DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - A splash of gas and better fuel mileage was all it took for rookie Greg Biffle to break the dominance of DEI on restrictor plate race tracks. Race winner Greg Biffle. Photo by Autostock. The 2002 Busch Series ...
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - A splash of gas and better fuel mileage was all it took for rookie Greg Biffle to break the dominance of DEI on restrictor plate race tracks.
Biffle then stopped again on lap 119 and not need to stop again the rest of the race.
"I didn't realize what was going on in the later part of the race," said Biffle. "Why they were stopping 16 laps before us, but I realize now what had happened and it really paid off for us tonight."
The smart maneuvering scored Biffle his first career Winston Cup victory in his 23rd start, and makes him the first-first time winner of the season. The win propels Biffle to first in the Raybestos Rookie of the Year standings, 186 points ahead of Jamie McMurray.
"I never in the world thought we'd win a race here," commented an ecstatic Biffle. "I don't think we had a crazy pit strategy or anything. I mean what we did, I thought, just made sense. We came in and took a splash of fuel before we went back to green. I talked to Randy (Goss, crew chief) about that. I was looking in the mirror and I saw some guys that looked like they were gonna come and I asked him what he wanted to do. He said, 'Come, if a bunch of people come,' and I made the decision to come because in restrictor plate racing you can get back up there pretty easy. It was kind of a decision we both made together and it really paid off for us.
"I guess that gave us the extra lap or two to stay out and gave us enough to get to the end."
It's a sweet victory for Biffle, who has struggled at Daytona. In 2002, while attempting to make his first Winston Cup start at Daytona, he failed to qualify. In his only other start here in February of this year, he finished 21st.
"You probably need to pinch me right now," said Biffle. "I feel numb. I don't know if it has even set in yet because I don't feel it yet. I don't feel like I've won a Winston Cup race yet or been at Daytona in victory lane. I have to say that it ranks right up there with the highest of the marks we've done so far - the Busch Series title and the Truck Series title mean a lot to me.but winning at Daytona, I can't even fathom that I'd ever be able to do that.
"I watched Dale Earnhardt win his first Daytona 500 sitting in my pub in Vancouver, Washington and had a Daytona 500 party. I was pretty excited for him to be in victory lane and it's nice to be here in victory lane amongst all the guys that have won races at Daytona."
Fuel mileage helped change the complexion of the entire top five for tonight's Pepsi 400.
Biffle's teammate Jeff Burton brought the No. 99 Roush Ford home in second, posting his best finish since his win at Phoenix in 2001.
"We were really good," said Burton. "I'm real proud of the guys. We really struggled in February and we struggled at Talladega. This is a brand new car. A lot of effort went into this car."
"I'm so proud of Greg Biffle and Randy Goss," continued Burton. "I'm a fan of theirs and I was so happy when they came on board Winston Cup racing with us. Short of us winning, that really makes me happy to see."
Ricky Rudd lands his best finish of the season, in third, and helps Ford sweep the top three spots at Daytona; ending an 11-race winless streak for the manufacturer at restrictor plate race tracks.
"We could run with the pack all day," said Rudd. "We got fouled up there one time in the beginning and lost track position, but we were able to kind of tag along in the back of the pack. Real late in the run our car started handling really good, but the call goes to the guys on this Wood Brothers/Motorcraft/Air Force Taurus."
The No. 5 Hendrick Chevy team of Terry Labonte was fourth, also garnering his best finish of the year.
"Our car really wasn't all that fast," said Labonte. "It was hard to get the track position, so we tried to do it on pit strategy a little bit, just getting two tires, stuff like that. We were getting good enough mileage that we tried and played the mileage game and topped off there on that one caution flag so we could stretch it and just make one stop, and some guys had to make two."
Bobby Labonte was running in second place with one lap to go, when the No. 18 Gibbs Chevy ran out of fuel. Labonte managed to salvage a fifth place finish. Labonte has scored eleven top ten finishes in 2003.
"We had to go for it," said Labonte. "I wasn't conserving fuel, but I wasn't using an extra either."
Dale Earnhardt Incorporated cars, which have recently dominated restrictor plate races, fell out of sequence as different fuel mile strategies played out throughout the night. Earnhardt looked like a clear favorite for the win during the race's early going, leading twice for 43 laps.
In the end, though, he was just not able to motor the No. 8 Chevy back to the front after having to stop for right tires and fuel on lap 139. The stop mired Earnhardt in the middle of the pack, and he was able to salvage only a 7th place finish.
"We did all we could," said Earnhardt. "We just came up a little bit short. We couldn't take the chance that something would happen to us on fuel mileage. We got what we could. I was driving as hard as I could, picking off as many cars as we could just trying to get back to Matt (Kenseth) and do what we could for our points. We got second (in the points) back, but we lost a couple of points to Matt. It was all we could do."
Teammate Michael Waltrip fared worse yet. Waltrip led once for nine laps, and managed to hang in the front of the pack during the first 100 laps of the event. On lap 101, though, Waltrip fell off the pace experiencing ignition problems in the No. 15 Chevy. He plummeted to 28th position the last car on the lead lap.
Waltrip worked his Chevy back though traffic, but also had to stop on lap 139 for tires and fuel. Waltrip, breaks his streak of five straight top five finishes at Daytona with an 11th place effort.
Richard Childress Racing cars, also restrictor plate favorites, fell prey to fuel mileage as well. Outside pole sitter Kevin Harvick led the most laps of the evening (54) and finished ninth. Both of Harvick's teammates ended their nights in a mire of torn sheet metal.
The night's big multi-car accident came on lap 75, when Kurt Busch, running third, lost control of the No. 97 Roush Ford. Busch spun and washed up the track collecting the cars of Robby Gordon, Jamie McMurray, Ricky Craven Joe Nemechek, Mike Wallace and pole sitter Steve Park.
"I'm fine," said Park. "The 97 car spun, and he almost wrecked the lap before. I don't know if he had a tire going down or what. But he spun to the bottom and caused the big restrictor plate crash. Unfortunately the AOL Chevrolet got involved in it. We had it missed, but the 01 and the 31 got up into us and pinched us between them and the wall.
"It's a shame. Half the race isn't even over and guys are running like it's the last lap. Restrictor plates don't cause crashes; race-car drivers do. I'm tired of hearing people say that restrictor plate racing causes all these crashes. It didn't cause that wreck, guarantee you."
Championship points leader Matt Kenseth steered the No. 17 Roush Ford to a sixth place finish, extending his lead in the rankings to 180 points over second place Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Jeff Gordon falls to third, followed by Bobby Labonte and Michael Waltrip.