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NASCAR MEDIA CONFERENCE
May 30, 2006
HERB BRANHAM: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to this week's teleconference in advance of Sunday's race at Dover International Speedway, the Neighborhood Excellence 400 presented by Bank of America.
Joining us on today's call is the 400's defending champion, Greg Biffle, driver of Roush Racing's No. 16 National Guard Ford. Greg is coming off a seventh place finish in the Coca-Cola 600. He now stands 13th in the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series points. Also under NASCAR's new lap data statistical analysis, he has 103.7 driver rating. That's the third best driver rating in the series.
Greg, you've had some tough luck early in the season. Here we are. You're still in pretty good shape in the points. What is the outlook for the rest of the year?
GREG BIFFLE: Well, you know, I mean, it's really, really good. Like you said, we've had some tough luck getting the season started. But lately, you know, been extremely happy. Qualified on the pole at Richmond, finished fourth, went to Dover and won, had a great car Sunday at the Coca-Cola 600. You know, at the wrong place at the wrong time, you know, just being in front when that certain cycle comes around, ended up seventh with a really, really fast car.
Pretty excited about the rest of the season, you know, going to Dover, all the rest of the places that we've run very well at. Now that we seem like we have our season on track, certainly excited about our outlook.
HERB BRANHAM: We're ready to go right to questions from the media.
Q. What kind of pressure do drivers feel to get back in a race car after an injury? I'm referencing whatever might happen with Tony Stewart. Do you feel like you have to get in there, that it's almost a punishment if you can't get in?
GREG BIFFLE: That's kind of a touchy subject. I mean, you feel like that's your car, you're going to drive it. We're the ones being paid to drive it. We want to drive it. Certainly if I don't feel like I'm going to be as competitive or safe, certainly I don't want to be injuring myself any more. If the doctor tells me, You could have catastrophic injury if you get in another accident or simply you could reinjure yourself if you get in another accident, that would be the same to me as being injured to start with. I don't see a difference in that.
If a person can possibly do permanent damage if they're involved in another accident, that's where a person has to consider whether that would be an option to get in the car. But I've gotten back in the car a week later, not feeling a hundred percent, beat up, ribs hurt, neck or shoulders or something. But that's just part of the game. Football players get sacked. Their ribs and shoulders may hurt. They're going out to play the game. That's part of what we do.
Q. Do you wish there was somehow some sort of rule that wouldn't punish you in terms of points if you were injured and couldn't make a race? I remember Dale Earnhardt, Jr., when he got burned, got back in the car really when he probably shouldn't have, obviously couldn't complete those races. Do you wish there was some rule allowing you to get out if it was really bad?
GREG BIFFLE: Yeah, because of our sport, the way it's designed, it could help us. We've talked about -- I mean not we. There's been discussion about the points as well. Like if you fall out of a race, instead of getting 43rd place points, have there be a cutoff, let's say everybody from 30th back gets the same amount of points. If you do have an engine failure in a race, like in let's say the last 10, you're nearly out of it, if you get 43rd place finishing points. This is the same along the lines of what you're talking about, where a football player, a baseball player, if he gets injured, the team still plays, the team still can collect points, per se, whatnot.
You know, it could be a topic of discussion in the future. But there's always so many scenarios of how it could be or should be. I don't really know how that will actually work, you know.
Q. I was hoping you could give me sort of a behind-the-wheel look at Dover, describe some of the nuances that track may have, what makes it different or similar to other tracks on the circuit?
GREG BIFFLE: You know, Dover, every time we talk about a racetrack, we say it's a tough place. Dover is a more challenging racetrack because it's concrete. It is kind of bumpy, so to speak, where the sections of the concrete are cut. It's like a big Bristol, to explain it.
What happens there is the car can get away from you in a hurry. You come up off the corner, you get a little bit loose, you don't kind of respect the thing all the time with a hundred percent of respect, the racetrack, you'll spin out and be in the inside wall in a second. I've done it. I've watched people do it. It's easy to do because that place will creep up on you in a hurry, because it's high banked, concrete, it makes it a pretty treacherous place as far as not being up on the wheel a hundred percent.
Now, it is a fun place to race. It does provide a lot of side-by-side racing. We can run way up the racetrack, way down right on the white line, which is where I like to run. But it is a really fun place.
But you have to respect that place all the time, every single lap.
Q. NASCAR is looking at some changes for their Busch Series. One of the things they're talking about is the possibility of going to different cars, maybe a Ford Mustang, Chevy reintroduces the Camaro, having it run. Could I get your thoughts on that?
