May 17, 2006
Greg Biffle may have shaken the "monkey" off his back Saturday night at NASCAR's toughest race track, as the Roush Racing driver held off a hard-charging Jeff Gordon to win the Nextel Cup Dodge Charger 500 in a Ford.
After suffering an unbelievable string of bad luck in a majority of the races this season, prior to Darlington, Biffle stayed up on the wheel throughout the grueling, 367-lap event to move his No. 16 National Guard team back in contention for the championship.
Biffle and his team decided to take a chance and made their final pit stop three laps ahead of all the other lead lap cars. The strategy gave him fresh tires and a jump on the competition for the last long run.
"I felt like we needed to take a chance," said Biffle. "I felt like we had so much bad luck, that it's not possible for us to pit three laps before everyone and the caution is going to come out."
The move paid off, but as the laps wound down, Biffle had to keep an eye on Jeff Gordon, who filled his rear view mirror, as the leaders navigated through the late race traffic.
"I was praying for help, I was begging, let them give me a lane," he continued. "A lot of guys did show me respect out there."
Gordon, a six-time Darlington champion was also looking for his first win of the season. During the final 25 laps, he cut into Biffle's lead, but was never able to pull right up on his rear bumper, in order to make a pass.
With two laps left, Gordon was within 0.225-seconds and got one good run at Biffle. But the front two ran up on Ken Schrader, who was battling to stay on the lead lap.
"You've got the two leaders battling and we've got a run on him," Gordon said. "You would expect him to give us plenty of room. He did give the 16 (Biffle) plenty of room . . . but he ran along beside me and the air was pushing me toward the outside wall. That ruined any chance I might have had. But if I hadn't hit the wall earlier that might not have been a factor."
The win moved Biffle up to 14th in points, and just 97 out of qualifying for the Chase.
Biffle's teammate, Matt Kenseth was third, while point's leader Jimmie Johnson came home fourth, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. was fifth.
Despite fighting the flu bug, Dale Jr. ran among the top-five for much of the night, climbing as high as third. It is his second career top-five at Darlington and first since the 2002 season. It moves him up one spot to fifth in the Nextel Cup point standings.
Tony Stewart remained in second place despite his 12th place finish, a bad night for the two-time champion who never got a handle on his Joe Gibbs Chevy. Stewart spun once but kept his car out of Darlington's famous walls.