DAYTONA BEACH, FL - Greg Biffle drove the wheel loader like he did it for a living.
In fact, that's not really that far from the truth. Biffle and fellow Ford driver Trevor Bayne teamed up Friday morning to win the heavy equipment competition that preceded the formal groundbreaking for "Daytona Rising," the frontstretch redevelopment project that will cost an estimated $400 million.
Biffle drove the loader adroitly through tire barriers, lined it up and parked it perfectly in front of a pile of sand. After a driver change, Bayne scooped the sand, drove back through the barriers and dumped the sand on the prescribed pallet long before the teams of Ryan Newman/Jeff Burton and Darrell Waltrip/ Larry McReynolds could complete the task.
The spoils for the victors? Both Biffle and Bayne took a turn on the giant Caterpillar excavator that marked both figuratively and literally the start of the project that will transform the frontstretch into a fan-friendly showplace whose features will include 31 suites, more than 1,600 high-definition televisions and 520 club seats with a frontstretch seating capacity of 101,500.
"It's been a while since I've won here in Daytona, so it was real nice," Biffle quipped after the competition. "I got the thing lined up and he (Bayne) got in there and made no mistakes. That was the biggest thing for the win."
Biffle had the most experience operating heavy equipment -- and it showed.
"My brother and I own a small quarry operation -- when I say small, I mean a three-man operation -- and I've had the opportunity to be in a few of these pieces of equipment before and played around. [It's like] big Tonka toys to me. If it's got tracks on it or tires, it's fun to drive.
"So I've been in a wheel-loader a few times, not as proficient, obviously, as guys who run it all the time, but I knew how to take it out of gear and dump the bucket, those kinds of things. That helped me a little bit, and I just kind of told Trevor what not to do."
Bayne honed his rudimentary skills during practice on Thursday.
"I did not know what I was doing at all," Bayne said. "I was thinking about the levers all night last night… We came out (Thursday) and had about an hour of practice, and I took about six laps down through there. We weren't allowed to scoop the sand pile, so I was a little nervous about that."
Bayne need not have worried. He and Biffle both performed flawlessly in kicking off what will be one of the most important and far-reaching capital projects in NASCAR racing history.
By The Book
Jimmie Johnson says he knows the rules governing restarts.
Ryan Newman says "what rule?"
Johnson was upset that Matt Kenseth, in Johnson's words, "stopped the field" by failing to maintain pace car speed during a pivotal restart late in the race. Kenseth pulled away after the restart, but Johnson spun in traffic and lost an excellent chance to win.
But is there a rule requiring drivers to maintain pace car speed once the pace car drops off the track?
There's no language in the Sprint Cup rule book governing that aspect of restarts. Nor is there any specific mention on the penalty sheet handout NASCAR provides to crew chiefs and media.
In a video presentation at every drivers' meeting, NASCAR encourages drivers to maintain pace car speed approaching the restart box (delineated by red marks on the wall), but Newman views that less as an edict and more as a suggestion.
"He's in control of the field, and, no, he doesn't have to maintain pace car speed," Newman said of the lead driver on restarts. "He's asked to maintain pace car speed, but there's no penalty if you don't.
"He can do whatever he wants. Just because you're asked to do something doesn't mean you have to do something."
NASCAR, however, reserves the right to step in if a driver tries to manipulate a restart excessively, but Newman is right -- there's no written rule on maintaining pace car speed after the pace car leaves the track.
Since NASCAR Hall of Fame member Bobby Allison won both Daytona races in 1982, no driver has swept both the Daytona 500 and the Coke Zero 400 in the same year.
With season sweeps at other tracks such as Dover or Pocono more commonplace, Allison was asked Friday afternoon why the feat seems so difficult at Daytona.
"The competition is so good," Allison said. "We were really on top of our game in '82. But it's tough to do. Just because you won one race [at Daytona] doesn't give you any free pass for the next race.
"Back in the day, there probably were 20 teams that were capable of winning a race. Today, there are probably 40 teams that are capable of winning. You take a guy that's even way down in the listing -- look at David Ragan at Talladega. How many people thought that team and that equipment was going to be able to win a NASCAR Sprint Cup race these days?"
By Reid Spencer from NASCAR Wire Service