Our series of weekly NASCAR driver interviews continues with Greg Biffle of Roush Fenway Racing. Biffle, who has won a Truck Series and Nationwide championship, is hoping the 2011 season ends his quest to become the first driver to win a championship in every series. He spoke with us at Darlington.
SBN: Who is the most underrated driver in NASCAR?
GB: Well, I mean, it's easy to say this now, but I thought a guy who was kind of underrated was Paul Menard. But now, he's up there in the points and he's run good the whole season, so...
SBN: But you were on the Menard bandwagon earlier?
GB: I was on the bandwagon before. He probably would have been one of my answers before that. And also, I think David Reutimann is underrated. He's won a race and has been in the sport for six or seven years now, but he doesn't quite get the press that the 11, the 14 and the 99 get.
SBN: What's one race you feel you should have won that you didn't? Any that still bug you?
GB: Well, there's two things that come to mind on that. Probably the first one that comes to mind was the loose wheel at Texas in '05.
SBN: Oh yeah. The one that cost you in the Chase.
GB: Yeah. I wouldn't have won that race, but we were running third and had a loose wheel – and it cost me the title. So I lost the '05 championship because of a loose wheel. That probably is the first thing I think of when 'missed opportunities' comes up in anything. No matter what sport, no matter what event – even fishing – I think of that first.
As for the races, there are so many you could put your thumb on. But probably the most recent that's sort of a thorn in my side was Texas last year. I led (224) laps and the shift linkage broke and Denny Hamlin won it – and it was a Chase race.
SBN: Oh, OK. How does the shift linkage break?
GB: A vibration. Our gear and tranny vibration that we couldn't fix for four years. It finally broke a shifter and cost us a race. So then we tried to fix it.
SBN: Aside from your current teammates, who would you like to team up with in a four-car organization?
GB: (Looks out hauler door and stares into garage for a few seconds) One that comes to mind who has a lot of experience – that probably wouldn't be the first guy you'd think of – is Jeff Burton. I'm thinking (because of) overall helping the organization, real level-headed, keeping the wheels on track – because you know how easy it can get off at organizations.
He's been a teammate in the past, and it seems like he helps (Richard Childress Racing) a lot. He's some of the glue to that organization, keeping some people grounded and trying to get their stuff better. Jeff was real, real good at organizing things and sitting down and analyzing things (when he was at Roush). So he would be one.
I would also probably say Denny Hamlin. You could pick Denny, Jeff Gordon, the 48 – any of those three, probably, to get information. I like picking a guy who's got the best setup, the best data, the best information.
This is kind of a hypothetical question – does this mean I'm getting Hendrick's information and Gibbs' information? Are you talking the whole team?
SBN: Sure, whatever you want it to be.
GB: As far as that goes, there's about two or three guys that could be that third guy then.
SBN: So you're going for information and organizational stability over friendships though, it sounds like.
GB: Yeah, well...what's important to me is running good and winning championships. I didn't go for how good the guy runs. I picked Jeff because he's a good guy behind the wheel, would bring information, would not be detrimental to an organization – and Denny Hamlin would be the same. The last pick could be about three or four guys, definitely.
SBN: What driver did you want to be like when you were growing up?
GB: Well, I didn't think of who I wanted to be like; but I was a race fan, and there were basically three guys I watched: Ernie Irvan, Mark Martin and Dale Earnhardt.
I didn't have one who was like my diehard guy. I liked 'em all. The funny thing was, my crew chief who worked with me on my race team forever was a diehard Earnhardt fan. He had an Earnhardt tool box and all that. So I'd give him a lot of shit about, 'Earnhardt's this and that.' But I actually really liked Earnhardt. (My buddy and I) just had a little rivalry, so sometimes I pretended I didn't.
SBN: Tell me about a memorable post-race escape you've made from a track to get to the airport.
GB: Oooh. Well, I remember a failed post-race escape I tried to make from Pocono one time. If you come out of Turn 1, you turn out and immediately turn to the left, and there's a gravel road that goes around the outside of the track and goes through the woods and comes out on the road right down by this bridge.
