Category:Auto Racing
Posted on: March 6, 2012 4:05 pm
Edited on: March 6, 2012 6:25 pm
 

Poll Position: Stewart regretting firing Grubb?


It didn't take long for Darian Grubb (right) to taste success with Denny Hamlin, winning Sunday at Phoenix. (AP)

Did Tony Stewart make a mistake dropping Darian Grubb as crew chief after winning 2011 title?

Pete Pistone

We'll probably never know the whole story of why Stewart decided to make a crew chief change. While Darian Grubb is one of the most talented in the sport, Stewart didn't downgrade by bringing Steve Addington into the fold.

Let's face it, the driver-crew chief role is as much about chemistry and building relationships as it is anything. While Grubb is as adept at setting up a car and calling a race as they come, maybe there was something not clicking exactly the right way between the duo. Addington is equally talented at the nuts and bolts of the job and his personality seems to mirror Stewart's. They've both said many times they are "cut from the same cloth," guys who grew up short track racing and worked their way to the top level of the sport. They share an old school racer's mentality and Stewart appears quite comfortable working with and hanging out with Addington.

Grubb may have already made it into the victory column first and I have no doubt he'll be successful with Hamlin at JGR. But Stewart won't suffer with Addington at the helm and whatever the behind the scenes reasoning might be of his parting ways with Grubb, the bottom line is all about comfort and chemistry. Stewart and Addington have that together and then some.

Brian De Los Santos

In a word -- yes.

Now as the story goes, the decision to part ways with Grubb came prior to the amazing streak they went on en route to the Sprint Cup championship. At the time the call was made in early October, it was probably the right move. For whatever reason, the 2011 regular season was a struggle for the 14 team with Stewart making the Chase by the skin of his teeth. Entering the Chase, I for one, didn't expect Stewart to be much of a factor.

Stewart surprised just about everybody winning the first two races of the Chase. But then a couple subpar races followed that strong start and Stewart decided it just wasn't working out. Thus, entering the second half of the Chase, Grubb was basically a lame duck crew chief. But he soldiered on, and despite the distraction, helped Stewart to victory in three of the final four races and the title. The finale at Homestead was especially a thing of beauty.

Not even five wins in 10 races was enough for Stewart to reconsider. Which seems strange to me. Clearly Grubb proved he could get the job done in the crunch. Can Stewart win with Steve Addington as his crew chief? Probably. But there's something to be said for continuity. After a finishing run that few outside of Chad Knaus-Jimmie Johnson have been able to muster, Stewart may find that cutting Grubb loose may not have been such a good idea, especially if Grubb and his new driver Denny Hamlin continue to knock out wins.

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Posted on: March 6, 2012 11:41 am
 

Audio: Robin Pemberton on appeal timeline

Posted by Pete Pistone


AUDIO: ROBIN PEMBERTON ADDRESSES HENDRICK APPEAL PROCESS

NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton explained the timeline for the Hendrick Motorsports appeal process regarding penalties levied against the No. 48 team at Daytona when he visited with SIRIUS/XM NASCAR Radio's "The Morning Drive" on Tuesday.

Pemberton said the process was moving forward and he expected the hearing to tak eplace within the next two weeks.

Until the appeal is heard, crew chief Chad Knaus will not begin serving his six-week suspension until a final decision is reached. As he was in Phoenix last week, Knaus will work with the 48 team in Las Vegas this weekend.

 
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Posted on: March 6, 2012 11:28 am
Edited on: March 7, 2012 8:55 pm
 

Martinsville names Gary Sinise grand marshal

Posted by Pete Pistone

Martinsville Speedway announced that award-winning actor Gary Sinise will serve as the grand marshal for the April 1 running of the Goody's Fast
Relief 500.

The track also announced local hero and wounded veteran Marine Cpl. Josh “J.B.” Kerns will wave the green flag to start the 500-lap event. 

