After registering the first win of his senior NASCAR career at Daytona last July, Roush Racing's Greg Biffle claimed his first series pole in qualifying for the 2004 season-opening Daytona 500, recording a best lap of 188.387mph.
Jack, what can you say about today?
Greg has brought Roush Racing the Truck championship and the Busch championship, which were the first two championships that we've had - and, of course, winning the Firecracker race last July was the first time we had won here in a stock car. Ford gave us all the technical support we could have asked for this winter. NASCAR gave us a new set of templates for a new Taurus body. We've got a new cylinder head, which we don't have in our car yet and that's going to give us some relief on our engine. With the momentum we had coming off of Matt Kenseth's win with DeWalt last year, I'm really excited about the year going forward. I hadn't expected to be under the limelight here with Greg at this juncture, a week before the race. The idea of having the pole, I'd never given it a consideration.
Do you think the other makes will complain and, if so, what would be your response?
I expect that the other manufacturers will make their best appeal - as Ford would. This new Taurus that we've got now is the first relief we've had in templates that has let us improve ourselves since '97. In the meantime, there has been a couple of Chevrolets and a new Pontiac - and the Dodge has been revised twice. Every year, the Ford - since '97 until this year - got a new set of templates which made it go slower. This is the first time we've had any relief and I think it's time.
Last year, people looked at Matt's championship and said we kind of tapered off to it, but when we started the year last year we had everything that we had the prospect of being able to do performance-wise. The Chevrolets and Dodges got better throughout the year, so we've got some relief for our engine, which we haven't had since '92 and we got some relief for our body, which we hadn't since '97.
There will be some complaints, but the Ford teams are good race teams and they're well driven with good drivers and good crew chiefs and we should be better. Last year, I think the Fords only had two poles for the entire year and maybe only one... The Roush bunch didn't have a single pole, so that was an indication that things weren't balanced evenly. I think we'll do better with that, but I do expect some criticism.
Do you reckon you can win here this year?
I've been coming to Daytona since 1984 with sportscars and then, of course, I started with my Winston Cup cars in 1988. I've already won seven or eight times at Daytona in various IMSA and SCCA classes before I came with the stock cars. I had never come to Daytona before 1988, when I didn't take a chequered flag and I generally had a pole, but I've been snakebit. Until Greg won the Firecracker last year, I had been snakebit with the stock cars. It seemed easy with the sports cars and it seemed an unachievable goal with the stock cars. We have got a chance to be a factor in the 500 as never before this year and I'm really excited about it.
Can you talk about the change in engine power from last year to this?
Robert [Yates] and I put our engine programmes together on 27 November and, shortly after that, we sent an engine from Michigan down to North Carolina. When they ran the first engine, they found that the engine we ran at Talladega was two horsepower less than the engine they ran at Talladega. They were surprised to find they were so close. We put a number of their parts on the outside of the engine - and I'm not gonna say which ones - but some parts that bolt to the engine and are accessories to the engine, and it made a four-horsepower better package than they had seen - and a six-horsepower package better than I had seen.
From that point until now, the winter has been an Easter egg hunt. We've been taking things apart and seeing how they work and just putting the best of both together. There have been a lot of things that I hadn't thought about that I saw that they had done very well and, to their surprise, a number of things they saw that the Roush guys had done better than they had thought. That has manifested itself in a bigger gain in our engines than I have had from one year to the next, and I think than they've had, so we're way ahead of where we were last year.
Can you relate how it used to be between you and Robert?
I certainly had respect for him and I hope he had respect for me but, from the beginning of the racing season, which would be Daytona, until the end - which used to be Atlanta - we wouldn't talk to one another. We wouldn't acknowledge one another. We wouldn't have eye contact. We wouldn't shake hands. By all means, we wouldn't wish one another good luck. We were struggling and competing for the same bit of support that Ford would give somebody. We wanted to have as much of it as we could and we competed on the race tracks, because we had very similar hardware. It was kind of a sibling rivalry thing that Ford saw was a problem.
If they invested money on a development programme with Robert, they wouldn't share it with me and, if they invested with me, I insisted they wouldn't give it to Robert. With looking at what Dodge is doing, and looking at the way the Chevrolet programmes work, and what the other manufacturers coming in are gonna do by reputation and the plans they've made, it was clear the way Robert and I had been conducting our affairs was not gonna work.
Ford said 'why don't you guys co-operate', and I offered to share an engine. Then he [Yates] tapped me on the shoulder at Atlanta and said 'hey, I know you're getting ready to build a shop in North Carolina. Why don't you buy half of mine and you won't have to build a new shop'. So we're 50-50 partners to the dirt right now and we're committed to go down the road. Our race teams are gonna run closer together than the could have otherwise. What I see is a modern day reincarnation of the Holman-Moody kind of concept around Ford.