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Biffle gets second win; Johnson loses lead

8/23/2004

BROOKLYN, Mich. -- Greg Biffle was proud of himself for an
unlikely reason after winning NASCAR's Nextel Cup race at Michigan
International Speedway.

"The guys did a great job and I didn't make any mistakes, which
is pretty unusual for me to race an entire day and not make any
mistakes,'' Biffle said after pulling away from teammate Mark
Martin for an easy victory Sunday in the GFS Marketplace 400.

Biffle, the only driver to win both the Busch and Craftsman
Truck series championships, has struggled through most of his
65-race Nextel Cup career, finishing 20th in points last year as a
rookie and failing to become a contender this season. He had just
one top 10-finish in the first 19 races of 2004.

But things began to change earlier this month, with finishes of
fourth at Pocono and sixth at Indianapolis before a disappointing
35th-place run a week ago on the road course at Watkins Glen.

"It's been tough at times this season, but I knew we could be
in Victory Lane this year,'' Biffle said. "We've got this 16 car
ironed out.''

Martin and crew chief Pat Tryson chose to take only two tires on
their final pit stop, while Biffle and the rest of the leaders took
four. That gave Martin track position, but he was unable to come
close to chasing down Biffle's Ford.

Biffle pulled steadily away from Martin's Taurus in the closing
laps, beating his Roush Racing teammate to the finish line by 8.216
seconds -- nearly half the front straightaway on the 2-mile oval.

"I was a little bit concerned because you never know what Mark
Martin has up his sleeve,'' Biffle said. "He's always an
aggressive race-car driver. ... Thank goodness he took two tires. I
knew it was over then.''

The driver from Vancouver, Wash., led a race-high 73 of the 200
laps and averaged 139.063 mph, slowed by a Michigan record-tying
nine caution flags.

Martin, who won earlier this year in Dover, and is making a
strong run at a spot in NASCAR's new 10-race championship playoff,
lost ground when he was penalized after a crewman failed to get a
lugnut tightened on his left rear tire during a pit stop on the
130th lap.

The four-time series runner-up, leading before that stop, fell
to 23rd for the ensuing restart after being penalized by NASCAR for
the loose lugnut.

Martin refused to blame his team for losing the race.

"Everybody has problems and mistakes, including the driver,''
he said. "I pile this thing into the concrete once in a while,
too.''

There are only three more races remaining before the field is
set for the "Chase for the Cup,'' with the top 10 drivers in the
standings racing over the last 10 events for the title. After the
race Sept. 11 in Richmond, NASCAR will reset the points, with the
leader only five ahead of the runner-up and 45 in front of the
10th-place driver.

The whole points race tightened up Sunday when Jimmie Johnson --
who took the lead with a fourth-place run here in June and led by
232 just three weeks ago -- had an engine failure for the third
straight week and finished 40th. Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff
Gordon moved to the top.

The four-time series champion, who last led the points at the
end of his championship run in 2001, is now 68 ahead of Johnson.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., a disappointing 21st Sunday, is 139 behind.

"It doesn't matter if you're in the points lead right now,''
said Gordon, who led early but finished seventh. "I just hate it
for Jimmie and those guys that had trouble today.''

In the battle for the bottom of the top 10, Martin moved to 12th
in the standings, just 33 points behind rookie Kasey Kahne. His
fifth-place finish Sunday moved Kahne ahead of Evernham Motorsports
teammate Jeremy Mayfield into 10th.

There are several others drivers still within sight of the top
10, but Biffle is well out of the running in 18th, 370 points
behind Kahne.

"We're going to win more races this year and we're going to be
competitive for the top 10 and the championship next year,'' Biffle
promised.

Martin made his two-tire gamble on lap 175, during a series of
green-flag stops by the leaders, and found himself in second, less
than 2 seconds behind, when rookie Scott Riggs made his final stop,
giving the lead back to Biffle on lap 183.

"We had a great enough car to run second,'' Martin said.
"There was two ways we could run second, take four tires and know
we couldn't win, or take two and try to win. We just didn't have
the left-side tires to get the job done.

"But I didn't know that, and neither did Pat. So I applaud this
whole team. We gave it our best shot to try to come back from the
back of the pack.''