Greg Biffle is 12th in points, but hasn't secured a win in 2014 that would qualify him for the Chase. THE BLADE/JEFFREY SMITH
BROOKLYN, Mich. — For a period of time, Michigan International Speedway became one of Greg Biffle’s favorite NASCAR tracks. As recently as last year, Biffle won his second race in as many appearances at the two-mile superspeedway.
Biffle, however, has struggled this season. With the Sprint Cup’s Chase for the Championship only a few weeks away, he understands the sense of urgency that comes with a period of the season that many call “the chase before the Chase” — the four races that precede the start of the Chase, which begins Sept. 14 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill.
“We feel like we can win one of these last four races, so that's what we're focusing on ... and getting our way into the Chase that way,” Biffle said. “But, certainly, we're hanging on by a shoestring to make it in on points, if it comes down to that.”
Biffle qualified 11th for today’s Pure Michigan 400. He’s won four times at MIS, including the 2012 Pure Michigan 400 and the 2013 Quicken Loans 400. He has 10 top-five finishes on the track.
NASCAR overhauled its guidelines for the Chase for the Championship, and 16 drivers qualify for the Chase, including drivers who earn one win in the first 26 races. If there are fewer than 16 race winners in the first 26 races, the 16-driver Chase field will be filled with winless drivers with the most points following the first 26 races. At this point, 12 different drivers have won races this season.
Entering today’s race, Biffle is on the bubble. He’s currently 12th in the Sprint Cup points standings but has yet to earn a win.
“When it comes down to this, you're not only looking at yourself but you're looking at all these other teams,” Biffle said. “For instance, if AJ Allmendinger didn't win this weekend and Carl Edwards or Kurt Busch would have, we would be looking pretty good in the Chase seeding right now with points.
“One of these other guys that are behind us in points goes and wins another one of these races, it really, really shoots us in the foot as far as the points go.”
While Brad Keselowski is second in the points standings behind Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and has earned a spot in the Chase, he understands the dynamic that accompanies the new format.
“Those guys that are fighting for the 15th and 16th spot, it obviously just got a lot harder because they lost a spot to fight for with the way it climbs up the ladder, which I know is kind of hard to explain,” Keselowski said. “It's certainly compelling to watch. I think from NASCAR's point of view, that's what they're looking for, is a compelling Race to the Chase. They're certainly getting that.”
Biffle’s early season struggles didn’t help his own cause. He has seven top-10 finishes this season, but after he finished eighth in the season-opening Daytona 500 in February, he finished no higher than 12th in the next five races.
“It was really disappointing this season, at the beginning of the season, when we were not competitive in the spring there,” Biffle said. “That was really frustrating for us, and so we focused on what we needed to do to get back competitive on those type of tracks, and that's why we elected to test, and we feel much better going back the second time that we've closed in on some of the things we were missing.”
After he finished 20th at the Quicken Loans 400 in June at MIS, Biffle continued to tinker, and a testing session late last month at MIS shed some light for Biffle and his team. He finished fifth two weeks ago in the GoBowling.com 400 at Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pa., and finished eighth last Sunday at the Cheez-It 355 at Watkin Glens (N.Y.) International.
Biffle said is expected to announce his new sponsor within the next few days. “Do I think we're going to have the fastest car [at MIS]? I'm hoping we're close. I feel like we're going to be running in the top 10. That's what we need to do. We've got to run in the top 10, top five. That puts us in position to win races like Pocono, like Watkins Glen. We just need to be a little bit faster each week. We keep finding these bits and pieces of speed.
“Do we wish that happened in April or May? Certainly, but we can't change that. We can only focus on the future.”