The No. 16 3M / Meguiars Ford Fusion team brought home their third straight third place finish on Sunday in Las Vegas. They only led two laps but Biffle was around when it counted at the end, ready to strike had the front two opened up the door.
“It certainly started off to be a good season for us so far,” Biffle said afterward. “Just plain and simply, Matt Puccia [crew chief] is the reason why we’re running and competing and finishing where we are. This team needed leadership. He was willing to step up and take the task on. Done a fantastic job so far.”
Biffle doesn’t deny that there’s disappointment though. After qualifying ninth and having a car that he felt was faster this weekend than they had last year, it left the team scratching their heads.
“We knew it was going to be a tough battle today,” he said. “We knew some cars had better speed than us, if we just hung tough, kept our track position, worked on it, we might be there at the end. That’s certainly what happened today.
“But it was clear that the 14 [Tony Stewart] and 48 [Jimmie Johnson] were just a little bit better than we were, 17 [Matt Kenseth] car looked like he was a little bit better than we were. So, like we thought it would come out, we had about a top five car and finished third, so we’re super excited about it.
“Then again, we want to win like the 14 car did today. So we’re going to keep out heads down and keep working hard.”
There was no touching Stewart on this day, who Biffle said it was clear had more power than himself and Johnson. Stewart had power that he’d never seen before and he would take off on a restart like Biffle never thought was possible.
At times though, Biffle was able to follow Stewart to the front, enjoying the holes that he was making. Except once he got to Stewart’s bumper that’s when the 16 started to slide and he had to get off the gas or put himself in the fence.
Clean air was king and it was hard to pass if a driver didn’t have that. It left Biffle moving around on the track as he tried to close in on those ahead of him, but to no avail.
The car just didn’t turn he said, and he and the team fought the loose conditions all through practice and then tight conditions on race day. Add in that Biffle thought he wasn’t aggressive enough when it came to making changes and it stopped him from being “up their tail pipe at the end.”
Instead, Biffle will take the finish and continue to praise Puccia and the work he has done to the 16 team. Even though he took the reins midway through the 2011 season, Biffle and company wouldn’t let him make any changes until the offseason.
Only then could he start moving people around, moving people out and directing the team the way he wanted. Now the results of those moves are showing and have Biffle leading the Cup points for the second time in his career as the series heads to Bristol next weekend.
“It has all to do, a hundred percent, with where we’re at right now,” said Biffle. “That’s why we changed and put the crew chief in charge last year. Then we kept handcuffs on him, wouldn’t let him change any people or change out guys as he went two, three, four, five, six weeks into his job. So we waited till the offseason.
“I say ‘we,’ Robbie [Reiser, Roush Fenway general manager] and all the guys waited till the offseason to make the changes. We were waiting to figure out what we were going to do with the 6 car. We were waiting to figure out what we were going to do with the 6 car. We were waiting to see what was going to happen because it would determine whether we got a sponsor for the 6 or not. We were going to have a bunch of people that we could move internally around the company if we downsized.
“So Matt, we free rein, got to pick the guys he wanted on the 16. It’s all been Matt. Matt has done all this himself with some guidance from the company.”