By Jerry Bonkowski
The Sports Xchange
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – For six seasons, Greg Biffle has been one of NASCAR's biggest conundrums.
He has an immense amount of talent, is a proven winner, is almost always a threat to win any time, anywhere and is a pretty nice guy, to boot – veteran driver Sterling Marlin's caustic reference to Biffle as a "bug-eyed dummy" several years ago notwithstanding.
Yet the Vancouver, Wash., native is Sprint Cup's version of Rodney Dangerfield: he just doesn't get that much respect for his efforts.
Sure, his fellow competitors realize Biffle's prowess. They know they're dealing with a true talent, a racer's racer, so to speak.
But when it comes time for headlines and media and fan attention at Roush Fenway Racing, the focus is typically on teammates Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth.
That doesn't stop Biffle from thinking that he can't repeat, if not improve upon what he did last season. While everyone focused on the Chase battle between Edwards and eventual three-time champ Jimmie Johnson, Biffle was content to fly under the radar.
When the Chase for the Sprint Cup began, he exploded out of the box, winning the first two races of the 10-race playoff – and then remained competitive enough in the final eight races to ultimately finish third in the final standings, the second-highest finish of his career.
After last season, along with finishing second in 2005, just 35 points behind eventual champ Tony Stewart, Biffle has shown that he not only can knock on the door, he's ready to kick it in.
"Somebody asked me, what do you have to do to have an entire season like you had to start the Chase last year?" Biffle said. "Damn, I wish I could answer that question. If we can figure that out, everybody else is in big trouble."
That's why, with a likely repeat of Johnson, Edwards and Kyle Busch getting the lion's share of attention in 2009, Biffle is ready to crash their party.
"They better hike 'em up, because it's going to be tough for them," Biffle said of his competitors. "We're going to come out of the gate with our gloves on."
The Busch Series champ in 2002, Biffle has all the pieces in place to finally add a Sprint Cup title to his mantle this season. But he's been confounded by one flaw that has been the Achilles heel of his racing career: consistency.
For reasons Biffle can't explain, he'll go through a strong period and then fall flat on his face. Example: after winning a series-leading six races and finishing second in 2005, he missed the Chase the following two seasons, earning just two wins (and 13th place) in 2006 and only one win (and 14th place) in 2007.
If you were to put Biffle's career to song, he'd be a perfect complement to Frank Sinatra's That's Life: "I've been up and down and over and out, and I know one thing: each time I find myself flat on my face, I pick myself up and get back in the race."
The key to making a bonafide run for the title this season is to get off to a good start, Biffle said, much like he did last season.
"We're going to be as tough as we can, hopefully win California, go to Las Vegas and earn another top-five like we did last year (finished third) and keep the top-fives coming at Atlanta and Bristol, again just like we did last year (finished fourth at both venues)," Biffle said.
And then he has to keep it going from there, but with one significant difference: he stresses the urgency of winning early and winning often during the first 26 races of the so-called "regular season," and not wait until the Chase to start winning like he did last year.
In other words, begin with a good, solid foundation he can build upon – that's the best way to potentially steal some success and thunder away from Johnson, Edwards and KyBusch.
And with the fact that he turns 40 in December, Biffle realizes that 2009 could be the best – and potentially the last – chance he'll ever have to win that elusive first Cup championship.
"I'm telling you, we're as ready as we've ever been," Biffle said. "Now, let's just go out and do it – and we think we can.
"If we catch some people by surprise, sure, it may be a surprise to them, but it won't be to us. Like I said, we're ready and we're coming."