GREG BIFFLE: Wow, I tell you what, that's news to me. I haven't heard anything about them changing the Busch Series cars at all. I don't know what the purpose -- you know, there's always a purpose for changing something. To be perfectly honest with you, I don't know what that would be for or why they would do that.
Obviously, like I said, there's a purpose for it, and they're after a certain thing competition-wise or something to that effect.
Q. The manufacturers have expressed an interest of getting a more distinct identity for the series, not just sort of 'Cup Lite', if you will.
GREG BIFFLE: Now, for instance, that manufacture-driven to get exposure, I would say that would be good for the series definitely. I think bringing the Mustang and the Camaro, those type of cars into that division would be a great idea, great idea for the marketing, sports and the series. I think it's a great idea. I just didn't know exactly.
Q. You gained 10 spots in three races. What has been the effect on you as the driver and the team morale-wise, considering you had been running well, it just didn't fall your way?
GREG BIFFLE: I tell you what, it's amazing. Prior to that fourth-place finish at Richmond, Doug and I made jokes about it, everything about being on suicide watch. He'd call me after the race, say, You haven't slit your wrist yet, have you? That's his patented, when we don't have a good race, just joking around.
I'll tell you what, it's really hard to keep upbeat when you're having what I would say are terrible races, lead all the laps, qualify outside front row, run out of gas on two laps to go, finish 17th or something. That can really get to you. It can get in your head.
We as a team just didn't let it happen. We felt like -- we showed up at the racetrack, we park our truck, unload our car, we feel like we are a top five team. I said that in the media center that we consider ourself a top five team. We don't consider ourselves substandard because we're 28th in points or 30th in points. We feel and we have in our mindset that we are fifth this points. That's what kind of team we are. That gave us -- that kept our momentum and our spirits up for going to the race, running as good as we could.
We've simply had to put the last race totally behind us like, okay, we went to Phoenix, we ran well, whatever happened happened, this week we're concentrating on winning at Richmond, we're going to go to Dover and win or Darlington and so on.
Q. I've been around teams in all forms of sport that went through what you guys went through and said the same thing that you just said, but yet when there is a turnaround, usually the superficial stuff is gone and there's something real deep going on. Can you feel that now?
GREG BIFFLE: Yeah. I mean, it was -- you know, I feel like our team is going to be really, really hard to beat the rest of the season because that first part of the season made us, you know -- it tested our toughness, tested our team as a whole. I think that we proved that we've got -- we're tough as alligator skin, you know. It's going to take a lot to beat us down.
Having survived through that, I think we're going to be a really tough team the rest of the season because of that.
Q. The racetracks coming up after, one of your favorites?
GREG BIFFLE: Yeah, you know what, it's amazing to me, every year I go to a place, I'm like, I'm not just -- I'm not that good at this racetrack. I just haven't got it down. I feel like I can run in the top 10, but I don't feel like I have car I (indiscernible) win at.
Every track I've been to now, every time I go to, I feel like I'm better and better. Richmond, I don't consider that one of my absolute best racetracks, but I always run in the top five, but I don't feel like I can dominate there.
When we went there this year, we led a lot, got out front, I was setting the pace of the race. I felt like we had gotten over that hurdle. I got over that hurdle that I can win here, I feel like I can win here. I feel like now I can run. Even though I made a mistake at Martinsville, I feel like I can go to Martinsville and run at the top 15, which is a lot better prognosis than what we were in the past, shooting toward that top 10.
I don't think there's a track on the circuit any more that we can't feel like we can go to and come out of there with a top five.
Q. You're a big fan of this 400-point rule thing.
GREG BIFFLE: Yeah, definitely right now. To be perfectly honest with you, I hadn't been a really big fan of it. You know, I was okay with it. But I won two championships under the old format and really felt like that was a good format.
Certainly it's going to work out for me this season if we make it into that 400 points.
Q. I want to get your thoughts about your teammate Mark Martin. Are you in awe? After last year, it was supposed to be his last year, this year he's in the hunt again.
GREG BIFFLE: It doesn't really surprise me. Mark Martin has a ton of talent. He's extremely passionate about driving these race cars. We've got, as a company, really good, good race cars. We're not quite as good as we were last year. Guys have kind of caught up to us a little bit. Maybe some things have changed. We've lost a little bit of our edge. We're still pretty dang tough. If we have good equipment and good cars, Mark is always going to be one of our guys running up front.
