Greg Biffle hopes that an expansive restructuring of his no. 16 Roush Racing team will enable him to return to Chase Competition. Biffle, 42, went without a win in 2011 for second time in three seasons, and ended up outside the Chase down in 16th place. Even David Ragan, who lost his ride when Roush decided to downsize to three full time cars, took a win at Daytona, while Carl Edwards finished runner up and Matt Kenseth was a solid fourth.
“The 16 car didn’t have the best season,” Biffle admitted. “Yet Matt and Carl both made the Chase, and Carl almost won the championship. I’m a believer that you make your own luck. But last year we had the crappiest luck that I’ve ever seen in my life. Ever. We couldn’t do anything right.”
General manager Robbie Reiser felt it was time for a change and pulled the trigger on crew chief Greg Erwin, before adding the best of Ragan's team at seasons end.
“Obviously they started out the year and Greg Erwin was the crew chief. They had run well the year before, but some of that chemistry had worn out a little bit,” Reiser said. “So in the middle of the season, we decided a crew chief change was in order. That crew chief situation on the 16 was not working, so we made the change and went to Matt Puccia.
“At that point, we kept the rest of the 16 crew together — but whenever you change the management of a team, you change the character of it. Once we were able to get to the end of the season and downsize some of our personnel, that allowed us to pick some of our personnel apart and change that team dramatically.”
“Any time you have the chance to choose from a larger pool of people, you’re at an advantage.”
Biffle stated that he felt the difference immediately at the recent Pre-Season Thunder test at Daytona International Speedway.
“I think those guys are ready to race hard and bring it to another level. … I watched them work at Daytona and they were quick and smooth and got the car turned around in a hurry,” Biffle said. “I really feel like it’s going to be a good season.”
Biffle said that he can take heart from the fact that eventual champion Tony Stewart had the similar problem of struggling to turn a fast car into a consistent winner before the Chase.
“The funny thing is that at one point, four or five races before the Chase, we were neck-and-neck with Tony Stewart, trying to take that Chase spot from him,” Biffle said. “He’d be ahead of us and then we’d be ahead of him. And then he made the comment that they didn’t even deserve to be in the Chase. We were like just clawing at his heels, trying to get that spot away from him.
“That’ll give you an idea of how tight it can be and how things can suddenly turn for a team. It’s the perfect example. The 14 team, they got it turned around a little bit, got upright in the boat, started popping the water out, made the Chase — and then the rest is history. We just need that to happen now to the 16 team. That gives me the confidence that we can make it happen.”
Although Roush will be celebrating its 25th season in NASCAR competition this year, they are not without their problems.
“I’m disappointed because of the 100 or so people we had to lay off – people who depended on us,” Roush said. “And going from four to three teams, we didn’t have a seat for David Ragan. That’s unfortunate.”
“The economic climate has just been tough,” Steve Newark, RFR President said. “Look at all the drivers out there looking for sponsorship this year â€” guys like Kyle Busch, Jeff Burton, Clint Bowyer. It impacted a lot of younger drivers. If they’re not bringing sponsorship with them, they’re not getting a seat.”
Roush will run 2011 Nationwide champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr. on a one-off basis at next month's Daytona 500, and expect him to defend his Nationwide title with a full schedule. On the other hand, 2011 Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne is still looking for sponsors to run a full Nationwide programme alongside his part-time Cup deal with Wood Brothers Racing.
“You look at, what does he need to get that development? He needs to race, and we’re lucky that he has such a great relationship with the Wood Brothers,” Newmark said of Bayne.
“We’re working at it as hard as we can, because I want to run for a championship,” Bayne said. “But right now, it’s probably part-time. What would be difficult is, the first week they all load up and send their cars to the track, and I’ll still sitting at home watching it on TV.
“It’s going to be tough, but I know if that’s where I’m supposed to be, that’s where I’m supposed to be, and I’m going to go out there every weekend to win, and it’s going to give us a fire. If we’re not racing every weekend, we may not have the momentum or the experience, but we’re going to have more fire than ever to go out there and kick butt in those few we have a chance at.”