Sinise, currently starring on CBS’ “CSI:NY,” launched the Gary Sinise Foundation in 2011, a non-profit organization that honors defenders, veterans, first responders, their families and those in need by creating and supporting unique programs designed to entertain, educate, inspire, strengthen and build communities.

Recently, the Gary Sinise Foundation and The Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation (named after a fallen firefighter on 9/11), announced a partnership to build Kerns a “smart home” in his hometown of Ararat, Va., as part of the Building For America's Bravest Program. Throughout the April race weekend efforts will be underway to raise funds and awareness, including a concert with Sinise's Lt. Dan Band at Martinsville High School on March 31.

“When I was growing up I remember sitting down with my family on the weekends and watching the NASCAR races,” said Kerns. “And now, it’s awesome to think that I am going to be the one waving the flag that’s going to start the race.”


 
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Posted on: March 5, 2012 8:08 pm
Edited on: March 5, 2012 8:13 pm
 

Elliott Sadler confirms Waltrip deal won't happen

By Pete Pistone

Image Detail
(Sadler's win Saturday in Phoenix has him in the thick of the Nationwide championship hunt - Getty)

Elliott Sadler
won't run five races for Michael Waltrip Racing's Sprint Cup team after all.

Sadler confirmed Monday on SIRIUS/XM NASCAR Radio's "Sirius/XM Speedway" program the proposed deal that would have put him behind the wheel of MWR's No. 55 Toyota for five races was indeed off as was reported by Fox Sports.com late Sunday night.

"It’s not going to happen,” Sadler said on the program. “After Victory Lane Saturday in Phoenix, Richard Childress called me over to his bus and we had a long heart-to-heart. Richard and his management people at RCR think it’s in our best interest to focus 100% on winning this Nationwide championship, and I agree.”

However Sadler says it wasn't a call by Chevrolet to nix the deal but rather a decision by team owner Childress to keep his focus on winning a Nationwide championship in 2012.

“People have asked me, but that was absolutely not brought up in the meeting I had with Richard," Sadler said of Chevy's role. "Richard has put a lot of effort into building this team, and we’re off to such a good start to the season that we need to put all our eggs in the same basket.
 
“It was a great honor to be asked to do this by Michael Waltrip, and I appreciate the role Mark Martin played in making it happen, as well. It would have been fun, but I really think we have something special going that we need to focus on, 100 percent."

 
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Posted on: March 5, 2012 7:36 pm
Edited on: March 5, 2012 7:39 pm
 

Jeffrey Earnhardt to make Bristol debut

By Pete Pistone


Image Detail
(There hasn't been an Earnhardt in a Ford since Dale Sr. back in 1983)

Jeffrey Earnhardt
will make his Bristol Motor Speedway debut in two weeks when the half-mile track hosts the NASCAR Nationwide Series. 

The fourth-generation driver will pilot the Rick Ware Racing Ford Mustang at the site of his grandfather Dale Earnhardt’s first Sprint Cup victory in 1979. It will also be the first time an Earnhardt drives a Ford since 1983 when Dale Earnhardt drove the No. 15 Ford for Bud Moore

Earnhardt, who is competing full time in the Rolex Grand Am series, has been working hard to add several sponsors to his Nationwide effort and has landed Sam’s Club as one for the upcoming Bristol race.

“Our sponsors have been great partners and having Sam’s Club and MET-Rx on the #15 Ford Mustang for Jeffrey’s Bristol debut is a great way to start 2012,” said team owner Rick Ware.

 
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Posted on: March 4, 2012 9:17 pm
Edited on: March 4, 2012 9:21 pm
 

Report: Chevy nixes Sadler's plan with Waltrip

By Pete Pistone

Elliott Sadler's deal to drive five races for Michael Waltrip Racing's Toyota Sprint Cup Series team is in jeopardy.

Fox Sports.com reports Chevrolet, the manufacturer Sadler drives for in his full-time Nationwide Series effort at Richard Childress Racing, won't allow him to pilot MWR's Camry in the proposed five race deal.

