Bad luck over for Biffle

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DARLINGTON, S.C. (AP) – Because so many things went wrong for Greg Biffle during the first three months of the season, his crew chief began checking the driver’s mental health the day after every race.

“There was a couple of times the next day that I did ask him if he had slit his wrists yet,” Doug Richert said, only half-joking.

The situation was never that dire for Biffle, who could have won at least four of the first 10 races but didn’t because a streak of bad luck sabotaged almost every decent finish.

He was frustrated and falling farther and farther behind in the race to make the Chase for the championship – a maddening thought considering he finished second in the final series standings last season.

But Biffle remained positive, convinced that if he persevered, his luck eventually would change. It finally happened Saturday night at Darlington Raceway, where Biffle scored his first victory of the season.

“It was just a matter of time before we broke through,” car owner Jack Roush said. “But if we couldn’t find a good finish for Greg at Darlington, I wasn’t sure we’d get it turned around.”

Biffle went into the Dodge Charger 500 as the defending race winner, and his spirits soaring after a season-high fourth-place finish the week before at Richmond.

He didn’t need to win Saturday night, but a top-five finish was critical if Biffle was going to build enough momentum to get himself back in playoff contention.

His No. 16 Ford was so strong, any thoughts of playing it safe quickly were abandoned.

He drove to the front and led the way for a race-high 170 laps. But when it became clear that the final round of pit stops would come under the green flag, Biffle decided to gamble a little.

He didn’t wait to pit with all the other contenders, choosing instead to be the first driver in for his service call. Biffle was in fourth place when he ducked onto pit road, and as long as a caution didn’t come out before the other three drivers made their stops, he would cycle around to become the leader.

But if the strategy failed, it would cost Biffle any shot at a decent finish.

“I felt like I wanted to take that chance,” he said. “We’ve had so much bad luck, it’s just not possible for us to pit (three) laps before everybody else and then the caution comes out. I knew it was going to be tight. But that was a chance I was willing to take, and it won us the race.”

Biffle still had to contend with Jeff Gordon, a six-time Darlington winner who was getting closer and closer in the rearview mirror. But Gordon slipped and brushed the wall as he passed Matt Kenseth for second place, then lost valuable time when he struggled to get past Ken Schrader’s lapped car.

It kept Gordon from getting close enough to attempt a pass.

“It was just so close, and I wanted it so bad,” he said. “I was a little bit disappointed at the end when I came up on the lapped car. I feel like he could have let us go a little more. But hey, that’s the way it goes. Had I not hit the wall in 3 and 4 when I passed Matt, it wouldn’t have mattered.”

Biffle’s victory pushed him up six spots in the standings, to 14th. He’s now only 97 points away from being eligible for the Chase for the championship. Just two weeks ago, Biffle was 23rd in the standings and 232 points out of 10th place.

Now he thinks he’s ready to reel off some wins and should be considered one of the favorites for the next two weeks of racing at Lowe’s Motor Speedway.

“That’s pretty unbelievable that we’re 14th in points,” he said. “That’s good news for us and bad news for them because we feel like we tested extremely well at Charlotte, and we feel like we’re one of the better cars there.

“We’re looking forward to gaining some more points with a good top-10 run or maybe top eight and keep working our way up.”

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