Greg Biffle is not celebrating yet. But he believes Roush Fenway Racing is improving after a couple of down years trying to catch up to its rivals.
Biffle had a strong two weeks at Charlotte Motor Speedway, capped by a second place in the Coca-Cola 600 — his best on-track showing this season. Throw in a fourth place in Charlotte qualifying and a win in his Sprint Showdown race to make the All-Star event two weeks ago, and Biffle has plenty of hope for better times ahead.
"It's been well documented how we've been running, so it feels good," Biffle said.
The Sprint Cup finish was just Biffle's second top 10 of the year (he was 10th in the Daytona 500) and only the third for Roush Fenway drivers this season. The other was Ricky Stenhouse Jr.'s fourth-place finish at Bristol last month.
Trevor Bayne, in his first year with the No. 6 car, hasn't fared better than a pair of 18ths.
Biffle is 19th in the points standings, staring up at three drivers apiece from Stewart-Haas Racing, Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing. Is Roush Fenway closing the gap?
"We've been wondering that for two years. Just, hopelessly, can't find a crumb on the floor," Biffle said. "But it's turned around in the last few weeks, small gains."
Incremental improvement has rarely been the standard at Roush Fenway, which Jack Roush built into a championship program with skilled drivers, genius mechanics and race cars with the power to win titles.
Matt Kenseth won the Sprint Car crown for Roush in 2003 and Kurt Busch followed that up with a championship a year later. But Kenseth left for JGR after the 2012 season. Roush Fenway star Carl Edwards followed Kenseth this past offseason.
"It's been a tough challenge altogether, even last year when Carl was there," Biffle said. "It was really tough finding anything to get our cars to go."
At All-Star race qualifying two weeks ago, Biffle wondered why his teammates' cars weren't showing the same speed his was. But Biffle debriefed with Stenhouse after the Coca-Cola 600, the young racer sharing that his car was stronger than its 37th place finish Sunday night.
"I'm looking forward to those guys, both Ricky and Trevor, running faster so we can use a little bit of the data from them, too," Biffle said.
Stenhouse said after his high Bristol finish his team needed more from the car to contend and lead laps. He hasn't finished better than 24th in the four events since.
"Hopefully, we will get this misfortune behind us soon," he said after mechanical problems ended his Charlotte run.
Bayne was a virtually unknown racer when he stunned NASCAR with his victory in the Daytona 500 in 2011. Roush Fenway picked Bayne to restart the No. 6 car successfully run by Mark Martin, who won 35 races in 19 races as a Roush racer. Bayne has finished outside the top 20 in nine of 12 races this season.
It's difficult for Roush Fenway Fords to compete with the Chevys run by Hendrick and Stewart-Haas, Biffle said.
"We are nowhere near catching them," he said.
What he watched at Charlotte, though, is a definite sign things are turning back in Roush Fenway's favor.
"We've met our first goal, at least my first goal, to run in the top 10," Biffle said. "We haven't been able to do that in a year-and-a-half."
Biffle also liked how his crew kept him near the top in NASCAR's longest race, then gave him a chance win when it gambled on fueling up well ahead of his front-running competitors. Biffle nearly chased down race winner Edwards in the final laps before ending second.
"We ran 600 miles virtually in the top 10, so that's a huge improvement for us," Biffle said. "Now, we'll just work on trying to get into the top five and then the wins will come after that."