Here's the full report:

SADLER/WALTRIP CUP DEAL IN JEOPARDY 


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Posted on: March 4, 2012 8:18 pm
 

Hamlin, Grubb, Gibbs post Phoenix comments

Posted by Pete Pistone

This has got to feel very, very good, getting this first win as the crew chief for the No. 11 FedEx Toyota.

DARIAN GRUBB:  It really does.  It's a great team effort.  All of Joe Gibbs Racing did a great job getting us here.  Did a lot of work in the off-season.  Did a great job with the pit crew and everybody that was here at the racetrack and back at home, we couldn't do it without them and the support of FedEx and Toyota and TRD engines has been pretty good.

KERRY THARP:  Our race winner has joined us, Denny Hamlin, congratulations on winning here at Phoenix, the driver of the No. 11 FedEx Office Toyota goes to victory lane.  It's his 18th career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win, his first win at Phoenix, and you are the points leader after two races.  He's joined by team owner coach Joe Gibbs, and Denny, congratulations.  I know this one has got to really feel good for you coming out here and winning this race, making a statement early in the season.

DENNY HAMLIN:  Yeah, absolutely.  This is the first chance that me and him have to work together in a race situation where he's going to have to make a lot of adjustments, and needless to say, it was going forward the entire day.  It's still a learning process between me and Darian.  The communication has still got a long way to go, and he's going to have to figure out my measurements and all that stuff of how much he needs to work on the car.  But to have the success this early just tells me that once we get things down pat, it's going to be pretty good.

KERRY THARP:  Coach Gibbs, congratulations on a really outstanding win here today, and maybe talk about how this No. 11 team really shined here today.

JOE GIBBS:  Well, we're excited because for me it's two races in a row, restrictor plate and then we come here.  FedEx is just a terrific partner.  We had a tough, long, hard year last year, and going through all that, and this year to come out of the box the way we have has just been awesome.  I think our crew chiefs just seem to have a great chemistry now and Darian, their relationship is still growing, but I think we're really excited about this, and I think we're -- I've got a great -- a very good feeling about this year, so hopefully we can continue.

Q.  Darian, before you got here Denny said all we do is win.  It seems like you can go anywhere and win.  What's the vindication like for you to go from one organization, a championship caliber organization, to another championship caliber organization, but just step in there and right out of the box, man, here you are successful all over again?

DARIAN GRUBB:  I guess you could say it is a little bit of vindication, but I really don't think that way. I try to just think the high road all the time.  I feel like I came into a very good situation.  Mike Ford built one heck of a team here with the 11 car, and the FedEx Toyota is obviously really strong, Joe Gibbs organization is very strong.  I've got a lot of friends in both organizations but I'm proud to come in here and lead this bunch of guys, and even just guys like John Furino who's actually at home now, his father passed away, he left Phoenix to go back and we dedicated this win to him because he's a big part of it.  We're a united team.  We're working together that way, and we are just going to keep doing it.

Q.  For Denny and Joe, first Joe, as a coach who was in demand in the NFL for a long time, do you feel like you've hired the guy who's the -- you got the championship coach here that just happened to be available and you hit the jackpot here?

JOE GIBBS:  Well, I like coaches.  I think coaches deserve a lot.  Not money, not money (laughing).  No, we know that it takes -- for Darian, I'm always amazed at how close it is to the football operation because a coach in football roughly works with 13 assistant coaches.  Over here Darian has got to come in, and I think what he's done is done a great job of getting those guys all together.  It is a team effort.  I think he's done a great job in a short period of time.  It's hard to do today.  My understanding, the track changed a lot, and I think he was -- made some great calls there.  He and Denny working together.  So I think that really says a lot about our team.  And I'm excited about having the coaches we've got.  We've got three good ones right now.

Q.  Do you feel like you hired a ringer here?

JOE GIBBS:  Yeah, probably, although, let me say this, he's already won a championship.  This is probably downhill for Darian (laughing).

