Sept. 22, 2013
By Seth Livingstone
Special to the NASCAR Wire Service
LOUDON, N.H. — The first half of Sunday’s Sylvania 300 had trouble written all over it for Greg Biffle.
But rallying to finish third and leapfrogging from 11th to fifth in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings has put an entirely new perspective on the No. 16 team’s final eight races.
“It was a miracle,” said Biffle upon climbing from his Roush Fenway Racing Ford. “That was the most fun I’ve had in a long time, even though we finished third.”
Biffle was mired mid-pack for much of the race, sitting 17th 150 laps into the 300-lap event. He started the day 10th and was still only 10th with 75 laps to run.
Having entered the race 31 points behind series leader Matt Kenseth, Biffle knew he was on the verge of falling out of contention two races into the Chase, particularly on a track where passing was at a premium.
But Biffle closed with a rush to salvage his top-three finish. Although he still lost ground to Kenseth, he didn’t lose complete contact, remaining within 38 points of the series leader and moving to within two points of teammate Carl Edwards, who also finished strong to place ninth and move up one rung in the standings to fourth.
“Greg did a heckuva job,” crew chief Matt Puccia said. “I’m really proud of him and all of these guys after the weekend we had at Chicago (16th in the first race of the Chase). They redeemed themselves with a good run today and I’m looking forward to the next eight.”
Most importantly for Biffle, by race’s end, he had a car he felt he could win with.
“We didn’t pass anybody in the pits,” Biffle said. “We passed them all on the race track. We just got good at the end and our car really, really took off. We were able to drive by those guys to get up to third. When the sun went down and it cooled off, my car picked up a lot of speed.”
Biffle and Puccia could only wish the 300-lap race was 15-20 laps longer.
“(This race) was about to (get) good,” Biffle said. “The 18 (Kyle Busch) was gonna catch the 20 (Kenseth) in the next few laps and I was probably gonna get to the 18′s bumper. I just wish it was a 325 instead of a 300.”
Said Puccia: “Who knows what would have happened if we had a few more laps? I think we were a little faster than the 18 and 20, but we ran out of time.”
Biffle hasn’t exactly been on a roll. He had finished no better than eighth in any of the previous 11 races. And he’s led only two of the last 12 races for a total of 30 laps.
But Sunday, Biffle was particularly strong on restarts and made a particularly bold move on the race’s final one, vaulting past Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Martin Truex Jr. to charge from sixth to third. He held off Johnson for position the rest of the way.
“I was doing all I could to try and gain spots,” Biffle said. “I was three-wide on the bottom and got that to work a couple of times. (But) it’s so hard to get a run off the bottom. The 48 (Johnson) was underneath me and he just couldn’t get the throttle down on the bottom.
“The 48 was probably faster than me that first 15 laps (of the final run). He was all over my rear bumper but couldn’t really do anything. After his tires leveled off, I was able to drive away from him. I’m sure he’s not happy right now, not being able to get by me, having what appeared to be a little faster car.”
New Hampshire Motor Speedway has never been one of Biffle’s best tracks.
His only career win in 23 career starts at NHMS came in 2008, when he won the first two races of the Chase. Biffle finished 15th at Loudon in the July race.
“This is a track we usually struggle at, but we’ve been working hard on our short track program, so we’ll take it and move on to Dover,” Puccia said.
And 38 points behind the series leader, Biffle knows he’s still in the hunt.
“I’ve won the first two Chase races before and then didn’t win the championship,” he said. “Anything can happen.”