Biffle's chase starts at Michigan

Greg Biffle sits 13th in the Nextel Cup standings, 180 points out of 10th place. Biffle's chances to qualify for the Chase must begin with this week's race at Michigan, Rupen Fofaria writes.

Updated: August 17, 2006, 1:19 PM ET
By Rupen Fofaria | Special to ESPN.com

There's no question that Greg Biffle has what it takes to contend for a title. He was runner-up to Nextel Cup champ Tony Stewart last year.

Even when Biffle got out of the gates this year with 31st- and 42nd-place finishes, and went on to suffer three more sub-30th finishes during the first 10 events, there was no question that the Roush Racing driver could pull himself up from as low as 23rd in the rankings to snatch one of 10 Chase bids.

Greg Biffle
Elsa/Getty Images for NASCAR

All of that was clear just six races ago, when Biffle was ninth and riding a streak of seven straight top-10 finishes.

What is less clear is whether he has the guts and determination to pull off a second turnaround within the next four races, the final four events before the playoff-style Chase for the Nextel Cup begins. Drivers in the top 10 and those within 400 points of the leader advance to the 10-race Chase for the title, but because the top 10 are already separated by 515 points it appears that, for the the third year in a row, the Chase will be limited to only 10 contenders.

Since his fourth-place finish at Sonoma, which brought him to ninth in the standings, Biffle has notched just one top 10 in the last six races and has finished outside of the top 30 in his last two starts. He's back down to 13th in the standings, 180 points out of 10th.

Coming back from a sluggish start is a laborous endeavor. To suffer through a second rebound in the same season is damn near exhausting. But even if Biffle wanted to give up, he can't shake the pesky feeling of hope which stems both from his success at many of the upcoming tracks and from his teammate's inspirational, late-season comeback last year.

"Matt was 168 points out after Indy and had finishes of 18th, third, first, seventh and second and made the Chase," Biffle said of teammate Matt Kenseth. "We need to average top-five finishes and it depends on what the other guys do. I feel like we have an opportunity to make it in."

Kenseth was 16th in the standings and 165 points out of 10th place following the 2005 event at Watkins Glen, three spots lower but 15 points better than Biffle now. The folks ahead of Biffle won't make things easy, though. The two drivers ahead of him are Kurt Busch, the 2004 champ, and Kasey Kahne, winner of a season-high four races.

And even if Biffle got past those two, he'd have to bump the likes of Dale Earnhardt Jr. or Jeff Gordon out of the top 10. Just ahead of those two stars are rookie phenom Denny Hamlin and defending champ Tony Stewart.

"This is the time of the season where teams and drivers are being more consistent and are getting their stride, so to speak, and their consistency down," he said. "That makes it difficult as well."

Still, Biffle knows that he can put together a run of stellar finishes. He's done it once this year and he's coming up on some tracks he likes. Take this weekend's host, Michigan International Speedway, for instance. In the last three Cup races run there, Biffle leads the field in averaging running position.

Biffle stopped short of saying, as he had just three weeks ago, that he felt confident that he could make the Chase. Two straight subpar finishes have rendered him cautious. Still, he's won two of the last four races at Michigan, and finished top 10 in his two "losses," so rest assured that the confidence, while not expressed verbally, lingers.

"We sat down today and went over our aero numbers and all of our things and kind of mapped some stuff out," Biffle said. "We're going to change some things around on the front noses and make some adjustments. We're working on Michigan, obviously. We're going try to make a go of it."

Rupen Fofaria is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at rupenisracin@yahoo.com.