FONTANA, Calif. -- To contend at Auto Club Speedway, Greg Biffle will have to come from the rear of the field due to an engine failure in opening practice on the 2-mile track. And car owner Jack Roush believes his driver has enough under the hood to do it.
Roush said Saturday the engine failures suffered by Biffle and Ford stable mate Brad Keselowski appeared to be due to lost bearings, and the No. 16 car's strength in practice Saturday gave him confidence the issue would not rear its head again in Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event.
"Both of those problems are something we characterize as an infant mortality problem," Roush said after Biffle topped the first of Saturday's two practice sessions. "The fact that we've gotten the rest of the practice today, that we had one practice today and had no further problems, gives me confidence that we're going to be OK. We have adequate spare engines, and if we have more trouble in practice, we can make changes. But right now, I'm believing it's behind us."
Although Roush-Yates will perform a more comprehensive review of the failures once it gets the engines back to the shop, Roush said initial inspection ruled out lost bearings due to cold oil, which is often a culprit in such cases. Instead he classified the problems as "infant mortality" issues, which mean failures that occur early in the life of an engine, and are different from those caused by structural failures or part fatigue.
Biffle's engine failed early in opening practice Friday, resulting in a plume of thick white smoke trailing behind the car. Keselowski's engine didn't suffer a part failure, but Roush said the Penske team found debris in the oil filter that let them know a problem was inevitable.
"The team made a very good catch yesterday in practice," said Travis Geisler, competition director at Penske. "We saw we were about to have a issue, and we were able to get the engine changed before it blew. Basically, you have a very small widow to catch an engine before it grenades, and that's fortunately where we caught the 2 car engine -- in the process of blowing up, I guess."
The reigning Sprint Cup champion, Keselowski's Penske team switched manufacturers to Ford in the offseason, and now uses the same Roush-Yates engines as Biffle's Roush Fenway Racing organization. Keselowski is the only driver this year to have recorded top-five finishes in each of the first four events, something not done since Dale Earnhardt reeled off five straight to open the season in 1995.
To keep that streak going at Fontana, he'll have to come from the back. Although Biffle qualified second and Keselowski third on Friday, they'll have to vacate those positions under NASCAR's one engine rule and drop to the rear at the start. It's nothing Biffle hasn't been through before.
"I started at the back at Bristol," he said, referring to last week. "We started 29th, and in 60 laps I was ninth under green. It was a heck of a run for us. Hopefully we can do the same thing here. This race track has a lot more room and I wouldn't say is easier to pass, but there is a lot more opportunity to pass than last week. Certainly we aren't going to do it in a short amount of time. Definitely it will take probably 100 laps at a minimum, or maybe 50 to 75 laps to get our way up through the field. Hopefully we can. Maybe some pit strategy, too. We will see what we can come up with."
In the immediate aftermath of Friday's failures, there was some unease in the Ford camp. "Everybody's on pins and needles right now," said Joey Logano, Keselowski's teammate at Penske. Saturday, those qualms were alleviated somewhat by performance in practice. Biffle led the first session with Keselowski 18th. In the final practice for Sunday's event, Keselowski was fifth with Biffle eighth. Keselowski made 40 laps in final practice with his backup engine, while Biffle made 26.
"Those guys are the same as we are -- they prepare for everything," Geisler said of Roush-Yates. "The cars we bring as backups are as good as our primaries, and it's the same way with the engines. It's nice to be able to bolt it in yesterday and run that well in qualifying. It shows the depth of what Roush-Yates has to offer."
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