KERRY THARP:  He won a championship and a Daytona 500.

Q.  And for Denny, you must feel like that.

DENNY HAMLIN:  Yeah, no doubt.  Obviously he comes in a with a lot of knowledge.  The biggest thing I learned early on is his team-building, the way he helps get all the guys surrounded about one goal, and so that's the biggest thing that I've noticed is how tuned he is with the race team, and obviously we've got everyone behind us within our 11 team, and JGR right now believing in the thought process that Darian has.  Obviously when he has faith in me that he feels like he can win a championship with me, after all the choices he had in the off-season, that gives me a lot of confidence, and those two are just meshing well right now.

Q.  Denny, you said in here I think it was on Friday that now you really see how good Darian was.  Were you pretty confident or just trying to get him --

DENNY HAMLIN:  I mean, for me, I don't know where this came from.  I don't know how our car was as good as it was today.  We were solidly off in practice.  We were off, but we kept getting it better and closer to being competitive.  But I had no idea we were going to fire off like we did today.

You know, it just seemed like we kept improving our car, and I think the turning point for us was that green flag pit stop.  Whatever he did to the car at that point was just lights-out after that.

Q.  Nothing will probably ever erase November of 2010, but do you feel like when you come back here in November 2011 you'll be ready and have no bad memories?  How will you feel?

DENNY HAMLIN:  Yeah, it's a little bit of satisfaction there for sure.  I mean, this is a -- it's a bittersweet track.  Before that moment, I had a lot of success at this track, ran very competitive.  Never got a win, but last year I wasn't a huge fan of the racetrack obviously because I wasn't that competitive.  And then this year, starting off this like, this is not my type of racetrack.  Even though it's short and flat and that's the type of characteristics people put me on as a race car driver, a new surface is not particularly my forte.  So to be competitive under these circumstances, it just kind of reminds me of 2010 where we were winning at tracks that no one expected us to win at, and we were starting to be race winners at tracks where we hadn't before.

You know, and it seems like throughout my career, whenever we lock onto one racetrack and we win, we win multiple times there.  Obviously this being the second to the last race of the season, hopefully it's a sign of things to come later.

Q.  Denny, to follow up, the last time you held the points lead was when you left here in November 2010.  Does this sort of make that experience dead and buried?  Does that put in the past once and for all at this point?

DENNY HAMLIN:  Yeah, I mean, I think so.  I mean, it's -- you know, last year, we just never got going.  Yeah, maybe there was a hangover effect for the first half of the year.  You can claim that.  But it didn't have anything to do with how bad I ran the last ten races.  We just didn't have it all together.  But we've made some good changes within our organization.  Obviously partnering with TRD with our engines, having a common engine amongst all the Toyota cars is going to be a big plus.  So we've still got work to do.  I'm still going to push for more and more and more things within our race car.  That's the attitude you've got to have to stay on top.

When I come back here, it just puts 2011 to rest.  That year is done.  It's a year that I'd just as soon forget about, and now we're focused on winning a championship.

Q.  Now that you say 2011 is a thing of the past, now looking at the future for the season, can you say right now you have a good shot of winning the championship?

DENNY HAMLIN:  Well, if we run as well as we did today, absolutely.  You know, but you never know what can happen next week.  We're at a totally different racetrack again, and it looks like really the first five racetracks that we go to are all dramatically different in a lot of different ways.  So now our next step is to be competitive on a mile and a half racetrack.  That's relatively new pavement similar to this, so there will be some things that we learn from this racetrack that will transfer over.  It's going to kind of give us the make up and see where we need to work within our program the first five races, see where our strong suits are, see where we are weak and need to improve.

Q.  For Darian, were you able to bring some stuff that worked well for you with Tony here last year to these guys?  And for Denny, how important was it just for you two to win together early in the season just as far as your chemistry is concerned?

