In this edition of “First Seasons,” Speedway Media catches up with former NASCAR driver Greg Biffle. During the interview, Biffle discusses how he entered the sport, getting to race for Jack Roush and meeting Roush for the first time. We also spoke about his first race win at Memphis along with many other memories throughout his career.
SM: You made your debut racing in the NASCAR Truck Series at the age of 28 driving for Jack Roush. Can you talk about what it was like making your debut during that age, which at the time was considered fairly late, and why the Truck Series?
GB: “Growing up in the Northwest racing out there, people always questioned me how did I get into NASCAR from Washington,” Biffle said. “It took a while because that’s not where a lot of drivers come from with a racing background. I started late too, as I didn’t start racing Street Stocks at the age of 16. I just didn’t have the opportunity to race quarter midget, go-karts, or bandoleros. My progression in a late model touring car series, I was 22 or 23-years-old up to that point. I was looking for the opportunity to get to the next level.”
“There were these races in the wintertime in Tucson, Arizona for the Winter Heat Series. At that time, I got to know Benny Parsons who at the time was a commentator for ESPN. He was actually the one who got me hooked up with Jack Roush. The Truck Series was just starting in that era. The opportunity kind of presented itself, I asked Benny how do I get an opportunity in the Winston West Series or in a Truck? He said, ‘I’ll pass your name and see what I can do.’
“Afterward, Geoff Smith called me (President of Roush Racing) out of the blue. He asked me if I wanted to race trucks for Jack Roush. I didn’t hesitate at all. It was like winning the lottery.”
SM: I know it’s been several years ago, but can you remember the first conservation you had with Jack about making your NASCAR debut? When was your first interaction with Jack?
GB: “So the first time I met Jack was when I went back to meet the sponsor (Grainger),” he said. “I flew to Michigan and flew on his small plane. It was me, Geoff Smith and a few PR people. That was the first time I met Jack.”
SM: Following up on that question, you spent three years racing in the Truck Series before moving up to the Busch Series in 2001 and 2002 and then going to Cup full-time in 2003. Was that always the plan between you and Jack to eventually go Cup racing someday and did you ever think it would happen so quickly?
GB: “It was obviously my plan, but really the plan was performanced-based I would say,” Biffle said about moving up the ladder. “If you’re successful, it’s like any other sport. If you win races, championships, you’re going to move to the next level. You’re going to get that opportunity at some point. That’s how it worked for me. We were successful in the Truck Series and moved to the Busch Series in ‘01, and then went to Cup.”
SM: Eventually, your first Truck race came at Disney where you started 20th and finished fifth. What do you remember about the weeks leading up to your debut? Were you anxious or nervous or were you more excited to get out there and race?
GB: “I was super nervous,” he said. “I remember going there my first time because I didn’t know what to expect. We had done some testing to that point. I didn’t have a lot of experience, but it was a big deal.”
SM: In your first outing at Disney, you started 20th and finished fifth. Were you satisfied with your first result in the Truck Series?
GB: “Oh absolutely,’’ the former Roush Racing driver said. “When you’re young, I was super excited about fifth. There again though, you want to win. Sometimes, when you’re in the moment, you don’t appreciate it until years later. I do remember this and thinking when I raced the first few races after my debut, there’s no way I’m going to beat these guys and compete with them because you’re getting all you can out of your truck.”
“I knew they were so much faster and I knew there was just no way I’m going to compete with these guys. When I moved to the Busch Series, I was like ‘okay, I won 17 races and a Truck title, I’m going to come in here and do well. It’s the same thing as the Truck Series. There were like 10 cars that were winning every week. The progression each time was more time when I moved up the ladder. I just didn’t think when I came in, I was going to win that series. Definitely, a humbling experience a few races later.”
SM: Following Disney, you sat on the pole at Portland and then won the pole three consecutive times from Memphis through Martinsville. However, along the way, you had some disappointing finishes at Phoenix with a crash, transmission problems at Watkins Glen, two more crashes at Texas and Nazareth. Even though you were competitive but had some of those issues, did you ever still feel there was some sort of learning curve throughout your rookie season, or did you start to get comfortable learning the truck?
GB: “I felt there was always a learning curve, I really did,” Biffle said. “Up to that point, I had a lot of chassis experience and I built cars for a long time. I was more hands-on in the Truck Series and we tested on many short tracks. We developed a front suspension package in the ‘98 season and got the truck more drivable and got the truck more competitive. I don’t think what we had in ‘98 was the best to win races. We should have won a couple, but it didn’t go that way.”
“We ended up doing two tires instead of four on a pit stop and our tires were worn out. It was just a mistake on our part. My crew chief (Randy Goss) didn’t have a lot of experience either since it was his first time. At the same time, the Truck Series didn’t do live pit stops like they do nowadays. Everything was new to Goss. I remember Andy Houston winning that specific race, but he had a Cup crew chief and they put four tires on and beat us on the last lap. We eventually got it figured out for the ‘99 season.”
