Ambitious plans fuel local NASCAR driver in second season

When Greg Biffle says he just loves racing, he means it.

Biffle will be one of three NASCAR drivers, and easily the most prominent, to contest the championship in both the Nextel Cup and Busch Grand National series. He wanted to do it. His publicist calls him 'the Ironman.'

As if racing twice nearly every weekend for 37 weeks weren't enough for the 34-year-old Vancouver, Wash., native, Biffle also wants to start building race cars again in his spare time. After all, he earned his reputation at Portland Speedway not only because he was a dynamo on the track but because he was a great car builder for many drivers in the old Speedway pits.

'Racing's in my blood,' he says. 'I'd like to do it, because I enjoy fiddling with racing.'

First up, though, Biffle has a special date Sunday at Daytona International Speedway. The second-year Cup driver for Roush Racing will start first in NASCAR's grandest race, the Daytona 500, after grabbing the pole last weekend. He surprised even himself with his fast lap of 188.387 miles per hour for his first pole in 43 tries. In testing at Daytona, he had been 17th.

'Once we got here, got the car loaded and did a run É damn, it was hauling ass,' he says. 'It was dynamite. Awesome.'

As far as the race Sunday, Biffle likes his chances. He's done well on superspeedways in the past Ñ he won at Daytona last July Ñ but the Daytona 500 'can be as boring as can be or we'll be three-wide with the adrenaline overboard.'

Big dreams this year

Biffle has much higher hopes than last year, when his crew started the season way behind more established teams. When other teams had 10 cars in their garages, Biffle had three and not much clue about how to qualify or win. It took him half the 2003 season to step up his competitiveness. Then Biffle pulled off the Daytona win and finished with three top-five finishes and six top-10s.

He earned $2,410,053 and took second in Cup rookie points behind Jamie McMurray.

This year, Biffle has new backing in the National Guard, Subway, Jackson Hewitt and Travelodge, and a one-year deal with Charter Communications to sponsor his Busch car.

Grainger, which had supported him since his NASCAR national debut in 1998 in Craftsman Trucks, agreed to drop its backing a year early. But in Nextel Cup these days, sponsors wait in line to put their names on the side of cars Ñ you think the National Guard wouldn't stand and salute Biffle for being on the pole in front of millions of viewers on Sunday?

The Roush team has also been in cahoots with Robert Yates Racing in developing engines, and four of the top five drivers in Daytona qualifying sported Roush-Yates engines.

'Eighty percent of this racing is the engine,' Biffle says, 'and we've really ramped up on power.'

In addition, engineers have developed new nose and tail pieces for the Ford Taurus, which Biffle drives. Despite his pole, Biffle says it'll take time for the new Taurus to be consistently good.

But Biffle eyes the Nextel championship, no doubt about it. He doesn't envision himself being in the top five in points, but NASCAR's new point system seeds the top 10 drivers in points with 10 races to go. Biffle sees himself being in the top 10.

'I don't know if we're a championship contender yet, but we're darn close,' he says. 'I think we're capable of doing it. But it's a long shot. The only shot we have is with the new points system. We still have some homework to do.'

He has brought in Roger Ueltschi, from Ridgefield, Wash., to work with Roush Racing and wants to have him start building race cars. 'Without Roger, (my success) could have never happened,' Biffle says.

None of Biffle's family will be at Daytona this weekend. His father, Jack, is in Mexico. His mother, Sally, and brother, Jeff, are in Vancouver working at the family construction company. The only family member in attendance will be his girlfriend of six years, Nicole Lunders.

'Nobody is down here this year,' Biffle says, 'and here I go and win the pole.'

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