NASCAR Craftsman Truck CINTAS ROOKIE OF THE YEAR CANDIDATE GREG BIFFLE - NO. 50 GRAINGER FORD F-150 - HAS BEEN ON A ROLLER COASTER RIDE THIS YEAR IN THE NASCAR CRAFTSMAN TRUCK SERIES. HE STARTED THE SEASON WITH A FIFTH PLACE FINISH AT DISNEY ...
NASCAR Craftsman Truck
CINTAS ROOKIE OF THE YEAR CANDIDATE GREG BIFFLE - NO. 50 GRAINGER FORD F-150 - HAS BEEN ON A ROLLER COASTER RIDE THIS YEAR IN THE NASCAR CRAFTSMAN TRUCK SERIES. HE STARTED THE SEASON WITH A FIFTH PLACE FINISH AT DISNEY WORLD. AT HOMESTEAD HE WAS FOURTH. THEN AT PHOENIX HE ENDED THE RACE IN 36TH. BIFFLE TOOK THE FIRST POLE OF HIS NCTS CAREER AT PORTLAND, BUT ENDED UP 26TH AFTER NASCAR PUT HIM TO THE BACK OF THE PACK FOR JUMPING THE START. WHILE GREG HAS HAD FIVE TOP-FIVES AND EIGHT TOP-TENS IN 19 RACES SO FAR THIS SEASON, HE HAS ALSO HAD 11 FINISHES OF 17TH OR WORSE. HE HAS FLUCTUATED IN THE POINT STANDINGS FROM A HIGH OF THIRD TO A LOW OF 20TH. HE IS CURRENTLY RANKED 12TH, AND IS IN A TIGHT BATTLE WITH ANDY HOUSTON FOR THE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR HONORS, LEADING BY ONLY TWO POINTS FOLLOWING THE RACE AT LOUISVILLE.
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT YOUR SEASON SO FAR? "The first thing we had to deal with was qualifying. I couldn't qualify that well. Maybe I just wasn't used to the stuff (trucks) yet, and the nature of qualifying and how competitive it is. We qualified 20th at the first race, and 24th at the second, but we had good finishes. It was just a matter of patience at the bigger tracks, attrition and some guys ran out of gas. The truck did real good, and the guys made good changes at the half-way break. They spotted real well, and we just stayed out of stuff and got to the front at those events. Then at Phoenix we qualified a little bit better, 16th, and then basically lost my coordinates and got out of my groove a little bit. Then I got out in the gray stuff a little bit with my right front tire, and that was all it took and I was into the wall. I cut the tire off the bead and flattened the side of the truck. That was discouraging after the first two races we had had. And Houston got second place and that was tough to swallow. I wreck and he got second.
"We've had some chassis problems. We qualified real well at Monroe (third), and completely missed the set-up. We tested at Toledo Speedway right before we went to I-70, and tried some different things with spring rates. I think we might have found a little bit of speed there.
"And it's been a matter a error after error on my part. I mean a flat tire you can't help if it's a matter of debris or something.
"Going to Watkins Glen was an experience in itself. We started off the day seven seconds off the pace, and by the end of the day we were fifth quick. So it was a matter of working with the chassis, making it a lot better, and me getting used to the race track. We had a good race. We ran second, third, and got in the lead right before the transmission broke. That was a mistake on my part, and a mistake on my spotter's part. I started to follow the pace truck through the carousel, and he yelled, 'don't go through there.' I slammed it into reverse and broke a tooth off. Then NASCAR said I could go through there. Then when we were in the esses, I was in first gear but I could hear the transmission making noise.
"In Texas we had the best run of our season as far as I'm concerned. We got in that first lap crash, had to go to the back and came all the way to the front. The aero was good. The guys did the best job of getting me a truck I could drive. When we started the truck wasn't drivable, but when we were done adjusting the wing and shocks I could go around the track flat out. (Greg led the race.) Then we got bumped in a racing accident and it took us out.
"At Bristol we had a decent practice and qualifying effort (tenth). It was a brain dead move on my part when I got involved with another truck. He was in huge trouble, and I could see it. He was bad loose, and I got too aggressive and tried to pass him and get by him before he could get sideways and into the wall, and that's exactly what happened. He got sideways while I was under him, hit the wall and came down and hit me again. It was just 17 laps into the race. We were falling off of the field real bad, and I just wanted to put him away and get back in line. I learned a huge lesson there I think. The guys were able to get the truck fixed so I could get back out, and I was able to race from the back clear up to fourth in the field. So I got some real good experience at Bristol even though we only ran three quarters of the race. You beat yourself up for months over something like that.
