It's not been the best of seasons for Greg Biffle and Roush Fenway Racing so far in 2013, with the powerhouse team looking very far off the pace at times in the opening 14 races of this year's NASCAR Sprint Cup championship. Carl Edwards won at the second race of the year at Phoenix but since then a repeat trip to victory lane has looked worryingly far off.
Greg Biffle set out to change that this week at Michigan International Speedway, a track that the team considers its home venue thanks to its proximity to Roush's operations base in Detroit and their engine supplier Ford Motor Company which has their global headquarters in nearby Dearborn. And that home field advantage really has translated to results for the team in the past: Biffle won the most recent outing here last August, one of three wins and 12 previous top-ten finishes in 20 races at the two-mile superspeedway.
Not that the start of the race had looked particularly promising for the #16 car on Sunday afternoon, as it started the Quicken Loans 400 from a solidly midfield 19th position on the grid while his team mate Carl Edwards led the field to the green flag for the start of the race.
Fellow front row man Kurt Busch immediately took point after of the scheduled competition caution due after lap 20 because heavy overnight rain had washed away the rubber previously laid down by the cars in their practice and qualifying sessions. Sure enough, almost immediately the drivers felt the impact of the changed track conditions with some alarmingly loose handling that left few drivers not hanging on for dear life right from the start. Bobby Labonte was the first to lose that battle as he went for a slow spin in turn 2 on lap 7: Jeff Gordon was unable to get passed him without making contact, the the result was heavy damage to both cars.
"Bobby Labonte lost it off of turn two in front of me," Gordon explained. "It was just such a slow spin that I didn't know which way he was going to go, so I had to guess. I tried to go around him on the outside and that was not the right way. I don't know if I would have missed him even if I went to the inside."
For Gordon, it's another bad stroke of luck in a season that has just refused to go his way right from the start. Although he eventually restarted and ran a few more laps after the Hendrick Motorsports team had done their best with repairs, he still ended up classified in 39th position by the end and took a five-place drop in the championship standings to 16th as a result.
"This season we are having is just unbelievable to me," Gordon shook his head. "We are at times struggling to get the speed, then when we get the speed we struggle to finish because of stuff like this. I thought we were being tested last year, boy we are really being tested this year.
"For years I've always said I don't believe in good luck or bad luck that you make it," he continued. "Just in that instance right there I call that being at the wrong place at the wrong time, but I also know that we contribute to where we started. We started back there and we were moving forward which I'm proud of, but the fact that we are back there - I put as much blame on myself. I really struggled this weekend when we went into qualifying trim. I've struggled all year.
"I'm a pretty patient person, but it's testing my frustration level and my confidence that is the biggest thing," he admitted. "We all know how big confidence is in this sport, any sport really. I don't want to see the team get down and I don't want to see myself get down. I have a lot of fight in me and so does this team. I'm looking forward to going to Sonoma."