Greg Biffle was bitterly disappointed to finish third in last year's Brickyard 400. He'd be thrilled with the same result Sunday.
"We'd be jumping and waving our arms," Biffle explained. "That's the difference between a year ago and now."
Biffle doesn't have a top-three this Sprint Cup season. He has one top-five (a fourth at Texas) and only four more top-10s. It's the reason Greg Erwin, his crew chief on the No. 16 Ford at Roush Fenway Racing since May 2007, was fired two weeks ago following a 21st-place finish at Kentucky.
Biffle thanked Erwin for his help in guiding the team into the Chase the past three seasons, but team owner Jack Roush and general manager Robbie Reiser agreed with him that a shakeup was required to make the Chase this year. Matt Puccia replaced Erwin at New Hampshire. Biffle finished 18th and lost another position in the points, falling to 15th.
MARTIN: Race to make the Chase puts crew chiefs like Erwin on shorter leash than ever
"It was obvious that the direction we were going we weren't going to make the Chase," Biffle said. "But maybe Matt can make enough difference or his voice will be heard that we've got to do something. The urgency is now to do something and he's down there working on those cars until 7 or 8 o'clock at night trying to make the difference. Matt will get done anything in his power to make us the most competitive. Our engines have great power. Our cars are good and fast."
Seven races remain in the regular season. It's possible for Biffle to overcome a lackluster year and turn it into a success by making the Chase. He probably needs a win, and positively needs a string of top-fives. The 400 miles at Indianapolis provides an opportunity for both.
Last year, Biffle led 38 laps in a Brickyard race dominated by Juan Pablo Montoya. He was running second when a late caution came out. Biffle followed Montoya into the pit lane and, like Montoya, took four tires. The next six cars took two and Montoya and Biffle lined up behind them for the restart. Montoya crashed trying to get back to the front, and Biffle finished third behind winner Jamie McMurray, who had taken two tires.
Biffle wasn't happy with Erwin's call to take four tires. He figured the Brickyard, the biggest win of his career, was his. Montoya thought the same thing, of course, and he wouldn't have had to take the risks that caused him to crash if he'd returned to the track in the lead. But Biffle can make the case that he might have gotten Montoya on the restart and won the race. He was convinced the four-tire stop took the race away.
"We would have pulled it off. We would have won that race if we would have put two tires on and that's just as simple as it gets," Biffle said. "Woulda, shoulda, coulda."
Biffle has been good at Indy in the past three races. He was fourth in 2009 and eighth in 2008, the year of the great tire debacle, when cars could race in only 10-lap segments before competition cautions were ordered by NASCAR to prevent tires from exploding. It made it almost impossible to pass at a track that is difficult to overtake anyway.
Goodyear made an all-out effort to build a tire that the drivers could race with for 2009 and the rubber has remained almost unchanged since then. It's one reason Montoya has been so fast in back-to-back years and it works to Biffle's advantage too. If you had a fast car the past two years at Indy, it should be fast Sunday.
"They had a lot of success with what they had [set up] last year," Puccia said. "We look at that and look at the changes that they made last year and what affected what. The tire we are bringing back is pretty close to what we had last year. It's going to correlate a lot to what they ran last year, and set-up wise it is what we were in last year. Greg has run some laps there already this year with his tire in the Goodyear test. We have a lot of data to look back on and took all that into consideration and came up with a good game plan for this weekend."
Here it is: Qualify up front, run fast, stay up front, don't make mistakes in the pits and know when to take two tires.
"You have to qualify good and have good track position," Puccia said. "Your changes during the race have to be well-thought out and well-delivered. You have to keep up with the racetrack because you aren't going to get a whole lot of chances to work on the car."
Biffle had some promising runs this season ruined when the races became fuel mileage ones. New Hampshire was a good example.
"We really played our hand the way we should have but, unfortunately, the way it was dealt put us in a box with our fuel economy," Biffle said. "That resulted in an 18th-place finish."
Biffle doesn't figure the pit strategy will always work against them like it has too frequently this year.
"It's a real frustration because we feel like we can win every time we show up," he said. "It's just that we haven't gotten the opportunity or had the cards dealt to us the way they need to. And that's what makes it even more painful -- we know we're one win away from jumping up three or four spots in the points and being there for the wild card. We've got fast race cars. We've got a competitive team.
"Unfortunately, what it's come down to is fuel mileage. But one of these days a caution is gonna come out with 25 or 40 to go and it's not gonna be a fuel mileage race and then we're gonna be there."
The Brickyard could be that place.
"We feel like we're capable of winning it," Biffle said. "We kind of proved that last year and we feel like we're coming back with even a better car. I certainly think we can win the race. I feel good about it."