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Greg Biffle remains under Sprint Cup radar despite successes

Photo: Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR

Greg Biffle led the Sprint Cup point standings for 11 consecutive weeks earlier this season.

He is a two-time NASCAR champion who has led the Sprint Cup point standings for more weeks than any other driver this season. Only Jimmie Johnson has more top-five finishes this year than he does, and only three drivers have more top 10s. He has the seventh-most victories on the circuit since 2004, and over the past 4 1/2 seasons he has accumulated more wins than a couple of guys named Gordon and Earnhardt.

So how come nobody seems to consider Greg Biffle to be a serious championship contender?

"I don't know. It just seems like people want to talk about the same six or seven guys all the time, and I'm not one of them," Biffle said with a slight smile moments after finishing third in Sunday's Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. "I'm going to let them figure it out on their own, because we're not going anywhere."

Those are confident words, but Biffle is certain he can back them up on the race track. And why not? It is easy to forget that Biffle led the Sprint Cup point standings for 11 consecutive weeks earlier this season and has never dipped lower than fourth (he currently is in third place). He is one of the steadiest drivers on the circuit, with only four finishes outside the top 13 and none worse than 24th this year.

Yet when it comes time to analyze the upcoming Chase for the Championship, which begins in seven races, Biffle's name rarely is mentioned. Most of the talk focuses on Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. and defending champ Tony Stewart. Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlim will get thrown into the mix, and there will be repeated mentions to never count out Kyle Busch. In fact, the struggles this season of Jeff Gordon and Carl Edwards have received much more attention than Biffle's success.

"It bothers me a little bit sometimes," Biffle admitted Sunday. "We're a solid team. We're a championship-caliber team, and we're getting better and better."

When asked if he thought he could be a serious contender in the Chase, Biffle did not hesitate in saying, "Absolutely, 100 percent. I'm ready right now. We have some great cars. I can't wait."

Biffle might appear to be overly assured for a driver who, despite his overall success, still has only one victory this season. And let's not forget that he is just a year removed from one of the worst seasons of his career, when he managed only three top-five finishes, missed the Chase for the first time in four years and slumped to 16th place in the final standings.

But let's also not forget that this is a driver who has experience in winning championships. Biffle captured the NASCAR Truck Series title in 2000 and the Nationwide championship in 2002. He also made a strong push for the Sprint Cup title in 2005, finishing second to Tony Stewart. In addition, the 10-race Chase includes several of Biffle's best tracks. He has picked up victories at five of the tracks in the Chase and has truly struggled only at Martinsville (where he has an average finish of 21.9).

"Those are a lot of great tracks for us (in the Chase)," Biffle said. "Places like Texas, Chicago, Kansas, New Hampshire. Those place are right up our alley. I feel really good about our chances."

If others don't feel the same way, it could stem from the substantial slump Biffle experienced last year. In addition to going winless for only the second time in his Cup career, Biffle managed a paltry five top-10 finishes over the final 23 races. He wasn't just under the radar, he was off the screen entirely.

"This sport can be so humbling. It's so tough," Biffle said. "One day you feel like you're pretty good, and then the next day you're way behind. It's hard to keep a level head and level playing field and keep consistency. That's the most difficult thing. When you have something that's working and going well, and then all of a sudden it changes. It is very, very difficult to handle that."

And once things start going wrong, Biffle said, it is hard to shift the momentum midway through the season. He actually got off to a decent start last year before hitting a stretch of six consecutive races without a finish better than 15th. By the time his team was able to improve the performance on the track, it was too late for him to rally and make the Chase.

"Once you get behind, the hardest thing about catching up is it's like trying to catch up to somebody who is older than you in age," Biffle said. "You're both learning at the same acceleration, but you're behind them. So it's really hard to leapfrog back up and get to their level. It's difficult to do.

"You just have to work at it and work at it. You try and look at positive things. You try and look at the bright side. If there is anything positive, you always try and build on that."

The Brickyard provided one of those building-block weekends for Biffle and the No. 16 team. He said they had some issues during the first half of the two-hour practice session that was held on Saturday, but then made some changes to the rear-suspension package and picked up speed during the final 30 minutes of practice. That carried over to Sunday's race, as Biffle ran near the front the entire afternoon.

"If we'd had just a little bit more practice time, it would have made a big difference and I think we could have run with (Johnson, who won the race with a dominating performance)," Biffle said. "Just another half-hour is all we needed. I know that doesn't sound like a lot of time, but we were that close. We knew where we were off, and we knew what we needed to do. We just ran out of time to get it exactly right. But we definitely learned some things that will help us and give us confidence the rest of the season."

As Biffle talked, he glanced toward the media scrum that was forming around Earnhardt's car. NASCAR's most popular driver had just taken over the points lead for the first time in eight years and was undoubtedly the center of attention even though he actually finished one spot behind Biffle in the race.

Biffle probably did not receive as much notice during his entire 11-week run atop the point standings as Earnhardt was getting on this single afternoon. Biffle was asked whether this discrepancy in attention ever irritates him.

"It's kind of nice flying under the radar and being an underdog, I guess," Biffle said, not sounding like he was entirely pleased with the situation. "But I can't worry about that. We're just going to keep working hard and doing our part on this team. Eventually they'll have to talk about us."

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