DARIAN GRUBB:  On the car and the setup side of it, really didn't change a whole lot.  They had good cars here in the past, just needed some tweaking and tuning for the new track conditions and those things, and working together with Dave Rogers and Jason rad cliff, I learned a lot just about the way they do different things and took a lot of those things into account as we went forward.  We made some small tweaks on things that I knew worked for adjustments, but other than that the cars are Joe Gibbs Racing cars and everybody back at the shop did a really good job over the off-season preparing those things to get ready to go to the racetrack.  If you look we pretty much ran in the top 10 all day with all three cars once they got there.  So it was a pretty strong showing and I'm pretty proud of that.

Q.  Denny, how important do you think it was for you guys to win together for your chemistry?

DENNY HAMLIN:  Good.  It's still going to build.  I honestly feel like it's going to be realistically two months before we're totally clicking and knowing exactly what each other is saying and talking about.  So to have success early tells me that we've obviously got a good pairing here.

But for me, I think that this is also, like Darian said, a testament to JGR and the steps it's taken in the off-season.  All three cars in the top 10 and all three being competitive all day long is something that we struggled with the second half of last season.  So we're at least getting back to being the JGR of old.

Q.  Could you talk about the last 60 laps when you had the 29 slowly closing the gap until he ran out of fuel there right at the end?

DENNY HAMLIN:  Yeah, I mean, I was running kind of how I needed to run.  He had obviously a very dominant car throughout the day, and it seemed like it was kind of a repeat of yesterday, me and him kind of having two of the best cars there for the most part.  I was just maintaining -- it was a tough balance because it's kind of a cat and mouse game of how hard you want to push it, is he going to push you to run harder and run out of fuel.

Darian just kept me updated every lap of my interval to the 29, and when I felt like he was getting too close, we would step up a little bit and kind of get the lap time where we needed it.

Track position was huge for our car once we got out front.  It was a very fast race car.  At that point it was just all about fuel conservation.

Q.  Darian, I think it was the media tour you said Gavin was having trouble learning to switch his allegiance to Denny.

DARIAN GRUBB:  We have an update on that.  I actually got a picture from my wife a few minutes ago while I was in victory lane Gavin holding his No. 11 Teddy Bear with the No. 1 held up.

Q.  Two things:  Darian, can you talk about, Tony was really good at shutting off his engine last year to conserve fuel and it bit him today.  Can you give us the technical side of that.  And Denny, a lot of guys were complaining about aero tide, if you got up to a guy, Junior said he felt four to six car lengths behind.  Can you talk about the cars so we know what to look forward to in the upcoming weeks?

DARIAN GRUBB:  On the car side of things, I think that is just something that is very tough because of this racetrack and the way the surface is.  The whole field was pretty much within two tenths of a second unless you were the leader and got clean air.  Those were the only guys who could run exceptionally fast laps.  As soon as you went back third or fourth in traffic, you kind of ran lap times that everybody around you ran but Denny was able to testament to that.

As far as shutting the cars off and things like that that's something we're all learning as we go -- a weekly process.  I feel like the Toyota and TRD guys have done a good job informing us of how those things work and we're still learning every week with that.  Obviously Joey had a problem at Daytona very similar, and we learned from that and tried not to have those mistakes today.

DENNY HAMLIN:  Yeah, as far as the aero tight stuff it was very typical to what it was here in the fall, but it's getting better.  The good news is that this is a very hot city in the summer, so it will help hopefully with the aging with the racetrack to help speed that up because the more the track has age on it, the more you're going to be able to move around.  The groove actually moved up quite a bit -- I was running some of my best lap times up two car lengths in the corner.  It's just a product of it -- Goodyear and NASCAR is in such a hard box when it comes with coming with the right combination of tire and speed, so they've got to put us on a hard tire until the surface slows down or else we're going to blow tires out.  The reason we're aero tight is because the tires are just so hard that we're struggling to -- we've got to have the air to keep our car planted to the racetrack.  We fought it all day just like everyone else, but it just seemed like our car was able to pass better than others for whatever reason, especially with about 100 to go.

