Maybe Biffle can find respect in Chicago

Jul 5, 2005 6:02 AM

It was a short stay at No. 1in the NASCAR Nextel Cup point standings for Greg Biffle. He lasted one week, then let another restrictor plate race get the best of him.

This season Biffle hasn’t let much get in his way. He’s won five races in 17 starts on differing types of tracks. Biffle has everything going for him right now, led by a car owner that has won the last two championships. All he needs is respect.

The fans haven’t really warmed up to him. You don’t see fans swarming his apparel trailers at the track like they do for most of the top drivers. You don’t see fans sport his many sponsors like you do for most other drivers, let alone a driver that has won more races than anyone else in the series. He’s on pace for double-digit wins, a plateau achieved by only the greats of NASCAR.

Why is that? What is it about Greg Biffle that rubs not only a few drivers the wrong way, but also the fans?

In most professional sports, we see fans associate themselves with a winner — if they can’t identify with their local team. In NASCAR, the fans identify with the individual drivers in both their success on the track and personal character. They don’t have to be good guys or well liked. There just needs to be some personal characteristic that for some reason would make a fan want to purchase the sponsor’s hat, t-shirt, or jacket.

The most popular of all drivers is Dale Earnhardt Jr., followed by Jeff Gordon in a distant second. You then have the likes of Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson, Mark Martin, Kevin Harvick, and Rusty Wallace as second tier drivers, followed by all the rest. Their popularity is built on several things. Junior and Harvick had a built-in following already because of Dale Sr. Gordon built a following just because he’s so good. Johnson has capitalized somewhat by being in his wings. Stewart goes against the grain a bit, which has attracted some. Mark Martin is just a class act, who has the admiration of all.

Personally, I like and respect all the drivers. I can find the good side in just about all of them. But for some reason, I’m always baffled at Biffle and his antics. You would think his PR agent would do some things to assist him, along with his car owner Jack Roush. Sit him down and tell him to tone down the comments. He should quit trying to call out every driver on the tour. Even his own teammates aren’t on safe ground from Biffle’s verbal assaults.

Maybe that’s his deal. He’s being himself, keeping it real. That’s nice but, as he continues to win more races and maybe a championship, it sure would make it more special for him if there were a smattering of fans wearing his gear. He needs more fans clapping at the final awards ceremony in New York.

Biffle (9-1) again comes in as the favorite this week in Chicago along with his buddy, and latest victim of Bifflism, Jimmie Johnson (9-1). Tracks that are similar to the 1.5-mile layout at Chicago are Kansas and the 2.0-mile tracks at California and Michigan. The banking rests at 18 degrees, steeper than Las Vegas but flatter than Texas, Atlanta, and Charlotte.

For both Johnson and Biffle, they seem to thrive on tracks like these. Johnson has been at it for over three seasons consistently, while Biffle is accumulating an amazing array of accomplishments on the circuit this season. Biffle has already won at Texas, California, and Michigan. It wouldn’t be a stretch to suggest he has the goods again to win on a cookie cutter track.

In the four Cup races run at Chicago, they really haven’t fallen the way of current trends with hot drivers — with the exception of Ryan Newman in 2003. Newman won at three of the tracks that season that Biffle has already won at this year (Michigan, Dover, and Texas). Newman was an obvious choice to win the race after practices and qualifying. The obvious nature of 2003 hasn’t been the case in any other instance at Chicago.

Kevin Harvick (13-1) won in back-to-back instances in the track’s first two seasons. Harvick has never been considered a solid candidate to win on any of the cookie cutter tracks. You always have to give consideration to the driver who won the last race there, but other than that, Harvick was pretty much set aside as a candidate.

Then we come to last season where Tony Stewart (10-1) came from nowhere to dominate the race. His fastest lap run prior to the race was in qualifying where he ran tenth. In the three practice sessions, his times were awful. On paper, he would definitely be a driver to pick against in matchups. The best he could do in each of the three sessions was 21st, 17th, and 42nd fastest. These sessions are pivotal for teams to get the right combinations going for race conditions. They are also critical for bettors to see what possibly could happen in the race.

When they came out on race day, Stewart needed about 15 laps to get his car going. Then as the faster qualifying cars started slowing, Stewart got faster. He led the most laps that day and taught all of us a lesson, both in the sports books and the garages, not to put too much faith in the numbers.

That was Stewart’s first win of the 2004 campaign. This season, Stewart is coming off two straight wins — a road course and restrictor plate race. That shows how diverse and great a driver he is. He’s been on an amazing three-race streak and is now third in the Cup standings. The Gibbs team finally has it together and it couldn’t be at a better part of the season. Look for them to continue their success this week with a quality run.

Stewart has been on a tear the last three races, but it may come as a shock to some as to which driver has the most Cup points over the last six races. Rusty Wallace (30-1) is finishing off his great career in style, pacing himself throughout the season to give himself an opportunity to make the chase. He’s fifth overall in points and looks to be having the time of his life. He’s a definite long shot to win the race but, knowing his philosophy and style this year with patience being the key, he probably is a much better bet in matchups.

The duo I would look at as key long shot candidates are Yates Racing’s Dale Jarrett (25-1) and Elliott Sadler (20-1). Both would be in the chase if it started this week and both are knocking on the door. Jarrett has a couple of top 5 finishes at Chicago in his career including third last season. Kasey Kahne (15-1) and Jeremy Mayfield (25-1) both had solid runs here last season. However, I haven?t seen the same type ferocity on the cookie cutter tracks from the Dodge team this season.