One year after missing the Chase for the first time since 2007, Greg Biffle bounced back with a magnificent regular season in 2012. He won two races (Texas and Michigan), and led the Sprint Cup points standings for the final three races before the 10-race Chase.
Heading into the Chase Biffle had every reason to have championship aspirations. But a 13th-place finish at Chicagoland and 18th at New Hampshire have dropped him to ninth overall -- 33 points behind current leader Jimmie Johnson. Biffle drives for Roush Fenway Racing, Ford's flagship team, and the lack of competitiveness isn't confined to his No. 16 car. Ford hasn't had a top-10 in the two Chase races. It's a picture that looked sunny and bright and full of life, but in two weeks has become gloomy for the driver, team and manufacturer.
"We're super disappointed," Biffle said. "We felt coming into this thing, I would have told you we're going to be a serious threat [for the championship]. It's been a really great year. We led more than half the regular season and the points after Richmond, but unfortunately that's about where it ended for us. Three or four races before the Chase started we were so-so at best."
They have eight races to redeem themselves, and you can be assured that Jack Roush and the brain trust at Roush Fenway are leaving no stone unturned. Still, it's astonishing to see one of NASCAR's top-tier organizations, one of the most professional in the world, floundering. Unbelievable, really.
"Matt [Kenseth] was 14th, I was 18th, Carl [Edwards] was 19th [at New Hampshire]. We can try to sugarcoat it all away, but that's embarrassing. We were planning on going to New Hampshire and beating them up, and our car drove way better the last time we were there. There's something that we're missing. I guess we're just off and I think the other teams have raised the bar a little. I think we've slipped down the chain a little, gotten behind somewhere."
Biffle's won twice in his career at Dover, but hasn't been close lately with his last three finishes out of the top 10. Roush Fenway has been working on Sunday's Chase race for two weeks.
"We've been working really hard on Dover," Biffle said. "We're looking at Dover as being a track that's been a little slick and a lot bumpier than what Chicago would be because it's all concrete."
For Biffle and his team, Dover marks the place to stop the free fall, break the momentum that's taking Biffle in the wrong direction. He knows tracks where he and Roush Fenway have excelled are ahead, and they represent opportunities to make up huge chunks of ground in the points.
"We can turn this thing around in one week," Biffle said. "We just need to go there and run strong, run solidly. The mile-and-a-halves have been our dominating profile. Charlotte, Kansas, Texas, Phoenix, Homestead, those are great tracks for us. We can put the screws to people."
Biffle understands the championship might be out of reach. There are eight drivers to climb over to get there.
"Nobody is giving up and we're focused on how to turn it around," Biffle said. "We're not out of it yet, but 33 points out of the lead with eight races to go, it's not a great situation to be in. We've got to finish four positions in front of Jimmie Johnson in every race and that's a big feat, a tall order. But don't count us out."
Biffle and Kenseth, who currently sits at 11th in points -- 35 behind Johnson, are Ford's two drivers in the Chase. Ford hasn't won a Cup championship since Kurt Busch and Roush Fenway did it in 2004, and it's looking unlikely to happen this year, either.
Plenty of motivation remains for Biffle and Kenseth to race to the wire and for the team to deliver better Fusions. There's an elevated dignity and pride in winning races in the Chase. And maybe, as Tony Stewart proved last year, if you get hot and win enough of them, they'll find a chance to climb back into championship contention.