Biffle in position to make history
To some, Greg Biffle is considered "old" at 35. After all, he's in just his third Nextel Cup season in an era where drivers are getting their starts before turning 20.
Biffle, though, doesn't see things that way. He makes a pretty convincing case that he's not all that old, and he's not sure why so much has been made about his age.
"I felt like there has been a lot of focus on my age," Biffle said. "I don't know what the phenomenon was about that, other than I raced in the [Craftsman] Truck Series for three years, raced in the Busch Series for two and now it's my third year in the Cup Series and I've kind of come out of nowhere [so] to speak.
"I think what people are saying is, 'No, he didn't come out of anywhere. He's been here the whole time.' But I recognize that I'm older than these guys. What's funny is I'm a little over a year older than Tony Stewart, and there isn't this big uproar about his age or Jeff Gordon's age. I'm two years old than Jeff. It's got me thinking about it a little bit what's the big emphasis on it. A lot of the emphasis is guys that are 20 years old, like Kyle Busch, coming in and having the opportunity. I just didn't have the opportunity then and I've got the opportunity now, and I'm taking advantage of it."
That's quite an understatement, as Biffle heads into Sunday's Coca-Cola 600 second in points and tied with Gordon for the series lead in wins with three. With season titles in the Craftsman Truck and Busch series on his résumé, Biffle's gunning to be the first driver to register championships in each of NASCAR's national touring series.
First, of course, he'll have to remain in the top 10 through the year's 26th race, but that appears to be a foregone conclusion, barring a major collapse or an incredible stretch of horrible racing luck.
The Vancouver, Wash., native says being the first to earn a hat trick would be special, which is why he's spending so much time working with his team.
"I'm really involved in the race team and our race cars and what we're doing and staying in shape and working hard, and I'm staying focused on winning races. I want to be the toughest team when it comes to the last 10 races," Biffle said. "I think that we're the toughest team right now, but that doesn't do any good until it comes to the last 10, and somebody else may be better by then.
"The ball could change courts and somebody else could have turned the corner and be hitting on something that's better the 97 (Kurt Busch), the 38 (Elliott Sadler), the 24 (Gordon), 48 (Jimmie Johnson) I mean there are a bunch of cars including Mark Martin. There are a ton of them that could be better than us when it comes to that time."
At the moment, though, Biffle will put his Doug Richert-led team at the top of the charts.
"Right now, I feel that we're the best. It could change this week, but I'm really excited about trying to win the Nextel Cup title this year," he said. "To have all three this is kind of funny, but I joked about it. I always said that I'd retire. I said, 'I'm retiring the day I get my third title, whenever it is.' I don't think I'm quite ready to retire yet, so I might have to revise my plan, but I certainly don't want to revise winning a title this year."
Biffle, though, wasn't at his best Saturday in the Nextel All-Star Challenge, where he finished 14th. Lowe's Motor Speedway was ground earlier this spring, giving the fast, 1.5-mile track a different feel.
Now that he has had a chance to run on it, Biffle thinks he'll be better starting Thursday, when qualifying is held back at Lowe's for this weekend's Coca-Cola 600. He also expects the 600 to have a higher quality of racing than the All-Star Challenge.
"[Now] the track has got some rubber built up on it, and I think it was just a matter of I probably let my guard down more than anything because we typically go to a racetrack when it doesn't have any rubber on it," he said.
In such situations, that leads to a track with a lot of grip. That's how Lowe's was when Biffle tested there. But after practice and qualifying for the Nextel Open and the Challenge, not to mention a Truck Series race, conditions were a lot different.
"It started to get some rubber built up on it, and we hadn't adjusted for that yet," Biffle said. "So I think we're gonna see a different race. I think a lot of guys were a little off on their setups. I think we're gonna see a lot of side-by-side definitely two-groove racing. I'm a confident believer in that, that they've made the racetrack better and it's gonna put on a better show than it has in the past."
Racing on Memorial Day weekend will be extra special for Biffle (who's sponsored by the National Guard), Joe Nemechek (Army) and Ricky Rudd (whose Ford will carry an Air Force paint scheme). Biffle has more than enough motivation in his own right, but he said the soldiers he meets via his sponsor only strengthen his resolve to win.
"It's hard to put into words what it means to be able to drive for the National Guard. I get to meet so many soldiers week in and week out," Biffle said. "I met a soldier just this last weekend that comes to mind. The soldier lost his leg and was coming up getting pictures, getting autographs, and was excited to be there at the track and get to meet me.
"It's so satisfying to see that those folks are excited about the program, excited about the racing and defending our country. I feel like I'm just a very small part of that with the National Guard, and I'm really excited to be able to carry our flag every week in the race. To be able to win three times this year, I think it's done a lot for our soldiers and a lot for the people serving.
"I'm amazed every single time I go to the racetrack because there's a different story I hear about somebody did this or somebody did that. Guys with the 16 [Biffle's car number] on their helmet in their fighter jet and flying the helicopters and all kinds of things, so it's neat to see the support throughout the community, and it's neat to see all the support from all the folks over here all the citizens over here supporting our troops."
Mark Ashenfelter is an associate editor at NASCAR Scene magazine and a contributor to ESPN.com.