OVER THE first 26
races of the 2008 season, Greg Biffle was little more than an afterthought in
the Sprint Cup Series, a driver so far off everyone's radar that he could
stroll through the garage in his street clothes and go largely unrecognized by
After all, he
failed to win a race and had seven finishes of 20th or worse. Though he did
make the Chase, he—like virtually every other driver—got lost in the shadow of
the regular season's Big Three: Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards and Jimmie Johnson.
Yet on Sunday before the Camping World RV 400 at Kansas Speedway, there was
Biffle in front of his car on pit road, surrounded by three television cameras,
receiving high fives and thumbs-up from rival drivers, owners, even NASCAR
officials. He commanded everyone's attention, which is what happens when you
come out of nowhere as the surprise of the Chase.
After winning the
first two Chase races, in Loudon, N.H., and Dover, Del., the 39-year-old Biffle
continued his unlikely rise to title contender in Kansas. He ran in the top 10
for most of the race and passed Jeff Gordon on the final lap to finish third.
Once again, though, Johnson and Edwards were hogging the spotlight just ahead,
as Johnson held off a hard-charging Edwards for the win. Johnson's fifth
victory of the season gave him a 10-point lead over Edwards in the standings,
with Biffle 20 points further back.
little discouraging to finish third and be behind the two guys I'm
chasing," Biffle said. "But I like our chances. There's not a single
track coming up where I don't think we can win."
relatively quiet regular season (he wound up eighth in points) was somewhat by
design. Unlike many teams, Biffle and his crew chief Greg Erwin spent the
majority of their midweek test sessions preparing not for upcoming
regular-season races but for tracks the circuit visits during the Chase. This
cost the team in the short term but is proving a boon in the long term. "We
are so much smarter the way we test now," Erwin says. "Everything is
about getting ready for the Chase and performing when it matters."
The schedule sets
up well for Biffle. Four of the last seven tracks are 1.5-mile ovals—the type
of layout on which Biffle has a series-high four top five finishes in his last
five starts. What's his secret? Growing up in Vancouver, Wash., Biffle cut his
racing teeth on half-mile concrete ovals, on which speeds hit triple digits.
Most NASCAR drivers learn how to race on either dirt or quarter-mile tracks,
where the speeds are far slower. "You go fast at these 1.5-mile tracks
[upward of 190 mph], and you don't have much room to operate," Biffle says,
"but I've been dealing with those conditions all my life, which is why I
love these 1.5-milers."
finish in the Chase, heading into this week's race at Talladega, is 1.7. He may
not yet be the favorite to win the Cup, given how strongly Johnson and Edwards
continue to run, but—even as Kyle Busch has faded from contention (box)—Biffle
is making sure the Chase still has a Big Three.
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Lars Anderson's Cup analysis and Mark Beech's Racing Fan.