SM: While you didn’t win in your rookie season, you would set the world on fire in ‘99 by winning nine races that year. In regard to your nine wins, I want to talk about your first win that came at Memphis. You qualified on the pole and finished first after leading 74 of 200 laps. What does that victory still mean to you to this day and have you ever had a chance to rewatch that race?
GB: “You know, I haven’t watched that race back as of late, but I should,” he said about winning Memphis. “(Winning that race) meant the world to me. We had been so close so many times. To finally win one, it changes your confidence dramatically. After we won three more, I looked at winning and we had so much confidence. When I’m looking at the next races, I think how can we not win here? We nearly won everywhere in ‘99.”
SM: You came close to winning the title in 1999, but ended up just short of that title before winning it in 2000 by defeating Kurt Busch. What kept you from winning the title in ‘99?
GB: “I think it goes a bit under the radar of what happened that season,” Biffle said about not winning the championship in ‘99. Our first race at Disney World Speedway, we brought an intake manifold. I remember the NASCAR official comes over and looks at the manifold and does all of his checking and this was a mile and a half manifold. The manifold made an additional four more horsepower. He approved the intake manifold and we ran it at that race.”
“We win at Las Vegas with three races to go and it’s our ninth win of the season. Obviously, we’re under the radar for being so successful that year. We win and celebrate and we’re getting ready to load our stuff up and they’re having this big meeting in the NASCAR trailer and the manifold is in question all of a sudden because it doesn’t match the gasket. They said it had to match the shape of the gasket, so it was a technicality of the rules.
“(NASCAR) ended up disqualifying us for the manifold, which they had done tech on throughout the season. I happened to be standing in the truck when the official came and looked at it. When they asked that guy in Las Vegas if he had approved this manifold and he wasn’t sure if he had seen that specific part before. I’m telling you what, Jack Roush had never won any NASCAR titles ever and he wanted every crew member, NASCAR official to take a lie detector test because we were getting the short hand of the deal. As a result, they took 120 points away from us and I lost the championship by eight points three races later.”
SM: While you didn’t win the championship in ‘99, you finally won the championship in 2000 after winning five races that year. What was it like winning your first championship and was it sort of a relief to win the title before moving to the Busch Series in ‘01? Did winning the title help your move to the Busch Series?
GB: “Yes, (winning the title) was definitely a relief,” the two-time champion said. “That year was so fulfilling, especially after the controversy in ‘99. Kurt had some of the exact same setups as we did, so we split up some of the wins in 2000. It was so nice to win that title because that was Jack’s first title in any series. I knew I was going Busch racing at the start of that season, so that was sort of my only opportunity to win the Truck title that year.”
SM: When you look back on your early NASCAR days, what are some of your fondest memories of entering the sport?
GB: “Obviously, first wins are fun memories,” Biffle said. “The first win in a truck at Memphis was a fun moment for me. The first win in the Busch Series and the first one at Daytona, that was neat to win there. I had the most wins in 2005 in the Cup Series and finished second in points. That was a heartburn moment, but at the same time very disappointing to finish so close to the championship.”
SM: Favorite trophy out of your collection?
GB: “There was a win in Dover and the Monster trophy is really neat,” he said. “I will tell you, I met a soldier at this hospital nearby. He was at the race on race day and we spent a little time together. The soldier was very inspiring to me. In that race, we were running fifth or sixth and I was like, we’re not going to win today, I have to make a change on this thing.”
“I asked for a big change and we started driving up through the field. We almost wrecked at one point, I don’t know how I saved it. I wheeled that thing to the front and I took chances because I felt inspired by him. The car was really loose, but we ended up winning. I celebrated in victory lane with him and I gave him the trophy so he could take it home. It was just a good story.”
SM: Some drivers keep a memorabilia collection and some don’t. Are you a driver that collects your own merchandise and if so, what do you have in your collection that reminds you of your rookie years?
GB: “I’ve got a decent collection, but I will admit the collection is not very organized,” Biffle said. “I got a lot of diecasts, (a replica toy car) because I bought every car that was ever made. Later years, I bought 12 of every paint scheme or diecast made, so that way I can give a few out. I have everything like Truck Series diecasts and hero cards.”
SM: Wrapping it up, it’s hard to believe your debut came 23 years ago. However, if time travel was available, what would a 52-year-old Greg Biffle tell a 28-year-old Greg Biffle? Is there anything you would do differently?
GB: “You know, not really,” the 19 time Cup Series winner said. “It’s like any other sport, you have to be passionate about what you do. You have to give it 110% every day, that’s the key. You can’t halfway something, you have to put your mind to it and be the best you can be. Be a student of the sport as well, you know, study the racetrack, study the tire, study the competitors, etc. The thing I did the most along the way is you learn from other people’s mistakes, so you don’t have to make the mistake yourself. Unfortunately in life, we learn from our mistakes, but we can also learn from others too.”
Throughout Biffle’s career, the Vancouver, Washington native made 510 Cup Series starts and earned 19 wins with 92 top fives and 175 Top 10 finishes. In the Xfinity Series, he has 244 starts and 20 wins along with winning the 2002 series championship. Biffle also earned 17 Truck Series wins and won the 2000 series championship.