a lot to work with there.
So what happens is that things on a bump stop, so we stop it from hitting the ground with a piece of rubber, if you will, like a low-rider car that you see going down the road. But what happens is when it gets down on this thing, it wants to push. It just wants to push, period. There's nothing you can do to make it turn once it gets down on that stop.
So, you know, we're juggling, trying to get it to turn while it's on that stop. You know, and we're trying to figure out ways to make it do what we want it to do. It doesn't do anything like the old car does. And so we're working hard on trying to figure it out, but it seems like everything we do -- and we go to test for a day, and everything we try doesn't change the car. So we're saying, what do we do with it now.
But I think as we continue to work on the car, we're going to figure it out. You know, we're going to figure out ways to get it to turn when it's on that bump stop. We just haven't figured it out, yet. But I think that as time goes on, I think we will figure it out.
Will there have to be a change in the design of the car? Ultimately, you know, going way forward in the future, probably. But I don't think NASCAR is against modifying the design a little bit. We've got the concept down. We've got a safer car. We've got an easier car to tech, eventually. We're still having troubles getting through tech and time to make it to qualify. But eventually, you know, we're going to have a better piece, and it's going to be some adjustment to it. It's just that simple. Whether we give it another inch of travel or a splitter on the other side or something or whatever the scenario is to fix it. We've never really tested that before.
You know, I think that there's a compromise. And definitely at Phoenix, I was yelling about the car, too. You know, I hated it but nobody wanted to listen to me because I finished 19th or 20th, just barely. But I was miserable. But Richmond, I was a lot better. So, I don't know, it's just a work-in-progress, I guess.
Q. Could you address, there's been a lot of talk about you and your contract, and I'd like to know how you would like to see this play out.
GREG BIFFLE: There's one thing that comes to mind, become the highest-paid guy in the sport and stay at Roush. (Laughter) If you're dreaming, you might as well dream big, right?
GREG BIFFLE: It's not -- and I'll say up front, as I reflect on the subject, it's not about money. It's about being competitive and it's about being with an organization that realizes their weaknesses and we're working on them to fix them.
All of the drivers, all of the race car drivers, you go ask 43 guys what they care about in that garage area tonight, and all 43 of them are going to say: They want to win the All-Star race, they want to win the Coca-Cola 600, and they want to win at Darlington this weekend. All of them are going to be bullish about their answer. They are all going to say the same thing: We just want to win. Give us a car that we can win and that's all we care about.
Yeah, that being said, yes, to be compensated, average-wise across the board, but the most important thing is winning and being competitive every week and having good pit stops and having a team that you feel like is focused on doing that.
And that being said, you know, we're negotiating with Roush on getting the extension done. We have a couple of sponsors on the table that want to come over and be on our race car, and there are other teams that have shown interest in me coming and driving their car.
So, you know, I'm pretty sure I'm staying at Roush. The negotiations are going well. I don't see any reason why I would be out talking to anybody else at this point, or at least entertaining those ideas until I feel like I've gone as far as I can with Roush, if we can't come to two terms.
Q. Do you feel like it could be this year or next year?
GREG BIFFLE: If we don't get it done this year, I'll be announcing where I'm going to be driving in the future.
Q. I'd like to follow up and ask you for a timetable. I think Jeff Smith sent you some specifics within the last ten or 12 days on what he has to offer and he was waiting are you to get back to him. Can you get this done by 600? When are you going to give us an answer?
GREG BIFFLE: He knows more about it than I do. (Laughing) I like that.
You're right. We just got some information last week, and I think that we're going to discuss the terms with them this week. In fact, I was just talking to somebody about it today before I came in here ironically enough. And so we'll -- I was their first preliminary offer, this many appearances, this many whatever, all of the necessary stuff in there.
