Frustrated Biffle confronts Johnson in post-race

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Believing that Jimmie Johnson had made contact with him during the race and caused his car’s rear bumper cover to come apart, Roush Fenway Racing’s Greg Biffle confronted the five-time Sprint Cup champion after today’s race at Martinsville Speedway.

Biffle’s bumper cover was spotted flapping in the air and he was eventually forced to go to pit road while running seventh. The No. 16 RFR team quickly tore off the bumper, but the sizable loss of track position put Biffle in catch-up mode for the remainder of the afternoon.

He would rally to finish ninth, but that didn’t keep him from having some words with Johnson in the pits. Television cameras caught the brief exchange, which had Biffle drop some expletives while warning Johnson: “You better watch it.”

“If he’s running for the title, he better not tear my rear bumper cover off because that will be the last race he finishes,” Biffle said of Johnson according to Bob Pockrass of The Sporting News.

Johnson admitted that he made contact with Biffle during the race, but according to NASCAR.com’s Kenny Bruce, it was actually Dale Earnhardt Jr. who ran into Biffle and initially caused the cover to become dislodged. Eventually, the cover came loose again, causing Biffle to have to pit.

Biffle would later apologize on Twitter for his actions against Johnson, who seemed to take the incident in stride at the time.

“[For] about a five-lap window, I was trying to get by him and I was inside him two or three times,” Johnson said according to Bruce. “We made contact and I didn’t quite understand why he was down [here] like he just did, but we’ll get it sorted out.

“Short-track racing at its finest – things get heated up and there it was right there…I was surprised he was still that [ticked] but he came down and was obviously pretty mad.”

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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