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Archive for Monday, February 9, 2004

Biffle shocks field at Daytona 500

Second-year driver snares pole, repeating success he had at Florida track at last year’s Pepsi 400

February 9, 2004

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— Like everybody else, Greg Biffle didn't expect his Roush Racing Ford to be on the pole for the Daytona 500.

"I was sweating it out, and I'm still half sick to my stomach," Biffle said Sunday after a nerve-racking wait of nearly an hour while a succession of NASCAR Nextel Cup stars took a shot at knocking the second-year driver off the pole.

Nobody could.

After winning the Pepsi 400 here in July -- the only rookie in NASCAR's top stock car series to win a race in 2003 -- the former Busch Series and Craftsman Truck Series champion pulled another surprise Sunday.

His name rarely came up in the prequalifying hype

"I would have never thought we'd be on the pole for the 500, but I'm excited," said Biffle, who earned his first pole in 43 tries in NASCAR's top stock car series.

Asked what it is that brings out his best at Daytona International Speedway, Biffle credited established series stars and former Daytona 500 winners Michael Waltrip and Dale Jarrett, as well as Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Bobby Labonte for showing him how it's done.

"I've just learned a lot from all those guys and tried to apply it," Biffle said. "But anybody will tell you, the driver means nothing here. It's the team."

Biffle's fast lap of 188.387 mph was just good enough to push Robert Yates Racing's Elliott Sadler's 188.355 to the outside of the front row in Sunday's Nextel Cup season-opener. Biffle got around the track in 47.774 seconds, just 0.008 seconds faster than Sadler.

A strong headwind on the backstretch of the famed 21/2-mile oval -- with gusts to 20 mph -- played havoc with just about everybody's expectations in qualifying.

It also put a premium on engine power, playing right into the hands of Biffle, Sadler and the rest of the drivers using engines produced by the 21/2-month-old alliance of longtime Ford competitors Roush and Yates.

"We've been taking things apart and seeing how they work and just putting the best of both together," said team owner Jack Roush, who won last year's Cup championship with Matt Kenseth.

The result has been a big jump in power, and drivers using the Roush-Yates engines qualified in four of the top five positions Sunday.

"The Taurus is a much improved car over what it was last year, we've got a great engine program going and Greg did a great job with the car," Roush added.

Earnhardt, the favorite in every event he enters at Daytona these days, missed the front row with his lap of 188.210 and will determine his starting spot in Sunday's 43-car field by racing in one of Thursday's twin 125-mile qualifying events.

"We just weren't fast enough," said Earnhardt, who finished second to Jarrett in Saturday night's made-for-TV Budweiser Shootout on the same track. "We're going to go out and try to win our 125-miler, like we did last year."

Sadler, who was fastest in Friday's practice, sat on the pole for about an hour until Biffle relegated his Ford to the outside of the front row.

"Our car is fast, but the wind just killed us," Sadler said.

Ricky Rudd was fourth at 188.162, followed by Jarrett at 187.884.

All but Earnhardt, who drives a Chevrolet for Dale Earnhardt Inc., were in Fords -- cars with improved front and rear end aerodynamics and powered by the Roush-Yates engines.

Jarrett also drives for Yates. Rudd drives for the Wood Brothers, who get technical help from Roush and buy engines from his team.

Two-time Daytona 500 winner Sterling Marlin was one of the disappointed drivers who thought he had a shot at the pole but wound up 12th.

The top 10 Sunday was rounded out by Kevin Lepage at 187.876, surprising 23-year-old rookie Kasey Kahne -- replacing longtime Cup star and former champion Bill Elliott -- at 187.766, Joe Nemechek at 187.750, Casey Mears at 187.672 and Kevin Harvick at 187.602.

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