|ESPN.com: Sprint Cup||[Print without images]|
BROOKLYN, Mich. -- Three laps remained in Sunday's Sprint Cup race at Michigan International Speedway and Greg Biffle -- for good reason -- was a bit anxious.
The Roush Fenway Racing driver knew Jimmie Johnson was closing and had a faster car. Even though it appeared he had enough time to hold off the five-time champion trying to win at MIS for the first time, it was close enough that he couldn't relax.
Johnson's right front tire went down and sent the No. 48 into the wall.
"I love it when the 48 crashes trying to catch us," Biffle said on his radio.
Perhaps it was the wrong choice of words, particularly a few days after NASCAR driver Jason Leffler was killed when his sprint car crashed into the wall at a dirt track in New Jersey.
|Greg Biffle celebrates his Michigan win -- and a happy Father's Day -- with daughter Emma.|
As Biffle later explained, "I don't want to see anybody wreck. I should have said 'make a mistake.'"
The key here is Biffle was fast enough that the five-time champion was trying to catch him. That's something he and most of the Ford drivers haven't been able to say most of the year.
Biffle led only 39 laps, all in the second race at Phoenix, before Sunday. Ironically, he led 48 on this day to give Ford its 1,000th victory in NASCAR's top three series.
"He definitely had a faster car," Biffle said of Johnson. "We got him to make a mistake catching up."
Ford has been playing catch-up most of this season. That's why RFR and Penske Racing got together earlier in the week to figure out how they could join forces to close the gap on the Chevrolets and Toyotas that had won 12 of the first 14 races.
Specifically, they were trying to figure out how to catch the Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolets that had won four times and the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas that had won five times.
And seriously, people, Biffle's choice of words were mild when you consider those that Penske's Brad Keselowski used on Thursday at Ford headquarters in nearby Dearborn, Mich.
In case you missed it, Keselowski claimed HMS and JGR were poaching on the Ford talent at RFR and Penske to gain an advantage. That earned the reigning Cup champion a scolding from the owners at HMS and JGR, as well as his own team owner, for speaking with incorrect facts -- the aero engineer at Roush stolen by JGR being one of them.
That dominated the headlines most of the weekend.
Biffle at best will have to send an apology to Johnson and deal with a few people upset on social media. He'll probably spend more time explaining to pole-sitter Carl Edwards why he didn't slow down to let his teammate blow debris from his grill that was forcing the engine to overheat.
Edwards apparently wasn't thrilled, saying on his radio, "He ain't our teammate," when told Biffle wouldn't come back to help. He went from the lead to an eighth-place finish because he eventually had to pit to resolve the issue.
Biffle shouldn't have to apologize for that, though. He was trying to win a race, his first since taking the checkered at this 2-mile oval in the Irish Hills in August.
Had he slowed with around 40 laps to go to help Edwards, he likely wouldn't have been in position to force Johnson into a mistake trying to go from 10th to first in the final 27 laps.
He likely would have lost the race.
"We all know it's painful, but you roll out of the gas and you let the guy in third catch up to you and you have a spotter tell him, 'Hey, I'm hot, I'm going to let you go. I've got to get the piece off my grille. Will you give me a favor and let me get it off my grille?' " Biffle said.
According to radio communication, the Penske team of Joey Logano in third was willing to help had Edwards been willing to drop back.
"It's a two-way street, right?" Biffle said. "You ask that guy up there to climb back down the rock to help you or you wait for the guy that's coming that way and ask him for help. There's two ways of doing it."
Biffle made the right decision, and team owner Jack Roush supported it.
"There's no team orders for that kind of thing, but I do support the decision that Greg made to not give up his track position, and we'll discuss that," Roush said.
The fact is, this race may have been lost by Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus with bad pit stops and questionable pit strategy as much as it was won by Biffle. Knaus sure felt bad, telling Johnson afterward, "I'm really, really sorry. I'm embarrassed."
Biffle sure was relieved when he saw Johnson was 10th on the last restart and even more relieved when he saw the No. 48 get into the wall.
"We certainly didn't probably have the fastest car today at times," said Biffle, who won consecutive races at Michigan for the second time in his career -- also 2004-05. "It's been well documented we've been behind this season. We've probably gotten more than we deserved the last few weeks with a second and a win.
|Greg Biffle and Jimmie Johnson played cat-and-mouse down the stretch until the five-time Sprint Cup champ lost a tire and found the wall.|
"But it looks like we're well on our way to getting more speed in these cars."
Not that we can proclaim RFR or Ford has caught Chevrolet and Toyota. HMS's Kasey Kahne had issues that forced him to wreck while leading on Lap 105. Teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. blew an engine for the second time in a month while leading on Lap 132.
And Johnson had the fasted car by more than .20 seconds a lap over most of the final 27 laps.
"I certainly don't want to downplay our success at all because this is pretty exciting for our team," Biffle said. "I feel like we've just scratched the surface of how much better our cars are going to get.
"Here today it was obvious the 48 was a little faster than us again. So we've gained on it, definitely we've gained on it. But we're not celebrating quite yet. If you want to put a scale on it, we've probably found half of the speed we needed. We've still got some work to do."
A few weeks ago, Biffle would have said there's no chance he or probably any of the Ford teams had a chance to win the championship. He wouldn't have predicted he would make the Chase.
Now he has hope.
"If we continue to work hard over the next 10 weeks or something, we'll be pretty competitive when it comes time for the Chase," said Biffle, who moved up two spots to eighth in the standings. "You know, years past we've been kind of at the top when the Chase came, sort of. This feels different.
"This feels like we're rising up as we're coming to the Chase."
He shouldn't have to apologize for that anymore than he should have to apologize for what he said about the 48.
When you've dominated the season -- and most of the past seven-plus years -- the way Johnson has, people are bound to get excited when you have misfortune.
"We got him to make a mistake, we got him to falter, and we pushed the envelope, and that's part of racing and part of running hard and being competitive, and it makes you feel good when you push the guy over the edge," Biffle said. "And that's what makes you feel good, is that you outsmarted him or you beat him at his game. I don't think he was going to catch me, but at the same time he made a mistake trying."
That alone is reason to celebrate.