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Archive for Sunday, May 14, 2006

Biffle avoids mishaps, busts slump

Driver holds off late charge from Gordon, wins Saturday at Darlington Raceway

May 14, 2006

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— Greg Biffle finally snapped the streak of bad luck that has plagued his season, holding off a late charge from Jeff Gordon to win at Darlington Raceway on Saturday night.

It was the first win of the season for Biffle, who had been unable to catch a single break all year.

He led the most laps in three other races, only to see his shot at a win evaporate because of a wide-ranging batch of mishaps.

It made for an agonizing beginning for the driver who had a series-high six victories last season and finished second in the final standings.

But Biffle never allowed the bad breaks to frustrate him, focusing instead on solid finishes that would turn around his season.

He did it last week in Richmond, Va., settling in for a fourth-place finish. But when his Ford proved strong enough to win Saturday night, he set out to take his second straight Darlington race.

Biffle did it in dominating fashion, leading 170 of the 367 laps, but had to keep a close eye on Gordon in his rearview mirror while navigating through traffic.

"I was praying for help, I was begging, 'Let them give me a lane,' " Biffle said. "A lot of guys just showed respect out there."

Gordon, a six-time Darlington winner who also was looking for his first victory of the season, used the final 25 laps to chip away at Biffle's lead.

Gordon cut the margin down to just about a second over the final few laps and had a clear shot at running Biffle down with one to go.

But he never could pull onto Biffle's rear bumper - partly because he couldn't cleanly pass the lapped car of Ken Schrader - and Biffle held on to beat Gordon by two car lengths.

"The two leaders are battling and we've got a lane out of him, and you would just expect like the other lapped cars for him to give more room," Gordon said. "I felt like a little bit of extra room there ... it killed all of my momentum and made the car push into the wall and I lost any chance I had."

The win pushed Biffle up a whopping six spots in the standings, to 14th, and only 97 points out of qualifying for the Chase for the championship.

"I think he's a very solid bet to make it," said third-place finisher Matt Kenseth, Biffle's teammate at Roush Racing. "He'd have to have a lot of things happen for him not to be a contender."

Jimmie Johnson finished fourth.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., who was coming off a win last weekend in Richmond, battled flu-like symptoms throughout the race and even asked his crew to find a possible replacement in case he had to exit the car.

But he hung tough and finished fifth. Ryan Newman was sixth, followed by Kyle Busch, Mark Martin, Jeff Burton and Denny Hamlin.

Defending series champion Tony Stewart had a long night, starting with his spin 150 laps into the race. He looped his Chevrolet through the fourth turn, but avoided hitting anything and was able to continue.

But his car wasn't competitive and he finished 12th. As always, the egg-shaped oval known as the "Track Too Tough To Tame" proved challenging to even the most veteran of drivers. At least 20 cars brushed the wall, earning an infamous Darlington stripe.

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