Caution stops Greg Biffle from chance at a win, but still has best finish of 2014 and at Talladega

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Greg Biffle has been rather quiet thus far this season. But he sure made a lot of noise with a career-best second-place finish in Sunday’s Aaron’s 499 at Talladega Superspeedway.

Biffle earned just his second top-five finish of the season, as well. But at the same time, it also added to the success he’s had in recent races, having finished sixth at Texas and fifth at Darlington.

“Yeah, I mean, it’s sort of bittersweet for us,” Biffle said. “We’ve run a little bit better in the last couple weeks, and I wasn’t sure how we were going to run here. I was extremely happy with the speed my car had on Friday and then today all day, really happy with it.

“Our restrictor plate program is in decent shape. We’ve still got some work to do, but it sure would have been nice to get a win toward the Chase, but we’ve got some great racetracks coming up, as well. It would have been nice.”

Prior to Sunday, Biffle had just two top-five and five top-10 finishes in 22 starts at the massive 2.66-mile high-banked tri-oval, the largest oval on the Sprint Cup schedule.

Biffle led all drivers by leading 58 of the 188 laps in Sunday’s race. He hoped to have one more shot at eventual race winner Denny Hamlin on the final lap, but the caution flag dropped and Biffle was forced to settle for second.

“That final restart, Clint (Bowyer) gave us a huge, huge push, and we had a huge run at (Hamlin),” Biffle said. “I looked in the mirror and I saw the smoke behind me, and I wasn’t really sure whether the caution was going to come out and I didn’t know what to do and I thought about making my move on the 11 right then because I had a huge run and I … and then off of Turn 2 I could have passed him again, got beside him and sucked by him.

“But I just didn’t want to pass too early. I was going to be the lone soldier on the outside lane, and I was going to be 15th by the time we got back around to the start-finish line. So I was just waiting. I was backing up off of him quite a bit on the backstretch, and I got probably two and a half, three cars away from him, and then they said caution’s out. I was setting up to go by him but just never had the chance.

“I wish I would have known we weren’t going to race all the way back, but it was a good day for us. The car was really fast, a lot of speed, and just happy to come out of here with a clean car.”

While Biffle couldn’t catch Hamlin due to the race finishing under caution, it gave him confidence that the first win of 2014 could very well be right around the corner, perhaps as early as this Saturday night at Kansas Speedway.

Biffle is one of just five drivers who have two prior wins at the 1.5-mile track in Kansas, which further elevates his optimism.

“I’d be super excited to win there to start with, but to be (the) first guy to win three there would be pretty neat,” Biffle said. “I love that racetrack. It’s a lot of fun to race on and puts on a good race.”

All in all, Biffle is glad to put Talladega in his rearview mirror, and more glad that it continued the roll he’s been on – one that he hopes continues in Kansas.

“I was extremely happy to finish second,” he said. “We’ve been moving up a little bit in points. I know it doesn’t mean all that much this day and time, or it’s (qualifying for the revised format in the Chase for the Sprint Cup) not really a points race, it’s the wins or whatever, but it’ll help us kind of keep trudging toward the front a little bit.”

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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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