What to make of Biffle’s Texas victory

Waiting on a Monday race and wondering what to make of Greg Biffle’s win in the Truck Series race at Texas on Friday night …

Obviously, Biffle hasn’t forgotten how to win races – no surprise there since he has won multiple races across all three NASCAR national series and championships in Xfinity and Truck series.

When he stepped away from full-time NASCAR competition at the end of the 2016 season, Biffle had won 19 times in the Cup series, 20 times in the Xfinity Series and 16 times in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series. The championships came in 2000 in Truck and ’02 in Xfinity.

The idea that the Vancouver, Wash., native could become the first driver to win championships in all three series was not farfetched but it didn’t happen.

Biffle is now 49 and if you’ve followed NASCAR for any length of time you ought to know that age isn’t a factor when it comes to competitiveness.

It had been more than two years since his last NASCAR start, though, and that probably said more than the fact he’s nearly 50. It would have come as no surprise had he appeared a bit rusty behind the wheel.

Still, he won Friday’s SpeedyCash.com 400 at Texas Motor Speedway and winning any race is no easy feat. It was a race of attrition and a race of survival and Biffle wasn’t dominant but in a race that featured 13 cautions, dominance wasn’t required.

As good as Biffle remains, however, Friday night’s victory would seem to say more about the KBM equipment at his disposal. Kyle Busch Motorsports puts together winning trucks. The organization has extremely capable talent beyond those folks sitting in the driver’s seat.

Biffle is the 11th different driver to win for KBM since 2010 – all but Christopher Bell and Noah Gragson are currently competing or have competed at the Cup level.

Busch himself won five times in five starts this year with the same team but is it farfetched for the owner/driver to expect similar results from drivers with far less experience? And we’re no longer talking about Biffle here.

Busch is Busch and Todd Gilliland is not. And Harrison Burton is not. Gilliland and Burton drive for KBM. Gilliland is 19 and Burton is 18 and together they’ve made fewer than 60 starts in the series.

Busch has nearly as many wins (56).

Busch has previously indicated that drivers in his trucks are expected to contend and to win.

Days before the Texas stop, KBM announced crew chief moves that included putting Wes Ward in charge of the No. 4 truck driven by Gilliland at Texas.

Gilliland, Friday night’s pole winner, led 31 laps but wound up 27th after getting into the wall. He has one top-five and four top-10 finishes this year and is ninth in points.

Burton finished fifth; it was his third top five and fifth top 10. He’s eighth in points.

It’s difficult to judge a driver’s ability when competing in average equipment. But that’s not the case here.

Maybe those are unrealistic expectations for anyone else but not for Busch.

And Biffle’s quick success no doubt only strengthened the team owner’s contention.

A first for Earnhardt Jr.

Sunday, April 2, 2000 – Third generation racer Dale Earnhardt Jr. scored his first career win in the NASCAR Cup Series with his victory in the DirecTV 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. The win came in just his 12th career start at the Cup level. Earnhardt Jr. finished nearly six seconds ahead of runner-up Jeff Burton.

Prior to his move to Cup, Earnhardt Jr. was a two-time champion in what is known today as the NASCAR XFINITY Series. His father, Dale Earnhardt, won in his 16th career start and won seven Cup championships before his death in Feb., 2001. Grandfather Ralph Earnhardt was a multi-time track champion in the Carolinas and made 51 starts in the premier series during his racing career.

Although he had two victories that season, Earnhardt Jr. was beaten out by Matt Kenseth for Rookie of the Year honors.

Earnhardt Jr. retired from full-time competition at the close of 2017 with 26 victories, 149 top-five and 149 top-10 finishes in 631 starts. He was named the series’ most popular driver for 15 consecutive seasons.

Texas Postscript

NASCAR’s Steve O’Donnell said Monday morning that the sanctioning body may revert back to single-car qualifying for some events after problems cropped up at Texas Motor Speedway on Friday.  

“If we have to go back to single-car (qualifying) … we’ll do that,” O’Donnell said during an appearance on SiriusXM NASCAR’s “The Morning Drive” program. “It won’t be popular, probably, with some of the owners but unfortunately we’re getting put in this position.”

