Greg Biffle isn't superstitious. That's what he claims, at least.
"I've always said I'm going to build this trophy case, with the center one missing and all that," Biffle said, talking about a display that would house his 2002 Nationwide Series championship trophy and the one he received from winning the 2000 Camping World Truck Series title. He'd leave room for the one he doesn't have – the Tiffany and Co.-designed Sprint Cup championship trophy – as a striking form of motivation.
But Biffle hasn't built it yet because he is actually a bit superstitious, if just to be cautious.
"I don't want to jinx myself," Biffle said. "…[I] can't wait for the day to complete that trophy case."
With 12 races left in the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule, Biffle might be closer to commissioning that dreamt-about trophy case than anyone really wants to give him credit for. He's passed Jimmie Johnson for the series point lead with basically zero fanfare (after, of course, consecutive weeks in which Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. received heavy acknowledgement for doing the same), has two wins in 2012 and is tied for the second-most top-5 finishes of any driver.
"It feels kind of gratifying, satisfying that we've been able to [take the point lead]," Biffle said. "Obviously when Jimmie Johnson got the lead after Pocono, he took great pride, and so did the media and everybody else, to point the fact out that the 48 team is back and all the things that comes with it. So you know, I think that I feel good for myself and my team."
That's as close as Biffle came Tuesday to playing the woe-is-me card in terms of recognition for his team's effort this season. The lack of attention has been a common and mostly unexplainable theme throughout his career, despite being a regular Chase contender and race winner. Biffle's current confidence might be the best explanation for his lack of concern in media attention.
"That's where the confidence comes from with myself and the team, that I feel like we have an opportunity to make a run at this Chase," Biffle said. "It's because even though we didn't win [and] we were off a little bit, [we still] finished top 10, top 5, whatnot."
That confidence, and his point standing, has changed how Biffle's No. 16 Roush Fenway Racing team has approached recent weekends.
"Almost going back to Indy and Pocono, then Michigan, we've been decent in the points so we've kind of tried to step out of the box and do some things to try and learn for the Chase," Biffle said.
"You can't flip a switch, and we're already running as hard as we can. The only thing we can do is take some chances on the setup, whether it might work for the race or not."
That process didn't go smoothly Saturday at Bristol Motor Speedway when Biffle finished 19th, but it followed his win two weeks ago at Michigan. Still, Biffle is leading the series in a number of statistical categories outside of wins that reflect his team's speed. The No. 16 has the best average running position and the best average finish, plus has led the second-most amount of miles in 2012.
As for the Chase? The series will return to eight race tracks it has already competed on in 2012 – tracks where Biffle has finished an average of sixth.
"We're super excited about Kansas, Chicago, Texas. We run good at Dover and Loudon, Homestead, Phoenix," Biffle said. "We're jacked up about these racetracks and how good our cars and team is right now. We potentially could win two or three of those races fairly easily and have strong finishes in the other ones, and that quite frankly could be enough."
HOT: Only time will tell if Saturday night at Bristol is sustainable (we can't force a driver to spike his helmet each time NASCAR races at Bristol) but even if it isn't, we'll sure be talking about the race for a long time. The crowd mostly returned and Bristol style of racing, albeit around the track's high lane, was compelling all night. Never did it feel like the race was settling in to a steady and predictable hum.
I don't care what lane the drivers choose if we can get entertaining races like Bristol on Saturday night.
HOT: Carl Edwards' fuel gamble obviously didn't pay off, but I don't fault the team for trying. Thanks to Ryan Newman's crash, a win Sunday at Atlanta would still elevate him to the 12th Chase spot. Don't stick a fork in that team yet.
NEUTRAL: Tony Stewart should take lessons on helmet throwing from Elliott Sadler. His accuracy was good, but the form and style were in need of some help. Still, good on you, Smoke. Unbridled and raw emotion is what makes NASCAR work best.
HOT: Denny Hamlin took that race by the horns when it mattered Saturday night. It was an impressive and gutsy performance – but is it one he can replicate in the Chase?
NOT: Kevin Harvick will make the Chase, but he's doing it in the same way as the guy who finishes a marathon walking after running the first 10 miles. It's hard to see a solution for that team that makes them championship contenders this year.
HOT: It's still not completely a win-to-get-in scenario, but the final two races ahead of the Chase may be two of most compelling events to follow all season. There's no guarantee the Chase will be a 2011 repeat, but we do know Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards, Ryan Newman, Joey Logano and even Marcos Ambrose will star in a hands-clenched battle for championship play rights. Atlanta and Richmond will be must-see TV – not too unlike Saturday night at Bristol.
NOT: Back to Bristol one more time – why again doesn't NASCAR have more short tracks?
HOT: Kasey Kahne now sits virtually locked in to the Chase field after his task to reach the championship promised land look so impossible in the early summer months. I said it then, and I'll say it now – Kahne has had championship-caliber speed all season. Look out when we get to the Chase.
FINAL: The USA Today's Nate Ryan reported Tuesday that Dale Earnhardt Jr. will make an appearance for the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, one of the sponsors of JR Motorsports, at a side event held during next week's Democratic National Convention in Charlotte. That leads to an interesting question for me: Has Dale Earnhardt Jr. ever voted? And, for that matter, what percentage of NASCAR drivers vote routinely?
There are plenty of reasons to keep them from visiting the ballot box in this day and age thanks to sponsor commitments and appearances, or just being unable to stay in tune with the drag that is an American presidential election. I know plenty of NASCAR types have made contributions to campaigns, but how many drivers get involved enough to actually visit their local elementary school or fire department on Election Day? I'd bet the number isn't too high.
Geoffrey Miller covers racing for Yahoo! Sports. Debate Tony Stewart's helmet toss with him on Twitter @GeoffreyMiller.
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