With six races remaining in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, can Greg Biffle still be a contender?
Certainly, starting from the pole in Saturday’s Bank of America 500 can’t hurt. Biffle’s lap of 193.708 mph broke the existing track record of 193. 216, set by Elliott Sadler for this race in 2005.
But will he be able to maintain his presence at the front of the pack for 500 miles?
“We’re certainly not gonna give up,” Biffle said. “We’re gonna try to win here Saturday night, try to win next week, and that’s all we can do is be in control of our own destiny and try to win these races. Is it too late for us to get back in the hunt? Probably.
"Mathematically, it doesn’t look good, but it’s possible. We’re 50 points out. Take for instance last week. We finished sixth and I look at the scoreboard and Brad (Keselowski, the points leader) is seventh. We gained one point, so 49 more weeks and I’ll be right there with him.
“Unfortunately, that’s the way this sport goes, so all we can do is do the best we can, and whatever happens, happens.”
Biffle led the point standings for 14 of the first 25 weeks of the season. However, he now sits ninth, those 49 points behind Keselowski.
While Biffle is tied in points with Kevin Harvick, only 13 points separate the drivers from fourth-place Kasey Kahne.
Biffle has never won at Charlotte Motor Speedway, but he has been stout at intermediate tracks. Seven of his 18 career Cup victories were earned on 1.5-mile venues.
But the top drivers in the Chase — Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin — are historically solid at these tracks as well. Keselowski and Hamlin have four wins between them this season on 1.5-milers. For Biffle or any of the other drivers to have a shot at the title, Keselowski, Johnson and Hamlin must falter.
“If we get back in it, it’s because they gave it back to us,” Biffle said. “That’s really what’s gonna have to happen, and we’re gonna have to earn it for sure. We’re gonna have to earn it Saturday night here in the Bank of America 500 and next week and on to the rest of the races, but they’re gonna have to give us a little bit back to get us in the hunt.”
GETTING UP TO SPEED
If it weren’t the Chase for the Sprint Cup, all eyes would be on Regan Smith this weekend.
Smith is substituting for the ailing Dale Earnhardt Jr. while he recovers from a concussion. Not surprisingly, NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver checked in with Smith on Thursday night.
“At the time, I was pretty bummed out about the qualifying lap,” said Smith. “And he said, ‘Don’t worry about it, you’re in a car that can pass a lot of cars. You’ll be fine.’ ”
Although Smith qualified the No. 88 Chevrolet 26th for Saturday night’s race, by Friday afternoon he was second on the speed chart in happy hour with a lap of 188.009 mph.
Smith fought a tight condition during Happy Hour, but he’s encouraged by the way the team has “been communicating.” And Smith said the team will have a good game plan for Saturday.
“It’s getting better,” Smith said. “It’s just learning all the characteristics of this race car and what it’s capable of, how much I can lean on it, different things it can do in the corner. As much as anything, I’m getting more and more comfortable in my surroundings in the car.
"Everything from the dashboard to the seat to where you’re positioned in the car is different for me this weekend than what I’m accustomed to for four years, so it’s getting better.
“Obviously, I think every time I get on the racetrack it’s going to continue to get better. And tomorrow (Saturday) is a whole new ballgame. We’re gonna put 43 cars out there, and we’re gonna start deeper in the pack than we want to.”
Smith, 29, has never finished worse than 25th at Charlotte Motor Speedway. His best effort was eighth in last year’s Coca-Cola 600. However, Smith is coming off a season-best top-five finish at Talladega Superspeedway last Sunday.
Ryan Newman will start at the back of the pack Saturday after his engine failed six laps into Happy Hour on Friday.
Newman, who qualified third on Thursday night, radioed to the crew that he was down a cylinder early into final practice.
“There is definitely something big wrong,” crew chief Tony Gibson said. “I’m not sure what, but all the guys from Hendricks will figure out what’s wrong and we’ll put another one in it and will be good to go.
“It’s too bad when you’ve got the track position, but that’s part of it and we’ll get after it.”
Newman leads the Sprint Cup Series with nine poles at CMS, but has never won here. In 23 starts, he has four top-five finishes, including two second-place runs.
Stewart Haas Racing receives its engines from Hendrick Motorsports. Newman, who is 14th in the points standings, experienced two engine failures earlier this season at Talladega and Kentucky.
55 — Career starts (with 4 wins) at Charlotte Motor Speedway for Mark Martin.
54 — Laps in Happy Hour for Brad Keselowski.
188.383 mph — Fastest lap in final practice, posted by Kyle Busch.
Martin starts second for his 850th career Sprint Cup start on Saturday night. He was one of three drivers who broke the previous track record. When Martin, 53, was asked whether he would retire if he stopped having fun, he replied:
"Oh, absolutely. I would because I wouldn’t get the performance. I’m still as fiery a competitor as I was the first time I came here in ’81. In some ways, I’m better than I was in 1981 — some ways, I’m not as good.
"I work with what I have just like I was the first time I came here — I was working with what I had, and now I have a set of circumstances that I work with all the passion that I have, and I love racing.
"And if I was racing for 30th or 25th, I wouldn’t be here tonight. But somehow or another, I’ve been blessed to be in great race cars, and I’ve managed to be able to do what I do, and there’s no reason — there’s been no reason to quit based on all those factors. It’s the fire. It’s the desire. I will compete. When I don’t drive race cars anymore, I will compete.”