|Puccia and Biffle are ready to contend|
Perhaps surprisingly, the second-year Roush Fenway Racing crew chief said he is unfazed by the lack of attention paid to himself and his team this season, despite driver Greg Biffle leading the championship standings for much of the year.
“It doesn’t bother me a bit,” said Puccia. “Like Greg said a few weeks ago, people may not be talking about us right now, but they’ll be talking about us when we get to Homestead. If we just keep doing what we’re doing and don’t let it affect us, we’re going to be fine. If anything, not having that media focus has taken some of the pressure off us. We’ve been able to just do what we do, and let (the media) talk about somebody else. We led the point standings for something like 16 consecutive weeks… so it obviously doesn’t bother us. In fact, I think it says a lot about where we’re at.
“We worked really hard over the off season,” he said. “I tried really hard to assemble a group of guys who wanted to run for the championship. Right from the start at Daytona, I knew we had the right group assembled. This is a group of guys that wants to race. They want to win, and they’re going to do whatever it takes to get there. It’s been like that since the first race of the year, and it hasn’t changed yet.”
Despite forfeiting the point lead after the annual postseason reset, Puccia said he is comfortable beginning the Chase six points behind leader Denny Hamlin.
|Biffle's program has strengthened|
“Six points behind? We can turn that around in a heartbeat,” he laughed. “We can do that this weekend! Chicagoland is a good race track for us. We ran well there in the fall race there last year, but unfortunately had a part failure while running third. We had a fast car that day, and our intermediate program is right where it needs to be right now. I think we have a good chance to go up there this weekend and show people what we’re capable of doing.”
Puccia said his team spent the last four or five races of the regular season, “doing a little experimenting. We got to where we were comfortable in the point standings, then worked on our short track program. We felt it was one of our weak points, so we worked on that and I feel like we’ve gotten better. As far our intermediate program (is concerned), even though we won a race early in the year in Texas, I felt like we had gotten a little bit off from where we needed to be. We went to work on that, too, then went to Michigan and won there.
“We’ve got a little momentum right now,” he said. “We ran good at Richmond, even though we didn’t get the finish I think we deserved there. I feel good about where we’re at (and) I’m ready to get going.”
With teammate Matt Kenseth also solidly in title contention, Puccia said he will rely on Carl Edwards to serve as the team’s playoff guinea pig, testing parts, pieces and set-ups over the final 10 races.
“I talked to Carl about that yesterday,” said Puccia. “He said, `Whatever I can do to help you guys out, just let me know.’ We were on the opposite end of the spectrum last year at this time. I had just come aboard as crew chief, and we didn’t end up getting into the Chase. He was really the only one (at Roush Fenway Racing) who was in contention for the championship, and we did everything we could to help him. Now, I know he’ll do whatever he can (for us).
|Biffle "knows how to win championships."|
“Obviously, they’re also out to wins races, but we’ll utilize them in any way we can. If they can do something to help our program, I’m going to lean on them.”
Puccia said his main support system will be Biffle, who is bidding to become the first driver to win championships in all three of NASCAR’s national divisions.
“Winning that third championship for Greg is my number-one focus,” he said. “I would love nothing more than for him to be a champion in all three series. That would be a great accomplishment. Greg gave me my first win as a Sprint Cup crew chief, and I feel like if I could do that with him, nothing could possibly mean more.”
“Greg and I have talked about this,” said Puccia. “He knows how to win championships, there’s no question about that. Right now, we’ve just got to keep doing what we’re doing. We’ve got a pretty good program going, and while we may adjust how we do a few things in the Chase, it won’t be a major change.
“Over the last five or six races (of the regular season), we’ve been putting ourselves out there and taking some chances; pushing hard for the win, gambling on pit strategy, stuff like that. We know we probably can’t do quite as much of that in the Chase, but as long as we keep building great race cars and preparing the best we can, we’re going to be right there at the end of this thing.”
Photos: Alan Marler, NASCAR.com