So we're just at the beginning stages of negotiating a deal for on through 2012 or something. We're not close at all about having a deal done. At least 60 days I would say, have to guess, by the time we back and forth a couple of times. And I let somebody kind of handle that for me because I don't want it to distract me from what my job is, and my job is to go over there and drive that car in a half hour and try to be the best I can.
So that's what I focus on, and I'll worry about the rest of it -- just take place. I don't have any -- there's no reason in my mind, I don't have any reason to believe that we're not going to be able to do a deal with them.
Q. The All-Star race, four 20-lap segments, your thoughts on that?
GREG BIFFLE: I kind of like the change-up of the normal deal. I think it's kind of fun doing something different. You know, caution laps don't count; this, that, the other. I like it. I like doing something different. And it's challenging for us, you know.
The thing I like the most about it is qualifying. I think that's the funnest thing we do all year. I think it's a lot fun. It's exciting. It gets the team involved. I think it's the greatest thing we do.
Q. You're talking about the COT might only need another inch of travel with the splitter. Is for every team the COT is an inch away from being the car it wants to be; is that all it takes?
GREG BIFFLE: I say that because that's our biggest nemesis we feel is the front travel, we have to keep that front splitter off the racetrack; so we're on the bump stop so quickly.
Now I say that, and that may not do anything. Here I am just guessing. But I think we are as close as what you're saying. You know, we are that close to having something that I think everybody can be happy with. The thing is, we want something that drives like a race car, you know, that really turns and we can be more aggressive with it and whatnot.
Right now, we don't quite have that. You know, not quite. Obviously as race car drivers, we want them. We want to have something a little more aggressive driving for a race car. I think that's what everybody is really after.
Q. You and Doug Richert had a lot of success together, what relationship do you have now, if any, given that he's over at Red Bull and is it tough for you to watch him just kind of qualify for races these days?
GREG BIFFLE: Yeah, it is really tough. You know, I keep -- I got something I want to talk to him about, and I keep thinking I'm going to go over and see him in the garage and catch up with him, and they keep missing these races by just a little bit. I know it's frustrating for him, and I feel bad for him.
I know that as a team, Brian's a good driver and Doug's a good crew chief. But this sport, it just goes to show you how competitive our sport is today, and it is difficult. You don't want to see anybody struggle, especially somebody you've had a relationship with in the past.
But I'm confident that those guys will get it turned around and they will be good in the future. I'll get caught up with him. I've talked to him a little bit. I talked to him at Talladega little bit, but haven't a chance to talk with him that much.
Q. You said a while ago that some teams -- (indiscernible) -- the COT has evened the playing field a little bit. How have they been able to cash in on that?
GREG BIFFLE: How have we been able to cash in on?
THE MODERATOR: Teams like the 66, 70.
GREG BIFFLE: Well, I don't want to -- that's kind of funny, I was thinking about this the other day, and I certainly don't want to talk bad about anybody. But it's kind of ironic that you take drivers that don't typically run in the Top-10. And you put them running in the Top-10, and they make mistakes, you know. They get a little overaggressive; they, you know, hit the apron or they get into a guy or they make the wrong pit decision or something happens.
That's all part of a learning process, because you've never run there before. You really don't -- you kind of don't know what to expect. I'm not saying none of them have ever run there. But when you're put in that situation, all of a sudden, it seems like there's always of the sudden more pressure, more emphasis on pit stops, more emphasis on everything. And you see guys making small mistakes, and you know, it's been really good for them.
And I tell you, Dave Blaney, I feed bad for the guy. The guy is absolutely run very well this year. He's run very good, and he has been caught up in so much stuff, and it doesn't seem like really any of it is his doing. You know, a lot of it is not his doing, and I saw the points today, he's like 38th or something somewhere. The guy ran fifth this weekend and got caught up in a wreck and finished ninth or tenth or something. So it's amazing how well you can run and then not be there in the points.
But it has made a difference on those teams, definitely.
THE MODERATOR: Greg, thank you for your time. Good luck at the test and good luck as you go for your third straight at Darlington.
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