Greg Biffle has caught my attention in 2012.
A solid amount of time during my visit to Darlington Raceway for the Southern 500 was spent Biffle watching.
Biffle was the NASCAR Cup Series point leader heading into the weekend. He had a win in Texas last month. He won the pole for the 500. He is, plain and simply, a hot driver.
I had the good fortune to take a pace car ride around Darlington a few hours before the drop of the green flag. Brett Bodine drove and gave me a small taste of what the drivers feel and endure while navigating the egg-shaped speedway.
The g-forces and brake usage are beyond what television or radio coverage can possibly capture. Bodine put the throttle down and took the car over 100 mph. Yet we were close to half of the speed the drivers achieve while racing. My neck hurt after Bodine’s two laps.
Did I mention we were less than two feet from the retaining wall?
The laps gave me a sense of what even the last place driver endures. By comparison, the driver leading the pack must be an absolute master of controlling a car. Biffle’s pole speed averaged over 180 mph.
On a personal level Biffle recently visited my daughter’s elementary school to promote dental health. “The Biff” quickly became a favorite NASCAR man to the first grader who calls me Dad. She is already a budding race fan at our local speedways, and now has “a guy” for Sunday’s Cup action.
Biffle is a difficult man to ignore, inside my home or at the track.
I took a perch on pit road for the green flag right behind Biffle’s pit stall. He showed his expected speed at the drop of the green and rocketed to command the early stages. Lapped traffic was approached by lap 15.
I explored different vantage points around the infield, including the media center, of the number 16’s evening.
Following Biffle losing the lead to Jimmie Johnson on the 500’s second green flag pit stop exchange, the crew studied a replay, attempting to diagnose the time difference. Some discussion and a brief conference took place as the crew seemed satisfied and eager to attack another stop.
The team adjusted tire pressures on subsequent stops in an attempt to improve a loose handling condition. That looseness reared its ugly head as Biffle challenged Denny Hamlin’s lead during a restart with just over 130 laps to go and Biffle nearly spun out. He lost positions as he tried to keep the rear of the car underneath him.
“I can’t even drive it. It’s just horrible,” said Biffle during a radio transmission.
The pit crew continued to adjust on the car as the race wore on. During the later stages Biffle made his way back into the top five only to once again lose positions.
I made my way back to Biffle’s pit area to watch the conclusion of the race. The crew appeared pensive yet ready to accept a top-ten finish.
The final restart saw him take the green in ninth position but drop to see the checkered in 12th. The crew packed up their pit equipment wearing disappointed expressions instead of that of a satisfied ending.
At the race’s conclusion Biffle still held the championship lead by two points over Matt Kenseth. If he winds up winning the title come November, Biffle can point to a night like this where the team grabbed all they could in a race that ended up poorly.
Some teams’ bad races are outside the top-30. The serious championship contenders can still see the top-ten on disappointing nights.
Although Biffle and his team were unhappy about their Southern 500 finish, Lake Norman Elementary students can still high-five after his season performance so far.