So we're goin' through mud holes probably two feet deep with water, the grass is like three feet high on the road. And I'm like, 'Where are we going?!' The rental car is going to get stuck. I'm like, 'This is not looking good!'
There were a couple other cars on the same route. Supposedly, everyone knew the hot tip that the gate at the end of this road was going to be unlocked. Well, we got down there and the gate was locked.
So by the time we came all the way back to the track, we thought we didn't have time to go the normal way. So we tried the main exit. And we were behind every car there. Like, we were the last people. We should have just stopped and borrowed somebody's barbecue.
SBN: Geez. Was anyone waiting on you, or was it your plane?
GB: It was my plane, yeah.
SBN: So at least you weren't holding anybody up, I guess.
GB: I wasn't holding up anybody but myself! (laughs)
SBN: Who is somebody famous that you'd like to meet who you haven't met yet?
GB: Well, I'm a big UFC fighting fan. I love watching UFC fights. And there's a bunch of actors and different people I'd like to meet. I'd love to go to Jay Leno's garage and bullshit with him about cars for about an hour. That's right at the top of my list.
But I'd just love to go hang out and meet some of the UFC guys. Forrest Griffin, guys like that. They're pretty spectacular.
SBN: That's cool. The NASCAR schedule probably conflicts with the UFC fights, but have you ever gone?
GB: I've never been. I had an opportunity one time to go – it was our off week and the fight was in Vegas. You know, the wife wanted to do something and I was like, 'Shit...I'd be in the doghouse forever if I went all the way out there.'
And the reality is, the event is probably better on TV – and I know that. There are some sporting events where you get a better view on TV. Even if you have courtside seats (at a basketball game), you're going to get a better view on TV because they have such good cameras.
So I could probably go if I hunted out when one was closer, but I really enjoy just watching them on TV.
SBN: Last year, there were two types of seasons: Jamie McMurray won a few huge races but didn't make the Chase; Jeff Gordon contended for the title but didn't win any races. Which would you rather have?
GB: Well, you can't replace winning. Winning is everything. We benchmark ourselves in this sport by who won last and how many wins you have. Those are memorable things.
On the other hand, I'll contradict myself and say that running good everywhere and being able to overcome adversity – that's what teams like Gordon's and ours are capable of doing. Taking a bucket of shit and having it turn out to be just kind of medium, those are the teams that are championship-caliber and quality. A guy who gets it right every once in awhile is not a championship-caliber guy.
So winning is super important...but to me, making the Chase is more important. I guess I'd have to say I'd take making the Chase over winning.
The 12 guys who make the Chase are the icons of our sport. They're on the poster, they're the top of the top. They go to New York, they go to Las Vegas, they're part of the banquet. They're the talked-about group.
Of course, if I'm not going to make the Chase, I'd rather finish 22nd in points with two wins than 13th with no wins.
SBN: So my next question --
GB: Let me just add one thing.
SBN: Alright, go for it.
GB: The deal about, 'Oh, he should go for wins instead of points,' people make too much out of that. Everybody is here to try and win. I saw something the other day that said Jeff Gordon should just go for wins (to get the wild card). Well, that's what he's doing every time he shows up!
SBN: But at some point, going for the wild card, wouldn't you maybe try to stay out on fuel and gamble if you need a win – something you wouldn't do if you were points racing?
GB: But you're always going to try to do that, though. If you think it's going to work or you have the fuel to make it work? If you think you can make it, you're going to do it; if you don't think you can make it, you're not going to do it. You know?
Now, you're right – if it's an unknown and it's a gamble, you may try it. But how many opportunities do you really have like that per year? Trust me, when that rag drops, he is dedicated to winning this race just as much as all the other guys. And, by the way, you get the most points if you win – so if you're actually points racing, you'd try to win.
Anyway, winning is important. But you could say, 'The guy who wins gets no bonus points and gets half the purse he does now,' and the same guys are still going to win. All we want to do is win. All of us.
