FORT WORTH, Texas – While the 49-race winless streak was wearing somewhat on Greg Biffle, there were also enough encouraging signs during the 18-month drought that he would win more races.
“It will take years off your life. I’ve probably lost several,” Biffle said. “What kept me going or what keeps your spirit up is when you run good. ... We have run good, we just hadn’t finished.”
Until getting to Texas, where Jack Roush’s drivers have always been good.
Biffle held on tight in the fastest Sprint Cup race ever on the 1 1/2-mile, high-banked track, pulling away after charging below Jimmie Johnson for a winning pass with 30 laps remaining on a windy and fast-paced Saturday night.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup season points leader after five consecutive races now has a victory to go with that lofty status.
“To win like this and put a bunch of ground on the guys behind us certainly makes a statement, I think, for all the people that were wondering if this was kind of a fluke that we were still leading the points this far in,” Biffle said.
For Roush, it was his ninth victory in 23 Cup races at Texas, and completed a weekend sweep in the Lone Star State. The team owner won his ninth Nationwide race in Texas, and fourth in a row, when Ricky Stenhouse Jr. went to Victory Lane on Friday night.
After passing Johnson with a strong move deep down in Turn 3 – “I knew the team would forgive me if I wrecked it trying to beat him,” Biffle said – the No. 16 Ford went on to a 3.2-second victory with an average speed of 160.577 mph.
Biffle’s 17th career victory was his first since an October 2010 race in Kansas, where the series goes next week.
A decade after winning the Nationwide Series season championship, which came after a NASCAR trucks championship, maybe this could be the year the 42-year-old Biffle becomes the first driver with a NASCAR series trifecta of titles.
“When I moved from the Truck Series to Nationwide, it was a huge step. It was much, much harder. And when I moved from the Nationwide to the Cup Series, I had no idea that the competition was going to be what it was,” he said. “I knew it was going to be hard. ... But this year is my year, so I’m going to keep after it all the way to Homestead.”
Johnson led three times for 156 of the 334 laps while going for owner Rick Hendrick’s 200th victory. But the five-time Cup champion never recovered, even scraping the No. 48 Chevrolet hard into the wall trying to catch up after Biffle drove under him and passed him for the final time.
“I’m definitely disappointed, but we had a great race car,” said Johnson, who had led only 119 laps combined his first 17 Texas starts. “I just got tangled up in some lapped traffic and the No. 16 made a great move and got by me. Then I was pacing him from there and didn’t have anything left to go get him.”
It was Johnson’s fifth runner-up finish in Texas.
Mark Martin was third in a Michael Waltrip-owned Toyota, while his teammate and polesitter Martin Truex Jr. led 69 laps and finished sixth, his fourth consecutive top 10 this season. Hendrick driver Jeff Gordon was fourth.
Matt Kenseth was fifth for his 14th top-10 finish at Texas.
Biffle’s teammate snapped his own 76-race winless streak there last April, has won three more races since and is second in points.
Even with wind gusts consistently exceeding 30 mph and more, there were only two cautions. Both yellow flags were for debris, once for a cap tumbling around on the track, before the final 234 laps were under green.
That was 112 more laps than the previous Texas record for consecutive green-flag laps. For most of them, cars were spread out and not too close to each other.
“The wind was a huge factor, yeah. The wind was hard,” Biffle said. “That’s probably why nobody wrecked because everybody was so (cautious). I got a hole wore in my hand from holding onto the steering wheel. It was tough. The wind was blowing you all over the place.”
Biffle also won at Texas in 2005, a victory that isn’t part of his current streak of eight top-10 finishes there.
He led seven times for 90 laps, but still spent much of the night chasing Johnson.
Finally, after making up some ground during green-flag stops and “driving the thing sideways around the corner trying to catch” Johnson,
Biffle finally figured out where to make his move. That was in Turn 3 on lap 304.
“I was surprised I didn’t have to deal with him anymore,” Biffle said. “I thought he would be right there.”
But Johnson wasn’t, and was so far back in the closing laps that Biffle had to ask his spotter if that was the No. 48 car way back in his rearview mirror.
That winless drought is now behind Biffle, too.