Throughout the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup season Roush Fenway Racing’s Greg Biffle has been the man to beat when it comes to points.
Consecutive third-place finishes at Daytona, Phoenix and Las Vegas at the start of the year gave the Vancouver, Wash., native the points lead in March.
Biffle has been all smiles for the past three months. He’s won at Texas in April and has compiled seven top-five finishes and eight among the top 10.
This past weekend at Pocono a sour engine – which ran on seven cylinders – sent Biffle spiraling to a 24th-place finish.
The trek was enough to drop him from first to third in points for the first time since the third race of the year. He’s behind teammate Matt Kenseth and Hendrick Motorsports driver Dale Earnhardt Jr.
The outcome certainly wasn’t what Biffle wanted. If nothing else, it’s likely he had become accustomed to the waves of media interviews afforded him due to his strong season.
Through 14 weeks of racing, Biffle and crew chief Matt Puccia hoped that Pocono’s scenario wouldn’t occur. But then, they are long-time racers who know good fortune can end quickly.
“It’s unfortunate we fell back that far, but the points are so tight we knew that if we had an issue we were gonna drop a lot – if we got in a wreck or had an engine problem or a mechanical issue or flat tire,” Biffle said. “You’re vulnerable when you’re only one point or 10 points ahead, but that’s racing. As long as it doesn’t happen in the Chase I’m happy.
“We’ve been on the edge with these engines all year. It’s just such a fine line with oil temperature and you come to Pocono with shifting and, well, the engine just didn’t make it.
“It’s a good thing we just lost a cylinder and could make it to the finish.”
Biffle wasn’t very happy with his Ford throughout the 160-lap race around the newly-paved triangular Pocono track.
“My car was so-so when I was by myself,” he said. “When I was around traffic I wasn’t that good, but I think Pocono will be a good race track as we get more and more races on it.
“We’ve been pretty good everywhere we’ve been and it’s no different here. But the tides have turned. There are a lot of different cars that have run good this season.
“I think it says a lot about the teams and how hard they’re working, and what we’re figuring out is kind of catching up to the competition, if you will.”
Team owner Jack Roush explained team problems suffered by Biffle, Kenseth and the No.99 Ford driven by Carl Edwards.
He seemed relieved to escape Pocono without his Ford drivers losing more ground in the point standings.
“It looks like we had some kind of a valve train failure on the 16 car (Biffle) and that was unfortunate,” Roush said. “He had a good car that they were making adjustments on and making better.
“For whatever reason, the 17 (Kenseth) kept getting jumped on during restarts and shuffled back. He had a car, I think, as good as the 20 car (race winner Joe Logano) or anybody else in the field, but he wasn’t able to hold his position on restarts for reasons I don’t understand.
“We’ll take that apart and try to understand if there’s an issue. The 99 car got hit on lap one and arguably it was the best of our three team cars. That damaged the quarter panel and he lost track position and had to go to the back, and then he didn’t go back far enough to suit NASCAR so they brought him down pit road and that set up a long, frustrating day to gain track position.
“All in all, I think our Fords ran pretty well, but things just didn’t break for us so that we were able to realize the result.”
Kenseth was relieved to have a good run at Pocono, a track on which he has not always had strong finishes.
“It’s probably the best we’ve ever performed at Pocono,” said Kenseth of his seventh-place finish. “The track is awesome. There’s not a great outside groove yet, but that’s to be expected. I think the track was a lot better than anybody expected or hoped for.”
That may be, but Kenseth still had his frustrations.
“I’m just kind of disappointed right now because I thought we had a shot to win under the right circumstances,” he said. “We were pretty strong when we were out front and it just didn’t happen. I couldn’t go on restarts. I thought I was getting a good roll at them, but they would just kind of drive by me.
“That’s frustrating. We’ll keep working on it, but I’m happy we got a decent finish and took over the point lead.”
For Biffle and Kenseth, obviously involved in a championship battle, it’s imperative to go to Michigan prepared to maintain, or return to, the consistency they have enjoyed throughout 2012.
Twelve races remain before the field for the Chase will be determined after the Richmond race in September.
By that time, either Roush teammates, Biffle and Kenseth, could be first in points. Perhaps neither will.
But if each performs as he has so far, to be part of the Chase is almost a certainty – barring unforeseen problems, of course.
Which is exactly what Biffle experienced at Pocono.