SBN: That's interesting. That actually leads me to my next question: Where does your motivation to win come from?
GB: I think it's everything. When I look at winning, I look at how hard this team works. How hard these guys work, how hard the guys in the shop work, how hard the engine shop works. I take pride in seeing those guys happy.
Another one is the sponsor. I'm good friends with all the sponsor people, but that's why they're in the sport – they want to be in the spotlight and they want to win. So when you win, it's great that you won for them.
Another reason it's great is because of the points. You've got bonus points and you got the most points for that race. Then you've got the star power – you're on TV, they're talking about you, you've got the trophy. And then the bottom of the list is the economics – that's how we make our living. We get paid based on where we finish.
It's like 40 or 50 percent of our pay is based on performance. So economically, that's good for you, too.
SBN: So at what point after you win a race does the money enter your mind?
GB: It really doesn't at first. Maybe when you're on your way home. The next day, the next week, you've got a spunk in your step. Everything is great: 'I won some money, I did the best I could for that week.' Everything you think about is good. There's not one bad thing!
The team guys are happy, the company is buying them lunch, Sprint is buying them lunch. You've got all this media stuff to do. The sponsors congratulate you and all this stuff. Every part about winning is really neat.
SBN: How different is your personality from inside the car and from standing right here talking?
GB: Well, the thing about it is there's a lot of adrenaline inside the car. It's like you're in a fight. When you're in a fight, you're in a different mental state, right? Someone else can stand back and watch it and be calm, but when you're inside the car, you're fighting for your job, your life, all that. So it's like being in a physical fight with somebody.
You're emotionally attached, adrenaline is running constantly inside there. Then, when the caution is out, you can be calm. But when it's hot, it's physically demanding, things aren't going well, stuff's pissing you off to no end, some guy is sitting there pecking at you and aggravating you, it's hostile.
Some people sit back and go, 'Come on – it's just a sport. It's just a game. You don't have to get so upset.' But it's our life. The people on the grandstands and the people watching on TV are watching for entertainment; well, we're not doing it for entertainment. This is our livelihood.
SBN: That's a good analogy. I haven't really heard that before.
GB: I have another analogy that makes people think about it differently. We work all the time – we practice, we do media interviews, we constantly do appearances, we're testing and all this. But think about this: We only get graded 36 times a year on what we do.
Take you for instance. Let's say the company you work for says, 'We're going to pay you based on 36 articles you write per year.' You're graded on it – not only financially, but people are looking at what kind of job you did based on those 36 times. That's it.
Now, let's say you're running by and I stuck my foot out and tripped you. Suddenly, this one is shit. OK? You just lost 1/36th of your pay – even though you're working year-round for it.
So that's kind of what it's like. We only have 36 chances, and how well we do dictates where you end up in this sport. When somebody messes with one of those chances, it can set you off. When you think about it that way for a second, there's a whole shitload of emphasis on each one of those things.
Practice, qualifying, all that shit? Nothing matters. Testing? Doesn't matter. All that matters is where you go across that stripe when the checkered flag waves. That's how you measure our success.
All we have to grade by is: How many races did you win? How many top-fives? Where'd you finish in points? And the way that grade is set is by the checkered flag of the race. So you can tell how emotional it can get during that one event.
SBN: Wow. I think you just blew my mind.
GB: Yeah. I mean, think about it for a second. Imagine if you were only graded on the article you write after the race, and everything was based on that?
SBN: I'd rather not. Let me ask you this: If you could switch lives with an athlete from another sport, who would you want to switch with?
GB: Man, that's a good question – I've never really thought about that. A couple things come to mind: Real famous boxers and things like that, but I wouldn't want to get my ass kicked every week.
SBN: So you like UFC, you just wouldn't want to be in it?
GB: (laughs) Yeah, the glory's nice, but I'm not sure it'd be worth getting your ass whooped all the time. And the training, think about that.
You know, there's been some pretty famous baseball and football players I wouldn't mind being, but one guy who was really on top of the game, nobody could beat him and he made a shitload of money is Tiger Woods.