Q. What is your outlook on the future of Roush Racing? You have new rules coming, new cars coming. Is the organization prepared for what is going to happen in the next couple of years?
GREG BIFFLE: I think so. It's certainly going to test everybody because there's going to be a lot to these new cars, a lot of emphasis has to be put on that.
I think we're all going to have to survive it. I think we all will survive it. It will just be -- definitely going to be tough.
Q. You're getting closer to being in the top 10 for the Chase. Are you feeling any additional pressure to win the Nextel Cup, to be the first driver to win a championship in all three series?
GREG BIFFLE: I wouldn't say I feel extra pressure. I'm certainly keeping the pressure on myself to be able to be the first guy to be able to do it. I just work hard every week. I feel better and better. As we get more races under our belt that we get good finishes, obviously you get closer to the top 10 in points. But I feel better about gaining some consistency, some momentum. That's when it's going to take us.
Now where we're at, we're 13th in points, the next six guys in front of us are tough guys. There's no easy way around the next six or eight guys in front of us. We're definitely going to have to race hard. Every position's going to count.
Q. Regarding driver injury, if you're racing against a guy that you know is hurting, how do you approach that? Do you treat him with kid gloves?
GREG BIFFLE: Yeah, I mean, you know, I think you have to. I mean, this NASCAR sport is really truly, you know, like extended family. We say that. I say it with great pride because, you know, I respect all those guys that I work with every week a tremendous amount. They're all very talented. We do a lot of stuff together. Tony Stewart's deal at El Dora, Kyle Petty's Victory Junction Gang, I think we all support that. We each have our own foundations that we try and do things together. We race with each other every week.
If Tony's a little under the weather, he's not feeling well, he's driving the car at Dover, we all have to respect that fact that we're going to make sure -- you're going to race him like you race your teammate. You're going to make sure you race him clean. You're going to respect the fact that he's running for a title and a championship and for a sponsor and a team. I think any driver would respect that same thing for each other, you know, everybody else.
Q. Would you hope he maybe starts the car, then if he's not feeling up to it, that he turns the wheel over?
GREG BIFFLE: Well, I mean, that's going -- that's his decision. I mean, I don't have any idea. I don't want to speculate. I don't have any idea what kind of injuries that he had or how he feels or if he's just sore. But I don't -- I mean, if he has a cast on his arm, I don't care if he drives the car. I feel comfortable racing around him. He wouldn't be in it if he didn't think he could do it. I've raced with a cast on my left forearm before. I've raced at California, Richmond, a few places like that with a brace on my left arm. It didn't stop my ability from being able to manage the car before. I don't think his injuries are nearly that serious.
There again, I'm kind of speculating because I don't have any idea what's happened.
Q. It boils like down to the driver and the crew chief. Is that the key ingredient for a successful Nextel Cup race team? When you throw everything else out, is that it, the chemistry?
GREG BIFFLE: I think so. I mean, you know what, you've got to have chemistry with your guys, though, too. You have to be -- all the guys working on the car, the mechanics, the tire changers, the guys back at the shop, they have to feel like part of the family, too, like you're supporting them, you care about them just as well as the crew chief.
But the crew chief, they can bridge some of that gap. Like Doug, we talked about after our third time running out of gas or second, engine problem. Hey, come into the shop, kind of have a little powwow with the guys, let's kind of have a talk. It was just simply to make sure that everybody -- it was a stand-around thing in the shop with 15 guys standing around saying, hey, no matter what happens, we're not out of this deal, we're all fighting for the same thing, keep your heads up. We've been running extremely well, we're going to get over there and get through it with each other's support.
You know, everybody's on the same page. We really didn't need to have that talk, but we did it so everybody could be together.
Q. Say Jack came to you and said, We need Doug somewhere else, would you pitch a gigantic fit?
GREG BIFFLE: Yeah, he's going to be looking for a new driver because that's what makes our deal work. I mean, we can discuss options, but I certainly don't want to lose my crew chief, and not in the middle of a season. If we're going to make a change, let's know ahead of time, let's be smart and execute it properly, let's make sure we're doing it for the right reasons. That's my whole thing.
I mean, that's basically it. Let's do it for the right reasons. Let's not leap of faith try and make something work. Let's do it because it's going to make everybody better.
HERB BRANHAM: Thanks to all the media who participated today. Appreciate you calling in. Greg, obviously, thank you for taking time out of your schedule to help us out with this call.
GREG BIFFLE: Sure.
HERB BRANHAM: Best of luck this weekend.
GREG BIFFLE: All right. I appreciate it.
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