Q.  Denny, can you talk about the time off that you took here and how it just really helped you reset, rebalance and come back prepared to do what you're planning to do?

DENNY HAMLIN:  Well, I mean, you hear the good and the bad criticism about not being around the race team for two months while the season is not going on.  But that's what I needed to improve myself, and I was just as weak a link as anyone last year within our program.  What I needed to do to make myself better is what I did, and that was just get away and not even think about racing for a while.

But when it came time to get to the racetrack, my focus is solely on winning races and winning a championship, and I'll do anything it takes to do that.  It's just my way of doing things.  It's what I needed to do to improve my driving and my focus.

Q.  Darian, is this job in some ways a lot easier than when you took over at Stewart-Haas Racing because that was a team you had to build, a team that had not been successful?  This is a team that had been successful.  Was the transition doing this, has it been easier for you?

DARIAN GRUBB:  I'd say easier and harder because at least when I was transitioning into that I knew the equipment.  I was very familiar with that, with everything.  That's the main reason they brought me in is I knew what tools and people we were dealing with.

Now this is just all new tools and all new people, but it's still the same job.  Luckily they have a very strong organization already.  I don't need to change any of those things, it's coming in and learning the people and learning how to get the best out of all those individuals, and the pieces and parts are there.

Q.  Darian, it was apparently a circuit breaker on Tony's car that flipped, and that's what -- they don't know when during the race it happened.  Is that something that -- will you guys try to look at those things, or is it something that you just kind of have to wait until it happens to you to try to figure out if there's some sort of glitch in the system?

DARIAN GRUBB:  I'll just say thanks for the tidbit.  We'll look at that when we get back.  I feel like we have a really good understanding and even the TRD guys, we had some issues here at the racetrack this weekend and they did a great job informing us what was going on so we knew what to look for in certain areas.  Hopefully those things won't come back to bite us.  I'm going to knock on some wood somewhere.  It is a new system.  You're always going to have the doubt in the back of your mind because it's not something you're comfortable with.

 
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Posted on: March 4, 2012 8:09 pm
 

Biffle, Harvick post Phoenix comments

Posted by Pete Pistone

Congratulations on a very strong run out there today, and you're second in points heading into Las Vegas.  You've got to have a good feeling about all of that.

GREG BIFFLE:  Yeah, I really do.  You know, I certainly would have thought we would have run better today than we did.  We fought the car really bad beginning of this race.  I guess the track is just a lot different than it was on Friday.  I don't care so much for this format of doing all of our practice on Friday when we get here.  I like to practice and qualify, and then Saturday we have happy hour.  We have two race practices to get ready for the race.

It's difficult coming into a green racetrack and doing all your race stuff in one day to get set up for the race and just qualify on Saturday.  It was challenging, and I missed it a little bit.  Matt never gave up on the car.  He kept adjusting on it, adjusting on it.  I never thought it would get that good.  I was in trouble.  I was ready to write that thing off for a 15th, 20th place finish, but boy, it started coming around, coming around, and really took off.

Certainly excited about how they got the car going.  But I got it off a little bit for today's race.  I probably was being a little aggressive.  Great third-place finish, you know.

Q.  I didn't catch your last pit stop.  Did you have any issues with fuel?

GREG BIFFLE:  I didn't.  We just made sure it was full, and then I started saving right from there when I could.  Lift a little bit early on the straightaways if I'm not catching the guy in front of me or whatever.  So I was saving.  And then as we got longer in the run, we got those few caution laps, so that helped us.  But there with about 20 to go, they were panicked to say the least.  I heard the panic in their voice.  He's like, they did an 860 behind you -- they did an 80, you did a 60.  They wanted me to slow down, slow down, slow down, and I felt like I had saved enough gas, so I kind of kept my rhythm about where I had it.

