Biffle captures flag at Marketplace 400
Monday, August 23, 2004
By Mike Harris ~ The Associated Press
BROOKLYN, Mich. -- Greg Biffle was proud of himself for an unlikely reason after winning the NASCAR race at Michigan International Speedway.
"The guys did a great job and I didn't make any mistakes, which is pretty unusual for me to race an entire day and not make any mistakes," Biffle said after pulling away from teammate Mark Martin for an easy victory Sunday in the GFS Marketplace 400.
Biffle, the only driver to win both the Busch and Craftsman Truck series championships, has struggled through most of his 65-race Nextel Cup career, finishing 20th in points last year as a rookie and failing to become a contender this season. He had just one top 10-finish in the first 19 races of 2004.
But things began to change earlier this month, with finishes of fourth at Pocono and sixth at Indianapolis before a disappointing 35th-place run a week ago on the road course at Watkins Glen.
"It's been tough at times this season, but I knew we could be in Victory Lane this year," Biffle said. "We've got this 16 car ironed out."
Martin and crew chief Pat Tryson chose to take only two tires on their final pit stop, while Biffle and the rest of the leaders took four. That gave Martin track position, but he was unable to come close to chasing down Biffle's Ford.
Biffle pulled steadily away from Martin's Taurus in the closing laps, beating his Roush Racing teammate to the finish line by 8.216 seconds -- nearly half the front straightaway on the 2-mile oval.
"I was a little bit concerned because you never know what Mark Martin has up his sleeve," Biffle said. "He's always an aggressive race-car driver. ... Thank goodness he took two tires. I knew it was over then."
The driver from Vancouver, Wash., led a race-high 73 of the 200 laps and averaged 139.063 mph, slowed by a Michigan record-tying nine caution flags.
Martin, who won earlier this year in Dover, and is making a strong run at a spot in NASCAR's new 10-race championship playoff, lost ground when he was penalized after a crewman failed to get a lugnut tightened on his left rear tire during a pit stop on the 130th lap.
The four-time series runner-up, leading before that stop, fell to 23rd for the ensuing restart after being penalized by NASCAR for the loose lugnut.
Martin refused to blame his team for losing the race.
"Everybody has problems and mistakes, including the driver," he said. "I pile this thing into the concrete once in a while, too."
There are only three more races remaining before the field is set for the "Chase for the Cup," with the top 10 drivers in the standings racing over the last 10 events for the title. After the race Sept. 11 in Richmond, NASCAR will reset the points, with the leader only five ahead of the runner-up and 45 in front of the 10th-place driver.
The whole points race tightened up Sunday when Jimmie Johnson -- who took the lead with a fourth-place run here in June and led by 232 just three weeks ago -- had an engine failure for the third straight week and finished 40th. Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon moved to the top.
The four-time series champion, who last led the points at the end of his championship run in 2001, is now 68 ahead of Johnson. Dale Earnhardt Jr., a disappointing 21st Sunday, is 139 behind.
"It doesn't matter if you're in the points lead right now," said Gordon, who led early but finished seventh. "I just hate it for Jimmie and those guys that had trouble today."
In the battle for the bottom of the top 10, Martin moved to 12th in the standings, just 33 points behind rookie Kasey Kahne. His fifth-place finish Sunday moved Kahne ahead of Evernham Motorsports teammate Jeremy Mayfield into 10th.
There are several others drivers still within sight of the top 10, but Biffle is well out of the running in 18th, 370 points behind Kahne.
"We're going to win more races this year and we're going to be competitive for the top 10 and the championship next year," Biffle promised.
Martin made his two-tire gamble on lap 175, during a series of green-flag stops by the leaders, and found himself in second, less than 2 seconds behind, when rookie Scott Riggs made his final stop, giving the lead back to Biffle on lap 183.
"We had a great enough car to run second," Martin said. "There was two ways we could run second, take four tires and know we couldn't win, or take two and try to win. We just didn't have the left-side tires to get the job done.
"But I didn't know that, and neither did Pat. So I applaud this whole team. We gave it our best shot to try to come back from the back of the pack."
Indy Racing League
Although Dario Franchitti was criticized for making the jump to the IRL from the former CART series, his decision is starting to look like a good one.
Now, with two wins this year -- including Sunday at Pikes Peak International Raceway -- perhaps Franchitti will stop hearing the questions.
Franchitti shook off the potentially dangerous pit mishap and used a caution midway through the race to make up ground. He wound up leading the final 63 laps of the IRL's Honda 225.
Franchitti, who held the lead four times for a total of 128 laps, went into the pits on lap 85 for four new tires and fuel. As he started to pull out of the pits, fuel man Mike Miller had trouble getting the hose disconnected from the car and was clipped by the rear tire. Miller wound up with a twisted knee and Franchitti lost about 10 seconds, allowing three drivers to pass him. But what could have been the difference in the race turned out to be just a speed bump for Franchitti.
The Scottish driver took advantage of a yellow flag to clear debris on lap 120, caught up to the leaders and passed Sam Hornish Jr. 12 laps later. Franchitti took the checkered flag 2.2429 seconds ahead of Adrian Fernandez.
-- From wire reports