The little kid with the gelled Mohawk uncrossed his legs and hopped up from his primo seat on the floor in front of the 500,000-gallon coral reef tank. Sergeant majors and eels and tarpon glided by as if he were watching a room-sized screensaver.
Turning to the man with the staff-issue blue Oxford, name tag and walkie-talkie, the kid asked, "I hear that's a NASCAR driver?" gesturing over his shoulder with a thumb toward one of the figures frolicking with a sea turtle at the top of the room-sized tank.
"Yes," replied the man, bending to make eye contact with the kid. "That's Greg Biffle."
Blank. Silence. Bubble, bubble, bubble.
"What time does the show start?" the kid asked.
Greg Biffle says he sort of likes "flying under the radar." It suits him, he says. But if he talks long enough, he begins to wonder how his low profile is possible. He's won a NASCAR truck series and Nationwide title, and barely missed what would have been an historic Sprint Cup title in 2005 -- no one has won all three championships. Plus, he's contending again this season for high-profile, highly successful Roush Fenway Racing.
On Tuesday he actually swam under the radar during a promotion junket at the Florida Aquarium in Tampa for the July 4 Coke Zero 400, which he won in 2003. Clad in scuba gear, and separated from the unimpressed kid by a few inches of glass and 20 feet of water, Biffle, 39, was enjoying one of the ancillary joys of the job. Much of his charitable efforts involve an eponymous foundation dedicated to the welfare of animals. Maybe that's why he didn't seem at all put off when that same aquarium staffer came running down the access stairs to the top of the tank when he prepared to dive, thrusting a waiver form into his hand. (Biffle once was certified to dive but let the license lapse). All this after his aquarium dive chaperone had finished making chomping motions with his hand, as in, "these fish might try to do this to you."
Biffle sat for questions before donning his wet suit and aqua socks, and as usual, he was insightful and unvarnished reflecting on his 13-year career, how he got here, and trophy cases. And somehow he'll still manage to stay under the radar.
Q: So, when's the last time you smashed a trophy?
A: Never. Wait ... I did smash a trophy. I had some glass shelves in the corner of my office, and from the door shutting, kind of normal, it created a little tiny vibration or something and the shelf vibrated out a little bit.
Q: What did you lose?
A: Crystal trophy, maybe the truck series rookie of the year. I had a replica made.
Q: How's the season coming together for you right now at seventh in points?
A: I think we're a little under the radar, obviously. And we as the 16 team tend to fly under the radar a little bit more because we're there every week. We're right there. We tend to not make too much racket, too much out-of-the-ordinary stuff. It does and doesn't bother me. Sometimes it does that you don't get the appreciation factor, like for instance when they were talking about the Dover race and all this stuff I saw about the Dover race, it was "the race that Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart had: two of the best drivers in the sport, two of the best drivers in the world. Did you see them?" I wasn't even mentioned, like I wasn't even there. I was the one leading. Tony and I battled for position and he got by me and then [Johnson] got by me and then they battled for position for the same amount of laps that me and [Stewart] did -- actually, less. But I don't let that bother me. I really don't. I'm not going to lose sleep over that. It's where the storyline is, and sometimes we'll be where the storyline is and sometimes we're not. [Biffle finished third at Dover.]
Q: Are you a contender?
A: We're not lousy by any means. If you look back, we probably should have won California. I went from 14th all the way back up to third in how many laps? Vegas, I had a lug nut fall off and lost track position [seventh] and had a lug nut fall of in Texas, came all the way back [third, leading 93 laps]. At Darlington, I spun out, still not sure what happened. Spun out right in the middle of the corner in the slowest part of the track. Car took off. Probably could have won that. That's four races that coulda-shoulda-woulda, which is good for us. And then we have been running top-five [a lot]. We only had a couple crappy races, which is good for us.
Q: Do your championships in trucks and Nationwide affect how he handle pressure or approach trying to win in Cup?
A: I think so. You file away all that knowledge, all that information, things that you did, mistakes you made, mistakes other people made, you watched people make. You're always learning, but you always have that tucked away in the memory of how you did it, what you did. It's good information to have with you.
Q: How satisfying is it to you that you completed every level on the way up, that nothing was given to you?
A: It's a big deal to me, absolutely. I look back and I've juggled that idea that Kyle Busch is 20-something years old and got that opportunity, Joey Logano is 19 years old, never really raced trucks or Nationwide. You think back, 'Would I have liked to have done that when I was 25 instead of racing in the truck series, starting in the truck series?' Looking back, I think I like the way I did it. I mean, I didn't have a choice. That was the opportunity that was handed to me. But if I had the opportunity to do it over and pick, I think I would have done it the same way. I really would, because ironically enough, [team owner Jack Roush] talked about moving to Nationwide after two years in trucks. Well, I wouldn't have won a title. We talked about moving to Cup after one year in Nationwide. Well, then I wouldn't have won the title there [in 2002]. If I'd changed in any way how we've done the deal so far, I wouldn't have a title. Would I give up those two titles just to race in the Sprint Cup series for three or four more years? I don't know.