Summer Bedgood · Monday June 17, 2013
You know what momentum is, right? That “get the ball rolling” mantra, one that begins with an unexpectedly strong performance and propels a driver and their team onward to continued success. There is no proof that it exists, but it is referenced by even the most prolific engineers in the sport.
As for the drivers? They live for it, even though it’s somewhat of a myth. Basically, the way it is supposed to happen is that as the team works hard to improve, eventually they are going to hit on that special “something” that gives them the turbo boost they need. A driver change, a crew chief, a setup adjustment … it doesn’t matter what it is, but something “clicks.” The wind shifts, the tide rolls in, and the pieces fall into place. From there, the domino effect kicks in and the team suddenly turns red hot as the season goes on.
If there was a picturesque example of momentum in NASCAR right now, Greg Biffle would be the perfect fit. Second in Pocono Raceway last week was only his second top 5 of the year, and his first real performance worth noting. After all, in the season’s first 14 races the only time he’d even led a lap was Phoenix (that bizarre, track position race back in March). But the following week, ending Sunday at Michigan would see the Roush Fenway Racing veteran go to Victory Lane for the first time since the August race there last season. Needless to say, the speedway is one of Biffle’s best racetracks. Four wins there, the most for Biffle at any Sprint Cup oval is enough evidence of that.
This win was no “track position,” fuel mileage, dominant driver of the day had bad luck type either. Biffle led the most laps, meaning he was the car to beat for a good chunk of the race. Yes, the Hendrick Motorsports quartet had their problems but three were in the garage by the 300-mile mark; Biffle then had enough speed to push Jimmie Johnson into overdriving his equipment, resulting in the flat that clinched the victory. Certainly, there was a little luck – Biffle pitted right as a caution came out, leaving him in position to attain the lead instead of being trapped a lap down – but his prepit drive to the front was clearly earned. While it would be unlikely to say that he was the prerace favorite, he lived up to Ford’s legacy of strong Michigan performances: it was the perfect place for the manufacturer to score their 1,000th career victory.
“That is why we race every weekend, to see the luck of the draw and who makes the right decisions,” he said afterwards. “We made the right decisions today and started back up front [when it mattered].”
“I love it when the 48 crashes trying to catch us.”
Biffle is one of those interesting drivers with known talent but little to show for it, still without a Cup Series title for his efforts. He’s an “in between” guy with the fans; no one really dislikes him, but he doesn’t have many fervent supporters, either. He doesn’t win enough to make a Hall of Fame impact, but no one is really surprised when he does eventually make it into Victory Lane. He is, in essence, neutral territory when it comes to the drivers of NASCAR Nation.
That’s not to say Biffle is incapable of one day winning the championship. On the contrary, he’s captured it in two of NASCAR’s three top series, one of just a few drivers who have done so. In Sprint Cup, he has finished top 5 in points three times in 11 full-time seasons, including a runner-up performance in 2005. His 19 trips to Victory Lane and overall average of 16th in the standings are all signs of a really good driver … but falling just short of being great.
Some would argue those numbers won’t be good enough for Biffle under the Chase format. In order to be a true championship contender, you have to consistently be contending for wins and be a true winning threat week to week. Biffle really doesn’t seem to have that consistency, especially when it comes to short track racing, plate racing and road courses. That lack of versatility is opposed to drivers like Johnson and Tony Stewart, who are realistic threats for the win on a week-to-week basis regardless of the track configuration.
However, jumping to conclusions is never realistic in a sport that changes as quickly as NASCAR. At 43 years old, the window of opportunity for a title may be closing; I’d term Biffle’s future title possibilities as “unlikely.” However, he still has many championship-caliber moments in him, capable of getting hot and causing problems for the frontrunners on a short-term basis.
Though he’s certainly getting a late jump in the year, 2013 may well prove to be one of those “opportunities” for Biffle. While Penske Racing, along with teammate Carl Edwards have struggled that leaves an opening for Ford’s top title threat to emerge. It’s anyone’s game, in the Blue Oval camp and this so-called momentum is clearly on the side of the No. 16 team at the right time. Surging into the top 10 in points, after an ugly start it’s a Ford that seems to be hitting its stride in a way that had been lacking for some time now.
Though two races does not make a season, Biffle and his team seem to be carrying confidence, the right type of chemistry you need for the postseason. Team owner Jack Roush felt the same way, knowing this race was the perfect place to flex some muscle.
“Ford has been supporting me for almost 50 years now,” he said in Victory Lane. “And we expect to be at our best when we come to MIS. I am glad we could pull it off.”
If they can continue on with this confidence, disguised as “momentum” perhaps Biffle can pull off another top 5 points finish to his already impressive career belt.
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