Late surge at N.H. gives Biffle third-place result

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Greg Biffle made the biggest jump in the championship today among the 13 Chase for the Sprint Cup contenders, leaping from 11th to fifth in the title fight thanks to a third-place finishn the Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Biffle now sits 38 points back of Chase leader and race winner Matt Kenseth as the series heads to the Mid-Atlantic for a date at Dover International Speedway next weekend.

During the first half of the race, it didn’t look like Biffle was heading for that much-needed solid result – which made him dub the afternoon “a miracle” after his superb rally.

“We didn’t pass anybody in the pits, we passed them all on the race track,” said Biffle of his impressive second-half run, which came at a place where on-track passing isn’t plentiful.

“I feel really good about how far the team has come. We had great pit stops, but we just got good at the end and our car really, really took off. We were able to drive by those guys and get up to third.”

The stellar pace of his No. 16 Roush Fenway Racing Ford in the final stints had Biffle wishing he could’ve gotten a few more laps to catch the Joe Gibbs Racing duo of Kenseth and Kyle Busch.

“We probably reeled in the 20 [Kenseth] a full straightaway almost and the 18 [Busch] – catching them – so it was the most fun I’ve had in a long time even though we finished third,” said Biffle.

“It was about to be good. The 18 was gonna catch the 20 in the next few laps and I was probably gonna get to the 18’s bumper, so it was a lot of fun. I just wish it was the 325, instead of the 300.”

As usual with many drivers at NHMS, restarts played a major role in Biffle’s move up the pylon. His biggest grab for position came on the final restart of the day with 41 laps remaining, which saw him go from sixth to third.

“We started out in the top 10 and then fell back a little bit on some restarts,” Biffle said. “I got too tight on that long run and kind of got the bad luck of the draw on a restart or two.

“Then there at the end, we just drove – we just kept gaining positions. I gained like four or five spots on a couple restarts in a row and got up in the top six, and then that final restart the outside lane really got going good.”

The third-place finish is Biffle’s best at NHMS since a ninth-place run in the summer of 2012.

Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

Photo: IndyCar
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For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

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