Greg Biffle sat down in the preseason and did a little mapping for the first part of the year and liked what he saw from the early schedule.
Now he likes it even more.
Two races into the long grind, Biffle has a pair of top fives and sits second in the early-season standings.
“This swing was kind of marked on my calendar, so to speak, for the beginning of the season for a few reasons,” Biffle said Friday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. “One, we had a good run at Phoenix last year, and we had an excellent car and a very fast car here last year, so, obviously, the result – if you look at it – five laps down wasn’t what we were after, but we had a fueling issue with our car and ended up costing us a bunch of time, but I felt like I really wanted to come back here and kind of redeem myself.
“We had a good car, really fast, and it’s a good track for us.”
Fueling issues, which would reappear later in the year, slapped Biffle with a 28th-place finish in last year’s race at Vegas despite the fact he was a race leader early.
A tough start to the season put Biffle in a hole that was difficult to attack. He finished 16th in points and failed to win a race.
“There are kind of two different aspects as far as running good and not running good,” he said. “The problem with last year – take this race for instance, the problem with last year is we were about two-tenths or so over the same speed … than the leader the entire day, and we finished five (actually three) laps down. That’s very, very frustrating, but you still leave with a lot of confidence going to the next race.
“After a while, that will wear you down, run good up to the last pit stop of the day, drop the lugnut, something happened, everybody did two but you did four, come out of the pits 15th and finish right around there after leading the most laps or running up front or whatever might have happened – so that really, really, really takes a toll on you because you know you’re competitive, you know the car has speed and it’s fast, but you just can’t close the deal.
“With the changes we made in the team, that started to turn around. I’d rather be in that position than the other side as you’re sitting back scratching your head where 16th is the best you can do – had a great day, pit stops were good, but we had a 16th-place car, so there are two ways to look at a finish.
“Now, we’ve kind of put them both together. We’re having good pit stops. The caution flag isn’t coming out and trapping us a lap down or something after we made a green-flag cycle, so the confidence level is really, really high. I feel really good about this race track. We’ve run very good here the last three years, and I think that this year will be no exception, but it’s great to be off to a good start and have good, fast, competitive cars and a guy like (crew chief) Matt Puccia heading this team up. He’s the one that is making the difference right now.”
Biffle, still pursing his first Sprint Cup title, said he feels very comfortable with his position in the early season.
“We ran so much better than that (last year’s difficulties), but we weren’t able to produce the finishes of where we were running and, like I said, Matt Puccia has a lot to do with that (improvement),” he said. “He has got a good team together and really has this thing organized, and we’re even faster than we had been, so we’ve got a lot of things going for us.
“I tell you what, it feels good coming here running as well as we have and being where we’re at in the points.”
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 30 years. He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.