- Joe Breeze, Motorsports
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CONCORD, N.C. -- Greg Biffle doesn't have a lot of answers.
But the questions are plentiful -- and often painful.
The one most folks want answered: What's wrong with Greg Biffle?
How did the hottest driver in Nextel Cup racing two years ago fall off planet NASCAR? Will the midseason crew-chief shakeup help the No. 16 Dish Network Ford climb out of its rut? Speaking of Ford, why can't the manufacturer figure out how to compete with Chevy?
We've been close. ... Our cars haven't been terrible.
Biffle has heard these questions more than he'd like to admit.
"It's not going very well," he said Thursday at Lowe's Motor Speedway. "[But] we're not that far off."
Biffle was the buzz of NASCAR in 2005. He won five of the first 15 Cup races and was on pace to becoming the first driver to claim all three major NASCAR titles. (He won the Craftsman Truck championship in 2000 and the Busch Series crown in 2002).
Biffle fell just 35 points shy of NASCAR's Triple Crown after beating then-teammate Mark Martin in a photo finish at the Homestead finale. It was his sixth victory of the season, one win more than series champ Tony Stewart.
But the wins didn't flow as freely in 2006. Biffle won twice, including a repeat in the season-ender at Homestead.
2007? It's been a pedestrian season for the driver out of Vancouver, Wash. His stat line through 11 races more resembles the Bills' winning percentage in the Super Bowl: zero poles, zero wins. (He does have one top-5 -- a fifth place at Bristol -- and a pair of top-10s).
The good news for Biffle: He's 16th in the driver standings but lurking just 59 points out of the final Chase spot. The bad news: He's a whopping 726 points behind leader Jeff Gordon, who's threatening to pull away from everybody.
Things don't figure to improve much at Sunday's marathon Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe's Motor Speedway (5:40 p.m. ET). Biffle hasn't enjoyed much success in the Carolinas, getting just one top-5 in eight races on Concord's 1.5-mile quad-oval.
Biffle said Thursday that his season started to go awry even before it began. His fiery crash during a December test session at Las Vegas Motor Speedway cost him his favorite car -- and perhaps much more.
"We were really good at the Vegas tire test," recalled Biffle, who dislocated his shoulder in the wreck. "We blew our right front tire and lost our best car and that really hurt us. That's probably hurt us more this season than anything.
"One, that car would win here on Sunday. That car was capable of that. We have to be able to reproduce that car. It won Homestead three years in a row. It won Michigan, Texas -- it won all over the place. That thing was something special."
Biffle is dealing with another big change this week. Pat Tryson no longer is the crew chief for the Roush Fenway Racing entry. The team announced that Greg Erwin has replaced Tryson as chief wrench-turner. Chris Andrew will serve as interim crew chief at Charlotte, and Erwin will sit in an advisor role atop the No. 16 pit box.
"It's pretty difficult for me," Biffle said of Tryson's firing. "I didn't have a real problem [with the decision]. Yeah, the performance is not where it needs to be. But I think the moral of the story is the team wasn't being operated the way Jack [Roush] wanted it operated. Meaning, when we were faltering a little bit on pit stops -- they weren't quite fast enough -- he wanted us to make the change or do something about it.
"I want our team to be the best it can be. If that's what they feel is needed, then that's what has to be done. Would I have raced with Pat the rest of the season? Yeah, I would have."
Erwin has been around the block. He worked a combined seven years as an engineer for Richard Childress and Chip Ganassi before taking the crew chief job at Robby Gordon Motorsports.
"I feel that this is one of the top crew chief opportunities in the Nextel Cup garage," Erwin said in a statement. "If you could paint a picture of where you would like to go as a crew chief to give it a shot to win and compete for a championship, this is it."
Can Erwin help Biffle recapture the magic of '05?
It's not like he'll be starting from scratch with the 16 car.
"We've been close," Biffle said. "We had a good run at Atlanta. We got wrecked but were coming up on the leaders. We had a damn good car. ... We ran good in that COT. In Bristol we had a good car, in Richmond we had a great car. At Darlington, we were so-so. We would've been top 10 but Kurt Busch knocked us out of the way. Our cars haven't been terrible."
Just not good enough.
The gap between the great teams and the good teams has closed considerably since 2005, Biffle acknowledged.
"The thing is, there's a lot more teams that are capable [of winning] now," he said. "Instead of 10 of us that were super competitive, winning races, there's 20 of us. And if you're just off a tiny bit, you don't stand a chance. It's just a fine line. Everybody fights and kicks and claws to try to get what they can."
... If you're just off a tiny bit, you don't stand a chance. It's just a fine line. Everybody fights and kicks and claws to try to get what they can.
There'll be plenty of fightin' and kickin' on Sunday. The Coke isn't your typical Cup race. The green flag drops under the heat of an early evening sun, and the checkers fall under the cool of darkness.
Busch, who's seventh in points, said the 600 presents a unique set of challenges for everyone, including the Miller Lite Dodge.
"Charlotte's definitely going to be a tough race for us," Busch said before Thursday's qualifying. "It's 600 miles. Starts in the daytime and ends at night. So you have to have a setup that's balanced for both the extreme temperatures and the hot, slick track and of course at night when it gets cooled down and the track gets fast and you've got to be able to lay the hammer down and go for it.
"So it's definitely a tough race to adjust for and you just have to keep in mind that it's a marathon and you can't get too caught up in one pit segment versus another because you've got to last for 600 miles."
Biffle, who finished seventh in last year's event, barely made the field. He qualified 38th at 180.620 mph. Ryan Newman scored his 35th career pole at 185.312 mph. He'll be joined by Busch on the front row.
Biffle sensed after Thursday afternoon's practice session that the No. 16 Ford would have difficulty during qualifying.
"It's not going very well," he said then. "I don't feel real confident right yet. ..."
Will he feel confident before the green flag drops Sunday? Right now, that's just another question Biffle probably would prefer not to answer.
Joe Breeze is a motorsports editor for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Joe.M.Breeze@espn3.com.
First Greg Biffle lost his best car in a fiery test crash at Vegas. Then he lost his crew chief in a midseason shakeup. Can the No. 16 recapture the magic of 2005? Stay tuned, writes Joe Breeze.