And then with four laps to go, he sounded desperate.  So I backed up a little bit more and started kind of drafting those lap cars.  And then they're like the 29 is running out, try and pass him, try and pass him.  I'm like, well, a little late for that, but yeah, I mean, you should have told me that a lap ago, I could have passed him.  So I missed him by, I don't know, 100 feet at the start finish line, and we've still got gas in the car.  I made the cool down lap and came back and still running and no flicker of fuel pressure, so I know I've at least still got one lap.  That being said, I could have probably easily caught the 29 since he ran out, but obviously not the 11.

Q.  Can you appreciate what Tony Stewart went through today?  Did you hear about him?  He shut it off to save fuel and the thing wouldn't come back.  Is this new technology something that's going to take a few races to work out?

GREG BIFFLE:  Yeah, you could have wrote the story writer to the season starting.  There's going to be growing pains with this system.  Some people are just going to go out, it hasn't even been hot yet.  Wait until it gets hot at racetracks like Indy and other places. I don't know how much heat these things are able to handle.  That may be an issue at some point.  Not starting, cam sensors not recognizing when you shut it off and you're not using the starter but you're using the clutch.  There's all kinds of technology when this -- if you cycle -- you can't cycle the battery switch because it'll go into boot mode and the ECU --

Q.  Is it your policy not to shut the engine off?

GREG BIFFLE:  No, I shut it off today coasting.  I've been testing this winter, so...

Q.  You finished third in a car that you said wasn't to your liking.  What kind of confidence does that give you when you do feel like your car is working on all cylinders?

GREG BIFFLE:  Well, certainly don't want to be greedy, but I thought myself or the 5 would have won the race today, honestly.  My car was just so good, and qualifying -- you know, I got high in 3 and 4 and was in that fuzz, and came back and I wasn't very fast crossing the white, and the second lap I come back and qualified seventh. I knew my car was just super fast.

But I went a little more aggressive on the front end than I -- I was a little nervous about it with the heat today and how warm it was, if what I was going to do was going to work out.  I was trying to keep the front end right on the track real good, and it slid the nose and shattered the front tire.  I fought that all day.  It would be loose in and then shatter the tire when I'd try to go to the gas, so I made a little bit of a mistake probably, but I guess we could have only been two spots better.  But Vegas I won't make that same mistake.

Q.  How do you feel this year compared to last year at this time when you got off to a slow start?

GREG BIFFLE:  I'm feeling really good.  I've got all new guys.  I've got guys working really hard on the car, crew chief and team, and a guy that's really, really smart paying attention to all the fine details, and that's Matt Puccia, and that's the reason why we got two third-place finishes is because of his leadership and his decision making on pit road on what to do to the car.  It's executed, he's thinking about it.  He makes the decisions he wants, and that's why we're sitting here now.

KERRY THARP:  Greg, thanks a lot, and we'll see you in Las Vegas.  Good run today.

Our race runner up at today's eighth annual Subway Fresh Fit 500 is Kevin Harvick, and he drove the No. 29 Rheem Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing.  Second-place finish today and Kevin is third in points, eight out of the first-place points leader.  Kevin, talk about -- I know you said there on pit road that you were proud of your team for gutting it out here today even though you ran just a little bit shy of Sunoco there at the end.

KEVIN HARVICK:  Yeah, when you come out of caution they tell you you're nine laps short, you really don't think there's any possibility to make it.  But a couple cautions and a little bit of saving and a little bit tighter crunch on the numbers, we wound up about a lap short.

But those are the types of things you've got to do to take the chances, and when you're close enough to at least coast around, they did a good job.  So we came here and struggled at the last race here and ran 25th, 30th all day and came back and raced for a win today.  So they've done a good job over the winter, and hopefully that continues over the next few weeks in the preparation that they've done through the winter.

Q.  I guess a key question is if you had not run out of gas, do you think you would have been able to pass Denny there at the end?

