04/21/05 — A star is born: Biffle working to become NASCAR's next big thing

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A star is born: Biffle working to become NASCAR's next big thing

By Wire
Published in Sports on April 21, 2005 1:59 PM

AVONDALE, Ariz. -- Greg Biffle never has lacked confidence.

In 1997, the Vancouver, Wash., native was racing with some success in one of NASCAR's regional touring series when he got a call from a friend saying team owner Jack Roush was interested in giving him a ride. The drawback was that Biffle would have to come to Charlotte, N.C., to make the deal.

"Before he and I had a conversation, he'd locked his shop in Vancouver -- he had a restaurant and a race car shop -- and he locked them up and came and camped with us until we made the deal," Roush said, grinning. "He wasn't going to leave until his deal was done.

"That really showed a lot of commitment on his part to be able to tear up his roots and to come in and say, 'I want to be part of this and I'll make it work.' I think if we weren't able to move as fast as he wanted to move right away, he was going to drag us into another zip code."

Biffle, then 28, was an instant hit with Roush Racing.

He won rookie of the year honors in the Craftsman Truck Series in 1998, was the series runner-up in 1999 and the champion the next year. Roush moved Biffle up to the Busch Series in 2001 and Biffle was again the top rookie before coming back in 2002 and winning the Busch title.

Stepping up to what was then the Winston Cup series full-time in 2003 presented a whole new challenge. Biffle was not an instant success this time.

His rookie year, Biffle won the July race at Daytona but had only five other top-10 finishes and wound up an undistinguished 20th in the points.

Last year, Biffle started slowly but came on in the second half of the year to win races at Michigan and Homestead -- the season finale -- and moved up to 17th in the standings.

While everyone agreed he was a talented driver, some observers were starting to use the word journeyman to describe Biffle, now 35.

His start this season has quieted that kind of talk.

Biffle has five top-10 finishes, including a pair of victories, in the first seven races of 2005. He goes into Saturday night's Subway Fresh 500 at Phoenix International Raceway second in the standings, trailing Jimmie Johnson by just 135 points.

Johnson, who raced against Biffle in the Busch Series, said he never doubted Biffle's ability.

"He's always been fast," Johnson said. "He's always been hard on the gas. When you're in a race with him, he's definitely going to be very aggressive, and that's not a bad thing. I'm not saying that in a negative way at all.

"Some guys are reckless and aggressive and other guys aren't. You know with Greg that he's going to be aggressive and put up a really good fight."

Biffle's truck and Busch titles were the first NASCAR championships for Roush. Now he has the opportunity to give the team owner his third straight Cup title, joining 2003 champ Matt Kenseth and reigning champion Kurt Busch.

"It takes three things to make these teams work," Roush said. "It takes a driver that can do it. It takes technology that is competitive and it takes a team that can.

"As much as I hate to admit it, it took me three years to get the team where it was able to do for Greg what we've been able to do with Mark (Martin), and for Matt and for Kurt."

The last two years have been frustrating for the impatient Biffle. He has openly criticized the team at times, something that usually doesn't endear a driver to his crew or team hierarchy.

The speculation has been that Biffle, in the final year of his contract, would not be rehired by Roush. He has been mentioned as the front-runner for just about every other possible ride next year.

But Biffle insists he isn't going anywhere.

"Because I'm on a list to drive somebody else's car doesn't mean that they've talked to me," Biffle said.

Asked if that means he plans to stay with Roush's No. 16 Ford team, Biffle said, "Yes, absolutely. There isn't any question about it and there hasn't been this year. We're working on just finalizing some things."