It’s been a rough two years for Greg Biffle and Roush Fenway Racing.
Roush’s current longest-tenured Sprint Cup driver hasn’t won a race since Michigan in 2013 and had only four top-five finishes since then entering Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
“It’s been well documented how bad we’ve been running,” Biffle said Sunday night.
As Biffle ran in second place and pushed his No. 16 to run down leader Carl Edwards, and as laps and his gas mileage dwindled rapidly, there was more weighing on his mind.
The windshield he looked out at Edwards through bore the name of his second cousin, Dean S. Van Dyke, who died six weeks into his tour in the Vietnam War. And on Saturday, a friend Biffle has seen earlier in the week passed away.
“There was a lot going on,” Biffle admitted.
With Edwards to his front and Dale Earnhardt Jr. approaching from the rear, Biffle was told by crew chief Matt Puccia, “Save all you can, just keep the 88 behind you.”
But Biffle wasn’t having any of it.
“Not today,” Biffle responded. “I’m going for the win today.”
So Biffle went beginning with 10 to go and was was able to get close to Edwards, his former teammate and the last driver to win for Roush, last year at Sonoma. Biffle had pitted with 62 laps remaining with Edwards, Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon in an effort to make it to the end on gas mileage.
“Certainly nobody knows whether you’ve got enough gas,” Biffle said. “I was sure hoping and praying that (Edwards) would be about a lap short because, you know, we’ve lost a few ‑‑ everybody has lost a few like that. But you know, it is what it is. He’s smart, he knows how to save gas. He’s won a lot of races like that. I was just hoping that maybe that engine he had was using a little bit more than they thought, but that wasn’t the case.”
Biffle’s winning bid ended once his car became tight exiting Turn 2, which lost him precious time. His car had experienced the same issue earlier while exiting Turn 4, which sent the No. 16 to the bottom of the top 10, where he spent most of the night.
Then with two laps left, the gas pressure light on his dashboard blinked on, bringing into doubt his first top-five finish since last year’s fall Pocono race.
“I came around and had to start pushing the clutch in and shutting it off and coasting and try and preserve what fuel I had to make it back,” said Biffle, who ultimately never had to deal with Earnhardt, but didn’t get his chance to pressure Edwards.
“So excited to see the checkered flag,” said Biffle, who had decided earlier if he finished in the top 10, he would stand on his door top after the race and cheer in excitement. “(But) I finished second, and I’m not happy.”
But Biffle does appreciate what the race means for Roush, which recorded just its second top-five finish of the year. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. finished 37th, 18 laps down after a one-car incident and Trevor Bayne finished 27th, three laps down.
“It’s been a tough challenge all together, even last year when Carl was there,” Biffle said. “It was really tough trying to find anything, trying to get anything to get our cars to go.”
Biffle and his team’s chances began improving last weekend when it won the first 20-lap segment of the All-Star Showdown. Then he qualified fourth for the Coke 600, his best start since qualifying eighth at Watkin Glen last year.
“I was a little bit concerned why the other two cars weren’t showing the speed that my car was showing, because if we had truly found something, I would think it would help all the cars,” Biffle said. “I just talked to Ricky on pit road, and he felt like his car was fairly decent tonight … Maybe it’s trickling down, but 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, as well.”