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AUTO RACING

Biffle Meets Great Expectations

After earning the first series victory for Roush in trucks, he is atop Busch standings and sets his sights on Winston Cup title.

April 26, 2001|SHAV GLICK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Jack Roush cars have been contenders for NASCAR championships almost every year since the renowned engine builder showed up in 1988 with Mark Martin as his driver, but he hadn't won a series until Greg Biffle drove his Grainger Ford to victory last year in the Craftsman Truck series.

Now Biffle would like to bring Roush his first Busch Grand National championship, and following that, his first Winston Cup.

Biffle got his first Busch win April 14 in the Pepsi 300 at Nashville Superspeedway in only the eighth start of his rookie season. He became the second-quickest driver to win in the series since Johnny Rummely won in his seventh race.

After two runner-up finishes and a third place in the series' first seven events, it seemed only a matter of time before Biffle scored his first win.

"I'm so excited to get that first win, not only for me, but for the Grainger team that has worked nonstop since we put the team together last November," Biffle said. "We'd been close a few times and to finally get that first win is a big relief. Once I got that first one in the truck series we went on to win eight more that year. Maybe we can do the same in the Busch series."

An eighth-place finish Saturday at Talladega Superspeedway (after starting 31st) moved Biffle into the Busch points lead, 194-191, over Kevin Harvick.

Saturday, he will be in Roush's No. 60 Ford for the Auto Club 300 on California Speedway's two-mile oval.

"I'm looking forward to California," Biffle said. "The Ford Taurus isn't the greatest car for drag and being slick on the big superspeedways, but it's decent at the two-mile tracks where you have to lift on the throttle. They're good for downforce, the combination of drag and downforce that you need on the two miles, mile-and-a-half and mile-and-a-thirds.

"That's why I'm real excited to go to California. I've had some great runs there in the trucks and I think that's a place where we have a real opportunity to win."

When Martin, the record-holder with 45 wins, retired from Busch races last year and Roush promoted Biffle from a truck to Martin's old seat in No. 60, expectations were high for the youngster from Vancouver, Wash.

"You know, it's still the 60, but it's quite different from Martin's being in it," Biffle said. "We brought [crew chief] Randy Goss and [car chief] Kevin Starland over with us from the truck team, so we've got a whole new group of guys and all new cars. In fact, we even moved into a new shop, so we have a lot of new things going on since Martin drove the 60.

"The one thing we have of Mark's is all of his notes from past years that he raced. Some of that stuff is changing, especially since the new engine rules."

NASCAR rules this year have identical engine packages for Winston Cup, Busch and Craftsman Truck cars, all with 12-to-1 compression ratio. In the past, Busch cars had a 9 1/2-to-1 ratio. The difference in performance is that Busch cars use a smaller carburetor.

"Believe it or not, I heard a rumor that after they ran our cars on the chassis dyno after the Texas race, they're saying that the engines are within 60 horsepower of the Cup engines, so that's definitely an increase in the Busch cars."

Busch cars also weigh 100 pounds less, which changes the handling characteristics.

Biffle's early season success fueled speculation that he might jump more quickly to the Cup cars, as did Harvick, Ron Hornaday and former Busch champion Dale Earnhardt Jr.

"I don't see it happening," Biffle said. "It's about a 90% solid commitment with Grainger for two years because they have to delegate funds, and it's over double the money to go from the situation we're in to Winston Cup. That makes it difficult for someone who has done the budget to more than double that budget, unexpectedly.

"As far as sitting back and looking at it as racers, yeah, we'd like to move that process up but looking at it as a business, which is how we have to look at the sport today, that's probably not likely that we move up any quicker."

Roush Racing operates eight teams: four in Winston Cup, with Martin, Jeff Burton, Matt Kenseth and rookie Kurt Busch, whose third-place finish Sunday in the Talladega 500 moved him to second behind Harvick for rookie of the year; two in the Busch series, Biffle and Burton; and two in the trucks, Chuck Hossfeld and Nathan Haseleu.

To make Biffle's job Saturday more difficult, eight Winston Cup drivers will drop down into the Busch race, one of them Michael Waltrip, winner of the Daytona 500.

"That's a job that I enjoy that I don't need," Waltrip said of his Busch driving. "I'd love to have a team and have someone drive for me."

Shawna Robinson drove Waltrip's No. 99 in three races this year, but this week she is busy making her Winston Cup debut in a Michael Kranefuss Ford.

Other Winston Cup drivers in the Busch race are Jimmy Spencer, Mike Wallace, Matt Kenseth, Mike Skinner, Kenny Wallace, Joe Nemechek and Harvick.

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