Greg Biffle can leave the "suicide watch" jokes behind. His Roush Racing team is back on track and on a bit of a roll heading to Dover International Speedway this weekend.
Sitting 13th in points after a seventh-place run in the Coca-Cola 600, Biffle is 86 points behind Kevin Harvick, the driver currently 10th in points and occupying the final berth in the Chase for the Nextel Cup.
As the defending champion at Dover, Biffle has every reason to be feeling good about things.
"I'm really excited about the rest of the season, going to Dover and all the rest of the places that we've run very well at," Biffle said. "Now that we seem like we have our season on track, I'm certainly excited about our outlook."
It's hard not to be excited after finishing fourth at Richmond, winning at Darlington and then running well at Lowe's Motor Speedway. And he's not only the defending champion at Dover, but at Michigan, which comes up after a stop at Pocono.
In other words, Biffle thinks his run is just beginning. So crew chief Doug Richert will have to find something else to joke about, now that there's no reason to make sure his driver hasn't done himself harm after another great run ended up somewhere short of Victory Lane.
"That's kind of his patented way of joking around when we don't have a good race. It's hard to really keep upbeat when you're having what I would say are terrible races," Biffle said of Richert. "You lead all the laps, qualify outside the front row and run out of gas with two laps to go and finish 17th or something [at Phoenix]. That can really get to you and can get in your head. We as a team just didn't let it happen.
"When we showed up at the racetrack and we park our truck and we unload our car, we feel like we're a top-five team. I said that in the media center, that we consider ourselves a top-five team. We don't consider ourselves substandard because we're 28th in points or 30th in points. We feel like, and we have in our mind-set, that we are fifth in points and that's what kind of team we are, and that kept our momentum and it kept our spirits up for going to the race and running as good as we could.
"We simply had to put the last race totally behind us. 'OK, we went to Phoenix. We ran well. Whatever happened, happened. This week we're concentrating on going to Richmond or we're going to go to Dover and win or Darlington' and so on."
Richert, who was Dale Earnhardt's crew chief for his first Winston Cup championship, has seen the sport from all facets, so he knows when humor is needed. He also knows how to make race cars go fast, as was the case last year when he led Biffle to six wins and a second-place finish in the Chase behind Tony Stewart. Now he's focusing on turning the team's finishes around and is feeling good heading to Dover.
"We're taking the car that we won with at Dover last year. We also won with it at Darlington last year and this year," Richert said. "Greg likes this car a lot and we feel pretty good about taking it to Dover this weekend. Dover is primarily a tight racetrack, so we'll place a lot of emphasis on getting the car to turn in the corners from the center off. It's like any other race, we just need to stay out of trouble and be up there for the win at the end."
When things were going poorly, it would have been easy to panic, but Biffle wouldn't have it. And now that things are turning around, his confidence is as high as you can imagine -- if not higher.
"I feel like our team is going to be really, really hard to beat the rest of the season because that first part of the season tested our toughness and tested our team as a whole, and I think that we proved we're as tough as alligator skin," Biffle said. "It's going to take a lot to beat us down, and having survived through that, I think that we're going to be a really tough team the rest of the season because of that."
Although a solid relationship with Richert might be the key to the team's success in the eyes of most, Biffle knows it goes beyond that. That's why, when things were going wrong this year, he made it a point to spend time at Roush Racing's shop talking things over with those who are responsible for giving him the best cars possible.
"It was just a stand-around thing in the race shop with 15 guys standing around saying, 'Hey, no matter what happens, we're not out of this deal. We're all fighting for the same thing. Keep your heads up. We've been running extremely well. We're going to get over this and we're going to get through it with each other's support.' And everybody was on the same page. We didn't really need to have that talk, but we did it just so that everybody could be together," Biffle said.
Whether it was the talk that turned things around -- or just a matter of luck evening out -- Biffle is clearly back on track. If that remains the case, he'll likely be a factor come the Chase. And then, perhaps, his team will be standing around the Waldorf-Astoria this December celebrating a championship.
Mark Ashenfelter is an associate editor at NASCAR Scene magazine, which has a Web site at www.scenedaily.com.