By Mike Mulhern
It may be only early spring, but already it’s looking like a topsy-turvy season as far as the NASCAR championship race is shaping up.
But then after two years of domination by Rick Hendrick’s Chevy men, maybe it’s time for someone else to share in the riches.
Maybe like Greg Biffle.
Back in 2005 Biffle came within a loose lug nut of winning the championship, in that six-win season. But the past two seasons he’s been streaky.
However this week he comes to Martinsville Speedway second in the standings, looking ahead to a very good track for the Jack Roush bunch – Texas Motor Speedway, next week’s stop.
But first there’s Martinsville….
“Martinsville over the years has not been my best track…but the last couple of times I’ve gotten tremendously better,” Biffle says. “The last race there I was bumping on the back of Jimmie Johnson for the lead—that was a highlight of my career, if you will, at Martinsville. And I finished seventh.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever really gotten the opportunity to win at that kind of place. But I’m certainly not going to count us out.
Greg Biffle may be favored at Texas, but Martinsville is Iffy
(Photo credit: Autostock)
“I’m just looking to continue that top-five streak; that’s really our focus.
“And the reality is if you put yourself in that top-five you’re in a position to win.”
But Martinsville is a place where drivers not only have to be patient but also easy on their equipment. Abusing the brakes is easy.
“Every time I’ve been to Martinsville I’ve been a lap down or the brakes quit working,” Biffle frets. “We have not run as competitively as we have everywhere else.
“So to be legitimately up front, and beating and bumping the leader for the lead, that was certainly a confidence-builder.
“Because Martinsville is in the chase….and if I can’t run in the top-10 consistently at Martinsville, it’s going to be tough to win a title.”
During his 2005 championship bid, he ran 20th at Martinsville in the fall. “If I’d have gotten a 10th I would have won the title,” he says.
“Martinsville has been one of my downsides. Over-charging the corner….our brake package isn’t sufficient enough…and Roush-Fenway in general…..all of us as a group were not that good at Martinsville. And I still think we have some work to do as a group.
“We don’t have three cars in the top-10 or top-15. Normally we’re 10th on back, all five of us.
“So for us to get a little bit better, we need to understand that flat track and front geometry and how to get our cars to turn really good in the center. That’s what Martinsville is about. It’s a little paperclip place where you’ve got to get your car to turn good.
“You can’t change your driving style, you can’t loosen your car up, you can’t really do anything. If your car won’t turn, that track is so small and so much finesse that you’re doomed.
“At Darlington, Texas, Phoenix, you can change your line up, you can get a little higher getting in, get the car a little looser, try to burp the throttle in the center. But that stuff doesn’t work at Martinsville.
“We’re obviously in good shape right now, our program is really running well. But I’m nervous about Martinsville.
“Texas and Phoenix, I can’t wait, I just can’t wait.
“I want to win a race bad. I’m not saying I can’t win at Martinsville, but it is more likely for me to win at Phoenix or Texas.
“I’m hoping the next four or five races we get a win under our belt.”
NASCAR’s new winged car is still, a year on now, such an unknown, particularly at mid-sized tracks like Texas.
“This is still all foreign ground for us,” Biffle says. “Even though we’ve run this car, there’s still a tremendous amount we do not know.
“And if you get off a little bit—I mean, say on your splitter (front nose) balance, like 30-thousandths….you’re talking about such a fine line.
“And if something changes a tiny bit in the race – say, the (shock) bump-stop gets a little weak, or you change tire pressure—you can go from being one of the faster cars to trying to stay on the lead lap all of sudden.
“We’ve seen that with Jimmie Johnson, and Kasey Kahne.
“With this car the window is so small.
“Jeff Burton hit it on the nail head (at Bristol). Carl (Edwards) got it just perfect at California. Kyle Busch got going good at Atlanta.
“It’s just such a fine line it’s easy to miss it.”
Is Biffle riding a wave? Not quite, not yet. But it may be coming. He’s a streak player, and that streak may be coming.
“You just work at it and work at it and work at it,” he says. “This sport is so humbling and so tough: One day you feel you’re pretty good, and the next day you’re way behind.
“It is hard to keep a level head, and keep consistency. That’s the most difficult thing—because when you’ve got something that’s working, then all of a sudden it changes.
“So you always try to make a positive and build on that.
“But last year at Loudon our first race there we were 49th-quickest, the slowest car there. I had run top-five all of the previous races, so that was the most disappointing point in my career.
“But by the end of the year we came back and ran top-10 most of the (September) race and finished 13th.
“Then we take the car to Dover (the following week), and we’re try to catch Carl at the end and finish second.
“We go to Phoenix and finish second, but five or six more laps we would have caught Jimmie Johnson.
“Then the season was over…and we’ve picked up right this year where we left off last year.”