Biffle takes momentum from N.H. to Monster Mile
September 25, 2013, Pat DeCola, NASCAR.com
Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that the Roush Fenway Racing driver is anything close to being the favorite to celebrate at Homestead on Nov. 17 -- that spot is subject to change, but currently reserved for any of the trio of drivers that helm the Nos. 18, 20 and 48 cars. But Biffle is closer than you might think.
After the Chicagoland race saw him drop out of the top 10, things appeared to be falling into place with where most expected to see him, as he'd been wildly mediocre since his victory at Michigan in early June. Starting at Sonoma and stretching the 12-race span to Chicagoland, Biffle averaged a finish of 15.42, setting the hopes of a Roush title coming from the No. 16 car very low.
And then the series headed to New Hampshire.
While Biffle -- and Roush cars, in general -- typically haven't performed well at the Magic Mile, he found himself addressing the media post-race as the third-place finisher in the Sylvania 300 after a risky late-restart dive bomb put him ahead of Jimmie Johnson.
"I was doing all I could do to try and gain spots, and I was three wide on the bottom and got that to work a couple times, and then the last bit of that, the outside really worked well for me," said Biffle, currently 38 points behind leader Matt Kenseth. "It's so hard to get a run off the bottom. The 48 was underneath me, and he just couldn't get the throttle down on the bottom."
Biffle held off Johnson the rest of the race, but it wasn't easy. Perhaps out of frustration, perhaps to try to induce a mistake, the 48 was practically kissing the bumper of the 16 for a good portion of the remainder of the race, but Biffle prevailed.
"The 48 was probably faster than me that first 15 laps. He was all over my rear bumper but couldn't really do anything, and then I was able to‑‑ after his tires leveled off I was able to drive away from him," Biffle said. "I came from, I don't know, 15th or something like that to 3rd. The car got really good as somebody mentioned when the sun went down and it cooled off. My car picked up a lot of speed, and it seemed like everybody else around me didn't pick up as much speed as our car did, so it worked out."
With a third-place finish in hand and another notch on his belt for having held off a furiously-charging five-time champion for the second time this season (the first coming at Michigan, the site of Biffle's sole win this season -- more on that in a bit) it's not unreasonable to think that he could put together a mini-hot streak to keep his name afloat in the championship mix.
Having won the first two Chase races in 2008, only to finish third when all was said and done, Biffle and team owner Jack Roush know that the benefit Kenseth received from winning at Chicagoland and Loudon puts the Joe Gibbs Racing driver at a great advantage, but not an insurmountable one.
"You would have liked to have won the first two races that the 20 car has or run second in the first two races as the 18 car (of Kyle Busch) has, but we’re certainly better than the seven or eight guys that are behind us, depending on which car you’re looking at," said Roush. "I’m looking forward to being able to move up and be a factor in the championship before the season is over.
"But the Chase so far has generally been OK. The 18 and the 20 have jumped out there to a pretty good lead. The 48 is not too far behind, but our cars are fourth (Carl Edwards) and fifth and we’re standing by to have the strength of our program manifest itself on the mile-and-a-half race tracks."
While this weekend sees another fast one-mile track in Dover, it's the same Dover that Biffle owns two wins at and once enjoyed a nine-race streak in which he averaged a finish of 4.7.
With momentum on his side, a win at the Monster Mile to back up his solid day at New Hampshire is certainly within the realm of possibility -- the road to Victory Lane will just likely have to go through the 48. Johnson all-but-owns the one-mile oval, winning seven times there with nearly 50% of his finishes resulting in top-fives.
But Biffle has proven twice now this season that he isn't afraid to challenge the 48 and be aggressive in crunch time, as he showed this past weekend, but also when Johnson was trying to catch the 16 at Michigan before blowing a tire because he was racing so hard.
"I think we race really good together," Biffle said. "I'm sure he's not happy right now, not being able to get by me and having what appeared to be a little faster car for maybe 15 laps, then he faded. You know, some guys' cars run good at the beginning of the run, and some guys run a little stronger at the end, and my car seemed to do better at the end of the run. But we race well together. We race each other pretty hard and clean, and I enjoy that."