Biffle, Stewart still sound sunny

Associated Press
Published March 12, 2006

LAS VEGAS - Nobody should be surprised if Greg Biffle and Tony Stewart turn today's UAW-DaimlerChrylser 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway into a rerun of the race Feb. 26 at California Speedway.

The NASCAR Nextel Cup stars who finished second and first, respectively, in last season's standings were the class of the field at California, only to wind up in the back of the pack after late-race engine failures.

That left Biffle 38th and Stewart 22nd in points after the first two races of 2006. But neither driver seems worried.

"You know what, our whole team feels really, really good about last week - like we won almost," Biffle said. "Spirits are high because the fact is that we have good race cars and we're running very well. And that's the key.

"We had great pit stops, we had a great pit strategy, we had the fastest car for most of the day. Tony Stewart was a little faster at times, but that is the confidence we need to keep going race after race."

Stewart is thinking about the big picture - NASCAR's Chase for the Nextel Cup championship, a 10-race playoff at the end of the season that will include the top 10 drivers in the standings and any other driver within 400 points of the lead after the first 26 events.

"With the way the point format is, we've got 24 weeks to get it done," said Stewart, the defending series champion. "We don't have to worry if we're 600 points out, as long as we're in the top 10. So, you can have a disappointing day, as far as your finishing position."

After opening this season with a fifth-place finish at Daytona and running so well at California, Stewart remains confident that his Joe Gibbs Racing team is on the right track.

"To me, it was five times more important than the loss of the points just knowing that we had a car that was competitive and that could run up front all day," Stewart said.

Biffle is part of the powerful Roush Racing juggernaut that put all five Cup drivers into the Chase last season. Roush cars also have won five of the eight Cup races on the 1.5-mile Las Vegas oval.

A year ago, Kurt Busch - who has since switched from Roush to Penske Racing South - finished third behind the Hendrick Motorsports cars of winner Jimmie Johnson and runnerup Kyle Busch. Roush cars took three of the top eight spots in that race, with Biffle sixth and two-time Las Vegas winner Matt Kenseth - who won last month at California - eighth.

BUSCH SERIES: Kasey Kahne held off Matt Kenseth, then survived a two-lap shootout to win the Sam's Town 300 in Las Vegas.

"It was just a great race. Matt and Kevin (Harvick) were both very good all day," said Kahne, who earned his fourth career series win.

Kenseth was closing on Kahne before David Gilliland's car went up in smoke with two laps to go, bringing out the caution and setting up the green-white-checkered finale.

Kahne got a good jump on the restart and held on to edge Kenseth by 0.316 seconds, about 3 car lengths. Harvick finished 1.333 seconds behind the winner.

"I got a little bit of a run on Kasey. He was just so good off (Turn 2), I couldn't get enough of a run on him," Kenseth said.

Kenseth, who earned the pole earlier in the day, said he was gaining on Kahne before the final caution flew, but did not think he would have been able to catch him.

FORMULA ONE: Ferrari's Michael Schumacher earned his 65th pole position, tying the series record set by Ayrton Senna, in qualifying for today's season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix in Sakhir.

Schumacher, 37, covered the 3.37-mile Bahrain International Circuit in 1 minute, 31.431 seconds with his new teammate, 24-year-old Felipe Massa, in second.

Scott Speed, the first American driver in the series since 1993, qualified 16th in his debut for Scuderia Toro Rossa. Defending series champion Fernando Alonso will start fourth in a Renault.

MOTORCYCLES: Jake Zemke held off fellow Honda rider Josh Hayes in a nine-lap shootout to win the Daytona 200 at Daytona International Speedway. It was Zemke's first 200 victory - he had been second and third in previous events - and Honda's 11th. Zemke held off Hayes to win by 1.562 seconds. Yamaha's Jason DiSalvo finished third.

Late Friday in the Supercross series, Ricky Carmichael raced to his record fifth Daytona victory, running away from the field at DIS to break a tie with Jeff Stanton. James "Bubba" Stewart of Haines City led the first two laps before falling; he recovered to finish sixth. Chad Reed of Dade City was second.