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Biffle's mood lifts with form

Biffle has won six of the past 17 series races, including five this season. The hot streak started last year when he won the season closer at Homestead.

By BRANT JAMES
Published July 2, 2005


DAYTONA BEACH - Greg Biffle looks very comfortable these days. Happy.

As one of his pet boxers, Foster, circulates, sniffing out the crowd gathered for the announcement of a new NASCAR pets calendar Biffle's foundation is promoting, he wrestles the other, Gracie, off the interview table.

Children and pets are certain to steal the show every time, but the 35-year-old doesn't mind if his "children" share some of the limelight he craved for so long. Having won titles in the NASCAR Truck and Busch series, Roush Racing's driver of the No.16 Ford has begun to replicate that success in Nextel Cup, leading the points standings by 22 over Jimmie Johnson. His five wins lead the series.

"I love it," Biffle said. "I love every minute of it. I wake up every day wanting to go to the racetrack and race."

As usual, Daytona International Speedway is a way point in a career of fits and many stops. When Biffle earned his first Nextel Cup victory here in 2003, he was a stunned rookie seemingly on the verge of immediate success. It was actually a solitary moment of joy for a team in over its head.

Under new crew chief Doug Richert, Biffle earned the pole for the Daytona 500 in 2004, but by the time the series returned to Daytona last July, he was more than 700 points off the pace, and bitter and disillusioned with more poor performance. He seemingly used the media to prod owner Jack Roush into releasing him so he could pursue offers that had come his way in a contract year.

In an organization in which mood isn't held against anyone - the owner was typically dour until he won his first title in 2003 with Matt Kenseth, Mark Martin is always on the serious side and Kurt Busch has his hot-headed moments - Biffle's reaction to his situation the last two years was almost embraced. He has since signed a three-year extension.

"(Biffle's) grousing was more about the strategy, not about his equipment," team president Geoff Smith said. "His equipment was a result of the strategy, which was a result of us having a rookie crew chief (Randy Goss) leading his team. His crew chief had the same access to the facilities and same equipment everyone else had, he just didn't know how to use them with the same degree of success as the other guys. We understood that, but otherwise Greg's just got a personality when it doesn't go just right he'll say something about it in public."

Biffle regrouped in the second half, winning at Michigan and Homestead. His Victory Lane exuberance in the season finale was dwarfed, however, by a massive stage on which teammate Kurt Busch and a throng celebrated Roush's consecutive drivers' titles. It was a tough moment for Biffle. Busch, nine years younger, finished second to Biffle in the 2000 Truck series but skipped the Busch series to vault to Nextel Cup. Maybe that could have been Biffle on the big stage if different decisions had been made. But Biffle looked beyond it.

"Everybody's ready to go home and I'm just ready for the season to start," Biffle said.

Biffle is finally at the top of the Roush pecking order, and his mood and outlook reflect it. Building on the Homestead victory, Biffle won at Fontana in the second race this season, then went to Victory Lane at Texas, Darlington, Dover and, two weeks ago, at Michigan.

By finishing 14th at Sonoma Sunday, he took the Nextel Cup points lead for the first time. And by moving atop the standings, he gets a position of honor in the garage. Transporters are arranged in order of the standings, with the defending series champion on the end, so his No.16 hauler is sidled next to Busch.

"It means a lot to lead the points right now," Biffle said. "To the team, to myself because of the fact that it kind of shifts the spotlight. We're on top now. We get to park one more slot up in the garage. We get to park next to the (No.) 97 car."

If Biffle were to hold his parking space after the one week that really matters, after Homestead on Nov.20, he would become the first to win titles in NASCAR's three major series: Trucks (2000), Busch (2002) and Nextel Cup.

Biffle has performed well enough to earn the chance, making the most of his opportunities. Biffle was a Late Model racer in Vancouver, Wash., who built his own cars when he decided to make a grab for a NASCAR team's attention in 1995.

He hauled his equipment to Tucson, Ariz., for a made-for-television stock car series that yearly attracted some of the West's undiscovered talent. Biffle dominated, winning all but one race and catching the eye of analyst and 1973 Winston Cup champion Benny Parsons, who was working the telecast for ESPN.

Parsons was so impressed he hounded NASCAR race teams - among them Richard Childress Racing and Petty Enterprises - to give the enigmatic Biffle a chance. It was a hard sell.

"Biffle came from total obscurity," Smith said. "The resume we originally got from Greg had none of the credentials on it you would accept to give a guy a break. He was basically a local track champion in a remote corner of the world that didn't have very much competition to evaluate him against."

Eighteen months after Parsons discovered him, Biffle was signed to drive a third Roush Truck series entry never having sat in a race truck.

"The championships he has won, he's given me a ring from it, and he probably will give me a ring if he wins a Cup championship," Parsons said pridefully.

Biffle would be happy to do so.