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Texas struggles hurt Biffle's title chances

11/6/2005

FORT WORTH, Texas -- Greg Biffle was out in front and
seemingly headed for the strong showing he wanted -- and needed -- in
Texas. He then started getting bad vibrations.

Biffle's promising start at the Dickies 500 turned into a
frustrating race in which he spent most of the day just trying to
stay on the lead lap rather than contending for the lead. And it
cost him ground in the NASCAR Nextel Cup championship chase.

Just 37 laps into Sunday's race, Biffle had gone from seventh to
first when he overtook teammate Matt Kenseth for the lead. A dozen
laps later, he was forced to stop under green because of a bad
vibration in his car. His day didn't get any better after that.

"It was pretty clear we would've had a top-five tonight, maybe
a top-10," Biffle said. "It's unfortunate when you're trying to
race to be the lucky dog. It changes your whole systematic deal of
the race when you're racing for the lucky dog versus racing for
position."

While Roush Racing teammates Carl Edwards, Mark Martin and
Kenseth finished 1-2-3, Biffle was 20th, though he did finish all
334 laps after getting back on the lead lap on the final caution.

With two races left, Biffle dropped from third to fourth in
points, and his margin behind leader Tony Stewart increased from 75
to 122.

On the 83rd lap, Biffle got loose coming out of turn 4. He spun
across the frontstretch, but somehow managed to keep the No. 16
Ford from hitting the wall or any other cars.

About 200 laps later, Biffle spun again coming out of turn 4. He
would have gotten back on the lead lap then, except he caused the
caution.

Newman slips
Ryan Newman was the polesitter Sunday, but
didn't even lead a lap. He never got in the top 10, and ran only a
handful of laps in the top 20.

Forced to a backup car because he wrecked on his second
qualifying lap Friday, Newman had to start at the back of the
43-car field Sunday. He finished 25th as the last car on the lead
lap, and slipped from fifth to seventh in season points -- 174
behind leader Tony Stewart.

Hamlin gets full-time ride
Denny Hamlin was behind the wheel
of Joe Gibbs' No. 11 Chevrolet for the fifth straight race Sunday.
There will be plenty more races in that car.

Even before Hamlin finished seventh in the Dickies 500, Joe
Gibbs Racing announced that Hamlin would be the driver for the rest
of this season, and in 2006.

"Just one year ago, I never dreamed I'd be in this situation,"
the 24-year-old Hamlin said. "But the passion is there each and
every week. It's something I was born and raised to do."

Jason Leffler was fired after the Brickyard 400 in August, when
he was 35th in points and didn't have a top-10 finish in any of his
19 races. Hamlin was given a monthlong tryout leading into Texas,
and had two top-10 finishes in those four races.

"He's just so consistent and smooth on the track. He doesn't
get rattled," Gibbs Racing president J.D. Gibbs said. "He takes
his time the first part of the race. He learns the track, he's
careful around guys, then he starts kind of picking up and
moving."

Hamlin is fifth in Busch Series points, and will also run a
full-time Busch schedule next year.

Aikman's split attention
When Troy Aikman is broadcasting NFL
games on Fox next fall, he'll also have an interest in what's being
televised on NBC.

The Hall of Fame Racing team formed by Aikman and Roger
Staubach, the quarterbacks who led the Dallas Cowboys to their five
Super Bowl championships, will debut in Nextel Cup next season.

"The hard part being in the booth doing football is I'll be
wondering at various points in the game how the No. 96 car is
doing," Aikman said.

Aikman expects to get plenty of updates from the Fox production
crew that he works with for NFL games. It's the same crew that
works Fox's NASCAR telecasts the first half of the season before
NBC takes over.

"They are very much into NASCAR as well," Aikman said.

Stewart's bridge
A new overpass that eases congestion at the
south tunnel at Texas Motor Speedway was dedicated as the "Tony
Stewart Bridge."

Stewart in the past complained after traffic congestion in that
area, and almost missed a driver's meeting because of it one time.
Track president Eddie Gossage had joked he would name an overpass
for Stewart, and he did on the bridge completed this year.

He said it
"We can win the championship on racing, and not
have to count on bad luck on anybody's behalf." -- Jimmie Johnson,
who finished fifth Sunday, to remain second in the points chase and
cut the gap behind leader Tony Stewart from 43 to 38 points.

Sparkplugs
Carl Edwards was the 10th winner in 10 Nextel Cup
races at Texas. He was the fifth Roush driver. … The announced
crowd was 194,500. This was the first time that Texas Motor
Speedway had two Nextel Cup races in the same year The track has
159,585 permanent seats and a listed estimated capacity of 212,585.
… This was the first Texas race to start in the daylight and end
under the lights. … TMS officials gave retiring driver Rusty
Wallace a pair of cowboy boots and a replica of the "Wallace
Lane" sign from the road on track property that bears his name.