With a timely pit stop, rookie Greg Biff le stole the Pepsi 400 at Daytona for his first Winston Cup win
Six-and-a-half years ago, on a hot December afternoon in the Arizona desert, Benny Parsons was walking through the garage area at Tucson Raceway when he met a young driver, named Greg Biffle, who was competing in the Winter Heat series. The two chatted—Biffle told Parsons, a former Winston Cup champion, that he built race cars for a living and got into racing himself by zipping around short tracks in his hometown of Vancouver, Wash.—and then they parted. Parsons never expected to speak to Biffle again, but then he saw the youngster get behind the wheel and dust the field. Oh, my, thought Parsons. Biffle had his racing rabbi. "It was like a professional playing with amateurs," recalled Parsons.
Parsons alerted owner Jack Roush to Biffle's talents, telling Roush that the kid had as much potential as any driver he'd seen in 40 years. Roush signed Biffle in 1998 to drive for him in the Craftsman Truck Series, but it wasn't until last Saturday night under the lights at Daytona that Parsons' vision came to fruition.
Thanks to a key pit stop on Lap 120 of the Pepsi 400 in which he topped off his tank during a caution, allowing him to finish the race without pitting again, the 33-year-old Biffle took the checkered flag. Though the victory was his first in Winston Cup—he's also the first rookie to post a W this season—Biffle is hardly a stranger to Victory Lane. He won the 2000 Craftsman Truck Series championship and the '02 Busch Series season title.
"People from the West Coast don't get that many opportunities," said Biffle, the first Washingtonian to win a Winston Cup race since Derrike Cope took the checkered flag at Daytona in 1990. " Benny Parsons really did a lot for me by talking to Jack."
Before Saturday, Biffle had only one top 15 finish and was 25th in points, but his unlikely win propelled him to the top of the rookie standings. (He holds a 59-point lead over Jamie McMurray.) NASCAR's rookie class of 2003 isn't nearly as impressive as last year's, which featured Jimmie Johnson and Ryan Newman, who between them won four races and finished fifth and sixth, respectively, in the points standings. Still, on Saturday night Biffle accomplished something that no other rookie had since Mario Andretti in 1967: He won at Daytona.
Waltrip Hits His Stride
The computer screen glowed in the dark Michael Waltrip was not surprised by what it revealed. "My name is at the top for a reason," said Waltrip as he sat in his motor home last Thursday at Daytona and pointed to a list of the fastest practice laps for the Pepsi 400. "I know how to draft as well as anybody and use the air as well as anybody. If you give me a fast car, which is what I have, I'll beat you."
Well, not every time. Though Waltrip ran at or near the lead for most of last Saturday night's race, a gamble in fuel strategy backfired, forcing him to make a late-race pit stop under green and dropping him to an 11th-place finish. Still, Waltrip's solid run—and prerace confidence—further underscored the fact that, at age 40, the kid brother of NASCAR legend Darrell Waltrip has established himself as a championship-caliber driver. How improbable is this? Just 2� years ago Waltrip hadn't won a race in 462 career starts. Now he's fifth in the standings and has had four top five finishes this year, including a win at the Daytona 500.
Says veteran NASCAR driver Sterling Marlin, "Confidence is so important in this sport. Michael has it now where he didn't have it before. It's obvious in the way he drives."