KEVIN HARVICK:  I don't think so.  Our cars were pretty evenly matched.  Really the whole second half of the race, he was a little bit better on the restarts and was able to kind of scoot by on the one restart there, I lost a couple spots, so that was our weak point of the day was the restarts.

We were able to match him, make up a little bit of ground, and just -- I don't know that there would have been enough time.

Q.  In trying to determine how much fuel you had left, how big of an issue was the new EFI system for your guys to try to calculate?

KEVIN HARVICK:  Well, with the EFI it didn't really -- really, you have kind of a little bit more of a cushion because the EFI kind of kept us running there at the end.  Basically what it does is knocks the engine down to just a minimum RPM, it's like a rev limiter and that's basically caution car speed there and that's as fast as it'll go.  But it will keep running.

It got us back to the start finish line, and it ran out coming off of Turn 2 after the checkered.  You can really be pretty aggressive because you don't have to worry about the things restarting.  It has an electric fuel pump if you have to come on pit road, so you can be a little bit more aggressive.

Q.  Kevin, were you aware of Tony Stewart's problem refiring his car, and have you had any issues with turning the engine off and refiring it when you're trying to save fuel?

KEVIN HARVICK:  I feel like we've done a good job preparing for a lot of these situations, not to say that something is not going to go wrong.  We went through fuel mileage, on-off switch.  We have a procedure that looks like a video game that the guys from ECR have come up with, from saving fuel to how to turn the engine on and off, if the engine won't refire, how to reset it.  So there's procedures that go with -- that guys at ECR have come up with on the McLaren system, and we've run across some of those problems but feel like we've fixed them, too.

Q.  I know there's always an issue when you practice on a cold track and then you race on a hot track, but with the new construction of this track and in the race yesterday, the guys decided not to put tires on because they were having a hard time with cold tires on the track, and I was wondering, how is it different for you racing yesterday and then racing today with the tires and the difference in temperature?

KEVIN HARVICK:  Well, we didn't end on four tires today, I can promise you that, after yesterday.  But our car was faster on two tires than it was on four tires.  Our weakness was still the restarts and getting grip, but we were better with restart grip on two tires than we were with four.  So the tracks -- whether it was cool or hot, it stayed pretty consistent, and for two races now I think it's put on pretty good shows.

Q.  You sounded so calm after the race was over on the radio.  Even though you finished second, it really seemed like a team-building situation for you and Shane and the guys.  You sounded like you really seemed to be on a quest to find the championship you've been looking for.

KEVIN HARVICK:  Well, this is obviously a group of guys that has been together for a while, and in the end, I have to help be that team leader to be able to keep the guys together, whether it's a good day or bad.  A lot of them may think it's a bad day, but obviously we all want to win, but in the end, finishing second and being in contention for race wins and having the speed in the car is really what you're looking for early in the year, and if you can knock out a couple wins, that's what you want to do.

It's definitely -- we have to build it one week at a time, and that confidence and that character that comes with winning or losing is part of it.

Q.  We had a race today where a group of guys led chunks of laps, you and then Kyle, the 48 and of course the 11 at the end.  What was behind all that?  Was there adjustments, car adjustments?  Did the track change?  What put different guys up front for such long stretches?

KEVIN HARVICK:  You know, I think some of it probably had to do with tire strategy, and when guys had to put four on they'd get shuffled back and when you put two on, you'd keep your track position up front.  You know, I think it was a group of cars that were probably the fastest cars all day and probably those are the ones that you're talking about.

Q.  Usually you've run toward the middle of the pack for most of the race and then you inch your way closer and then try to win at the end.  How did it feel today to have a dominant car for a majority of the day?  You were always up front.

KEVIN HARVICK:  Well, that's the way we'd like to do it.  We don't intentionally qualify in the middle of the pack, and I think qualifying helped us get our track position and keep our track position all day.  Shane called a good race, and we were able to keep ourselves up front.  I think a lot of that starts with qualifying.

  

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