Unfortunately, I probably couldn't pick him because of the turn of events over the last year. He's made headlines for the wrong reasons lately. So that would probably be a bad pick for me. (Crew chief Greg Erwin overhears and yells out, 'Your wife probably wouldn't like that!') But as far as just his sport and what he accomplished, and the influence he had in the sport, that'd probably be a guy I'd pick. But I should probably pick someone for charitable and humanitarian reasons.
SBN: Sure, but you could have Tiger's talent and then be charitable and all that after you took over his life. Best of both worlds!
GB: Right! Well, it's a little tainted now though. (laughs) If I could start like two years ago, then maybe I'd make the switch. Peyton Manning wouldn't be a bad choice though. Richard Petty, too.
SBN: Someday when you hang up your firesuit for the last time, what do you want your retirement story to say about you?
GB: Hopefully it would be, 'Won a championship in all three series.' That would be the top of it. Then it would be: Honest, great driver, accomplished a lot of things in our sport. I would want guys to say, 'Man, he could really drive a race car. He was a great wheelman. He was a genuine guy. He wasn't an asshole. He didn't cheat people and he was a man of his word.' Which I am.
To win a championship in all the divisions would be kind of the storybook NASCAR deal. I started a little bit older than most. Local championships, NASCAR local racing series, Winter Heat, Trucks, Nationwide, Cup. It really would be cool. That would be a complete career, if nothing else happened.
That loose wheel in '05, you know? But we're capable of it this year. I'm OK with being the underdog a little bit. I'm not the guy standing over there with a bunch of cameras in the back of the trailer. I know we're capable of winning at Dover and a lot of other places.
A lot of people probably don't put us at the top of their lists, but we've got the capability of winning the championship. We could show up and look like jackasses again too, though.
SBN: This question is a little delicate, so I try to ask it...
SBN: Exactly. Toward the end. Anyway, if you had the opportunity to take a year away from NASCAR and come back knowing you had a job guaranteed – sort of like Brian Vickers' situation but without the health issues – would you do it?
GB: Well, I think anybody would be intrigued by taking a year off and being able to do what you want. But the thing you've got to ask yourself is: Are you going to be competitive when you come back? Are you going to lose your edge? How long is it going to take you to get back into the swing of it? That would be my concern.
Let's say you could come back and perform just like you did before you left – right on the button and not miss a beat – then sure! I mean, it'd be fun, right? If you got an opportunity where you were financially OK and you could come back still at the top of your game...then yeah.
The thing I liked the most was the Truck series. Now, granted, there's a whole big financial difference between the Trucks and the Cup Series. And media, too. But the Trucks race two weeks and have two weeks off; run a couple races and have three weeks off. That's perfect. You can still go do other stuff.
To be perfectly honest with you, that will be the reason why, someday, I decide to hang my helmet up. Because you just don't have enough time (in Cup) to do other things. You can't really do both. You can't stay in this game and focus and be competitive and then go on vacation from Darlington to Dover. You could go to the Virgin Islands every once in awhile, maybe, but not often. It's just not possible.
At some point, when I say, 'I want to spend more time with my family' or 'I want do to some things before I'm do old to do them,' that would be the thing.
SBN: Let's say you're going to win the championship this year. Would you rather have it clinched before Homestead, or would you rather win it on Turn 4 of the last lap of the season?
GB: OK, so for the record book and all the media, I'd want last lap, Turn 4. But me personally, so I could sleep at night, I'd like to have it wrapped up with two or three races to go.
People ask that: 'Would you rather win a race by six seconds or win it off Turn 4?' For the people watching on TV and everything, I'd say Turn 4. But for me, I'd rather have a seven-second lead. Because then I'm relaxed, calm, just hit your marks. That's the easiest, right? So it's kind of a dual answer.
SBN: Well, thanks for all your time today. Some awesome answers.
GB: Hey, I'm just trying to sell as many hats and T-shirts as the 17 and the 99! (Laughs) Put that in there.