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Biffle the unheralded driver lurking in top 10

BRISTOL, Tenn. – Most drivers near the top of the Sprint Cup points standings get more attention than Greg Biffle these days.

Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards are having magical seasons, and Jeff Gordon and Matt Kenseth are more in danger of missing NASCAR’s soon-to-start 10-race playoffs. Everything Dale Earnhardt Jr. does is news, Jimmie Johnson is trying to win his third championship in a row, Tony Stewart is hoping to win one as a parting gift to Joe Gibbs Racing, and Jeff Burton and Kevin Harvick are among the best drivers never to win one.

Biffle doesn’t mind at all, and is content to lurk in the shadows, at least for now.

“That’s the way it’s been, predominantly, a lot of the time,” the veteran for Roush Fenway Racing said. “I think they kind of skip over me. I like that because it’s less pressure for me. We just do the best we can, stay under the radar, I guess, and see what we can do.”

So far, that’s been a lot, especially since he remains winless this year.

Biffle will head into this weekend’s race at California seventh in the point standings, 141 points ahead of teammate David Ragan, who is 13th with two races to go before the top 12 advance into the Chase for the championship. Kenseth, another teammate, stands 10th.

Jack Roush, who could wind up with four drivers in the Chase field if Ragan moves up one spot, thinks Biffle’s team is close to putting it all together at the best time possible.

“We still just haven’t got the chemistry between he and the crew chief and the team that we rebuilt to be where it’s at its absolute best, but they’re very close to being able to do the deal,” Roush said before Biffle finished 11th at Bristol on Saturday night. “If we could just win a race and get that behind us, I think everybody would be a little bit more relaxed.”

While Edwards, Roush’s top driver this year, picked up his sixth victory of the season at Bristol, Biffle never contended for the victory despite being solid all race long.

“The reason he hasn’t won is just because we haven’t had our cars fast enough, but he’s been close,” Roush said. “He should have won two or three times this year. Maybe he can be a contender for a championship and have the best part of his year after the Chase starts.”

That would clearly be just fine with Biffle, who has finished just outside the top 12 in each of the last two seasons after bad luck snatched the title from his grasp in 2005.

Second in points to begin the playoffs, Biffle was running third in both the standings and on the track at Texas in the third-to-last race when everyone made green flag pit stops.

When the stop was finished, Biffle left pit road and NASCAR saw that a wheel was loose, called him back down to pit road still under green and he returned to the track a lap down.

“It was a long green run day and I ran third the rest of the day,” he said, “but a lap down third, and every time the caution would come out, (the leaders) were passing lapped cars again and I never got the lucky dog” that would have helped him get back on the lead lap.

“I finished 20th and we ended up losing the championship by 35 points. All we needed was a top-10 there and I had the championship won,” he said. Instead, Tony Stewart won the title.

“That’s kind of sore, I guess, but hopefully it won’t happen this year if we get in.”

In anticipation of making the Chase, Biffle and his team spent part of last week testing at Milwaukee, sessions they hope will help when they get to Phoenix and New Hampshire.

“We feel again like we could be a threat,” he said.

A victory — he’s got 12 of them in his career, but none since last September at Kansas — would be a nice boost to that cause, and so would a continuation of his steady finishes.

He has 10 top-10s this season, and his average finish is 14.8.

“You’ve got to put yourself in that position to be able to win a race,” he said. “You’re not going to win from running 20th. You’re going to be in position running in the top five.”

And that responsibility, he said, all comes down to one person.

“It’s going to be up to me,” he said.