The scene on the podium at Talladega Superspeedway would have provided a perfect script for a state of Kansas tourism commercial.
NASCAR’s Greg Biffle had just finished second in the Aaron’s 499 Sprint Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway, and Clint Bowyer of Emporia, Kan., was third when the subject turned to this Saturday night’s 5-hour Energy 400 at Kansas Speedway.
“I love that race track,” Biffle said of Kansas Speedway. “It’s a lot of fun to race on. Puts on a good race.”
“Thanks, Greg, appreciate that,” Bowyer said. “Great place to go, great place to visit.”
“I love Kansas,” Biffle replied. “I love Clint’s hometown, too.”
That’s a wrap.
Biffle has good reason for sending all the warm and fuzzy feelings Kansas’ way. Biffle is one of five drivers who have won two Sprint Cup races at Kansas Speedway since the track opened in 2001.
The other four — Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth — are all former Sprint Cup champions.
Biffle, 42, has won 19 Sprint Cup races in his 12-year career, but not a championship. And the most immediate way to contend for a championship in 2014 would be if he becomes the first three-time winner at Kansas Speedway.
That would be Biffle’s first win of the season and give him a berth in the Chase in its new win-and-you’re-in format.
Biffle, who won at Kansas Speedway in 2007 — beating Bowyer in a controversial finish — and in 2010 compares the track to other facilities where he’s enjoyed success, especially Michigan, where he has four career wins, and Texas, where he has won twice.
“I really like 1.5 mile tracks for starters,” Biffle said. “That race track really suits my driving style. I like the way it’s laid out. It drives a little like Michigan for me. If we get the set up right and we get speed, we can be pretty dominant there.”
Both of Biffle’s wins at Kansas Speedway came before the track was resurfaced and reconfigured in 2012, and before last year’s introduction of the Gen-6 car, which has been tweaked with a new aero package for 2014.
Biffle, like Roush Fenway Racing teammates Carl Edwards and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., has had some issues with speed in their Fords. Edwards won at Bristol, but he’s had an average finish of 14.8 in the last six races, including 30th at Talladega.
Stenhouse hasn’t been much better. His 10th place at Talladega followed five races when he was 20th or worse.
“This new car it’s kind of a crapshoot when we get there, I really don’t know,” said Biffle, who was 19th at Kansas Speedway in the 2013 spring race and 13th in the fall.
It’s a bit of a mystery considering the Team Penske Fords, with the same engine package, have produced three wins — two by Joey Logano and one by Brad Keselowski.
“We’ve lost our 1.5-mile edge a little bit as a company,” Biffle said. “All of our cars haven’t been that fast. I think we’ve learned a little bit. I was extremely happy with the speed my car had (Sunday) really happy with it. We’re going to be faster there next weekend.”
Biffle’s second-place finish on Sunday was his first podium of the season. He led a race-high 58 laps — or 27 more laps than he had led in the first nine races of the season.
“It’s been tough,” Biffle said. “We haven’t had fast cars. We’ve missed the setup a little bit there’s been a lot of things that haven’t gone our way right at the end.”
Magnifying the issue is Biffle, like Edwards, is in a contract year. Drivers in their 40s who don’t win are a hard sell to sponsors.
“It’s important to win and be in the Chase,” Biffle said. “We made the Chase in five of the last six years, and I’ve got to get in it again. I’d be super excited to win at Kansas, to be the first guy to win three there would be pretty neat.”
“But we got a lot of TV time (at Talladega). That’s got to help.”