Group qualifying had not been an issue until the 2019 rules package debuted with its less horsepower and more downforce on larger tracks (1.5-miles and above). The package allows teams to draft on the bigger tracks, which in turn makes being the first car out a disadvantage.

As a result, drivers have sat in their cars on pit road, waiting until the last possible moment before attempting a qualifying lap. At Auto Club Speedway, none of the 12 drivers in the final round posted an official lap. At Texas, there were other issues as well although each of the 12 in the final round were able to post at least one lap before time expired.

“I think it’s ridiculous, candidly,” O’Donnell said. “I know the drivers did not like this qualifying (format) that we were going to do before the season so part of you says, ‘Are we (teams) doing this on purpose … to get rid of it?’ I know it can be done.”

O Donnell went on to say that NASCAR will “react to it.”

“We’ll make the right call and we’ll get it right,” he said. “We don’t want to see cars sitting on pit road for eight minutes. That’s not NASCAR racing and we’ll make the fix there.”

NASCAR already uses a single-car qualifying format at Daytona and Talladega, the series two largest venues.

O’Donnell is executive vice president and chief racing development officer for NASCAR.

NASCAR officials took six cars from teams, two from each manufacturer, to take to the wind tunnel for aerodynamic evaluation following Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.

That’s not surprising. It’s a normal part of the process as officials with the sanctioning body seek a better understanding of how the aero numbers between the three groups match up.

What was something of a surprise was the cars that were selected. Or those that weren’t.

NASCAR selected the No. 1 of Kurt Busch (Chip Ganassi Racing) and the No. 24 of William Byron (Hendrick Motorsports) from the Chevrolet camp and that’s about as good of a representation as you’ll get from those folks these days.

Toyota entries taken, however were the No. 19 of Martin Truex Jr., and the No. 20 of Erik Jones. Neither the No. 18 of Kyle Busch, which has two wins this season and could have won a third time Sunday, nor the No. 11 of Hamlin, which did win Sunday and now also has two victories this year, was chosen.

All four cars race out of the Joe Gibbs Racing shop but clearly the 18 and the 11 have been a cut above the others.

Ford entries chose were the No. 4 of Kevin Harvick (Stewart-Haas Racing) and the No. 21 of Paul Menard (Wood Brothers Racing).

That neither the No. 2 of Brad Keselowski nor 22 of Team Penske teammate Joey Logano was chosen for Ford representation was also puzzling. Even the 12 of teammate Ryan Blaney.

Keselowski and Logano account for the three victories not claimed by Busch or Hamlin this season.

Hamlin’s 33rd career victory tied him with two individuals – Fireball Roberts at No. 23 on the all-time NASCAR win list and Tony Stewart at No. 2 on the JGR win list. Stewart won a pair of Cup titles as well before departing; Hamlin is still seeking his first.

That Hamlin already has two victories says as much about crew chief Chris Gabehart, who replaced Mike Wheeler on top of the pit box for the No. 11 team this season, as it does Hamlin. Gabehart won nine times in the Xfinity Series with drivers Hamlin, Erik Jones and Ryan Preece.

The fifth-place finish for Jimmie Johnson Sunday was his first top-five since last year’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway in May. The seven-time series champion started on the pole and led 60 laps.

Kyle Busch didn’t complete the weekend sweep but the JGR racer did win two of three, capturing Friday night’s Gander Outdoors Truck Series race and Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series race. It was his 95th Xfinity Series win and 55th in the Truck series.

NASCAR teams head to Bristol Motor Speedway this weekend for Saturday’s Alsco 300 Xfinity Series race and Sunday’s Food City 500. The rules package will be the same as that used at Martinsville two weeks ago – 750 horsepower and no aero ducts on the front of the cars.

Only seven active drivers – Kyle and Kurt Busch, Keselowski, Johnson, Logano, Harvick and Hamlin – have won one or more Cup races at BMS. That’s from a list of 22 current competitors with one or more wins in the series.

Kyle Busch has won two of the last three at BMS while Kyle Larson finished second in both Cup races last season. Larson also led 200 laps in the spring race.