"We salvaged our day at Milwaukee. We got fifth, and we had a tenth place truck. There were a lot guys who were a lot faster, and we just hung in there, kept our head up and got fifth.
"I learned a lot at California about drafting. I think I could have finished better, but I was nervous to get real racy after all the crashes, and settled for seventh. I wasn't going to wreck at California going that fast so I just took what I could get, and seventh place was what we were dealt."
IS THE SERIES MORE DIFFICULT THAT WHAT YOU THOUGHT IT WOULD BE? "It's more difficult than what I thought it would be after the first two races. New guys have problems, and I didn't think it was going to be a breeze by any means. I thought it would be easier than what we've been dealt with all the crashes and stuff, and the misjudgments on my part. I really thought we would be better. I knew it was going to be tough going to all the new places for the first time. In the beginning, I thought it would be as tough as it is, and then after the first two I thought well maybe we could be top five in points. Then it just turned around, quick."
HOW ARE THINGS GOING WITH THE OTHER COMPETITORS? I'd say 90 percent are good guys to race with. Joe (Ruttman) has problems with some of the same guys I do. I get on the race track beside some of the guys, and my truck ends up flat. I don't know if they are trying to intimidate you, or the rookie deal. Both of those things are probably something to look at. Gaining respect in the garage area like Ruttman has, or Sprague or Hornaday and that Raines and Compton have, that takes a lot. It takes time."
DID YOU REALIZE IT WOULD BE LIKE THAT WHEN YOU STARTED? "Yeah. I figured it would be tough to race these guys, and I knew in some particular situations I would have to give up to be able to make it to the end of the races. The first two races that's what I looked at. When the heat of the battle got going, I showed up missing because I wasn't going to be in it because I didn't think they would give me any room. There's two ways of looking at that. When you keep backing down they'll expect you to. When you run into the corner three deep they think this guy's going to get out of the throttle or he's going to get his nose out of there. So there's plusses and minuses to that. If you back out of the throttle, you're going to finish the race. Those guys that run in there like that may run up a ways and then crash, and you might get those spots back. But you can't just give up every time. When they get to the back bumper of the 50 truck I don't want them to think, well he'll roll over if we just get up and shove on him."
WERE YOU OVER ANXIOUS EARLIER IN THE SEASON? "No, I don't feel that. The third lap of Phoenix I just lost my groove. I wasn't trying to get to the front or win the race. I just shot off my mark. It's as simple as that. At Portland I was nervous, and that was a misunderstanding. I thought we were starting the race at a different point. It wasn't that I was trying to jump. I just thought I was going when I was supposed to go. It's as simple as that. I didn't think I did anything wrong. I didn't intentionally jump the start. I just thought it was time to go, and went."
DID YOU AND THE TEAM SET GOALS AT THE BEGINNING OF THE YEAR? "At the beginning of the year, the goal was to finish in the top-ten in points, and win the Cintas Rookie of the Year. And that is still the goal. My goal was to win a race. I really wanted to do that. Now, I've changed my focus to winning the rookie of the year. That means on the short tracks when the guys get to bumping, I've got to take the 10th place finish or whatever, and go to the next race because I can't afford to go to the pits because I'll lose the rookie thing. I've got to keep on track. I've just got to get the best finish I can, and make it to the end with all the corners on the truck. I can't take the chances it might take to win the race even if I've got the truck because I have to protect the rookie thing.
"I think we are meeting our goals. I break the weekend down into different categories. One is executing practice - how well we do, where we're at on the sheet and where we qualify. And then the race - where we finish and how we did. We're doing those things well. We're pretty quick out of the trailer. The guys are preparing the trucks excellently. Right out of the trailer we are normally pretty good. You've only got two hours for me to adapt to the race track, and make changes in the truck. Every time I go out I'm trying to get better, and the team wants to know how a change they made feels. I'm trying to compare a change to what I've just learned about the truck, so it is really tough for me to give them data on what do to because I'm learning at the same time they are putting new stuff on the truck. I really think we are accomplishing our goals, and I can assure you the next time around we will be way better. If we could go back to any of the tracks right now I know we'd be one of the people to beat from the experience we've gained. Right now we're a first time thing. I think we'll be good."