Greg Biffle is NASCAR’s Bubble Boy.
It is a precarious place to be with just five races to go before the 16-driver field is set for the Chase.
Although Biffle is 13th in points after a fifth-place finish at Pocono, he is precariously close to not making the Chase. Three drivers with victories — a premium in the new qualifying format — will supersede him for a Chase berth.
That leaves him as the last man standing at 16th place.
Biffle joins a cluster of five winless drivers — Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman, Clint Bowyer and Kyle Larson are the others — jockeying for a playoff spot.
Given the circumstances, it’s no surprise that Biffle and his crew chief, Matt Puccia, took a shot at stealing a victory at Pocono on a fuel-mileage gamble.
With 19 laps remaining, Biffle didn’t pit for tires and fuel, hoping to stay in the lead. But the play backfired after a late caution. Dale Earnhardt Jr. ended up winning the race to sweep Pocono’s two 2014 Sprint Cup races.
“We had a 20th-place car and got track position and drove our butt off,” Biffle said. “We did everything we could. We had a good strategy there and we might have been able to sneak one out.
“If that second caution wouldn’t have come out for Kurt [Busch], we might have had a prayer to try to steal one.”
Biffle is racing the clock in several ways these days. The departure of Carl Edwards from the Jack Roush stable next season bumps him up to No. 1 driver status, serving as a mentor of sorts for Trevor Bayne and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
At 44, Biffle has been more of a Robin than Batman in the NASCAR Sprint Cup power grid. He has won titles in the Camping Tuck and Nationwide Series but has been unable to complete the championship triangle.
Although he has five Top 10 finishes in the six season standings prior to 2014, Biffle has just three victories since 2011, raising reasonable concerns of whether he can carry that weight.
“I look forward to kind of carrying the flag and leading this organization,” Biffle, who recently re-signed with Roush, said at Pocono.
“There were some interesting seats open and opportunities. I just felt like we can get this thing turned around, so I made the decision to stay and be the anchor for Roush Fenway, and do another three-year contract, regardless of sponsorship at that point.”
And so Biffle moves forward with a sense of uncertainty.
He has been anointed The Man.
Proving time starts this weekend at Michigan, and continues for the next four weeks.
“This season felt like it’s been three years — the first six months — how hard we’ve worked trying to close the gap,” Biffle said.
Will it be enough to hang on?
THE KING’S KINDNESS CONTINUES
Richard Petty remains one of the classiest athletes on the planet.
As an active driver and now as a retired one, he always has found time to pay it forward and show his appreciation for his fans.
Including 98-year-olds like Henry Jakes of Murfreesboro, Tenn.
His bucket list contained one simple wish: Meet the King.
And so, with a little help from the Petty Family Foundation, it became a done deal.
Recently Jakes hopped on a plane for the first time in his life to fly to Level Cross, N.C., to spend a day and evening with Petty. They first met at Petty’s Museum in Level Cross for what would be the ride of his life.
Jakes then joined Petty for a tour of the museum before spending the afternoon together. The day ended with a dinner with Petty, who most certainly enjoyed helping making Jakes’ dream come true.
“It’s not too hard taking time to show someone around and making something possible that they didn’t know if it was or not,” Petty said. “We just sort of talked and showed him everything we had here. He smiled the entire time. I think he felt my age when he left!”
For the record, Petty is 77.
And still the King of Generosity and Graciousness.
Another quick example: The home where Petty was born still stands adjacent to the shop. Nobody lives there now, but there was a time when people would show up, unannounced, at suppertime. They knocked on the door, hoping to meet the King. Petty always obliged, politely met them at the door, posed for a picture on the front porch, then walked back to the dinner table to rejoin his family.
Long live the King.
MILKA DUNO ON BOARD
NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity keeps rolling along with the announcement this week that Milka Duno has signed with RAB Racing to compete in select races in the Nationwide Series. Duno will become the first Hispanic female driver in history to compete in a NASCAR national series in the United States.
Duno has competed in the ARCA Series for the last three seasons and is currently seventh in points.
“I’m really very excited and honored to enter into NASCAR and the Nationwide Series,” Duno said in a statement. “It has always been a goal and dream of mine to compete in NASCAR, and I worked very hard in ARCA to turn this goal into a reality.
“I always strive to challenge myself as a driver and I’ve been fortunate to compete in many types of racing — and while the competition is always my No. 1 focus — I am very proud of the history that I have made as a female driver, and the Hispanic sports history as well, that has been made along the way.”
Tragic news for Chip Ganassi Racing co-owner Felix Sabates: His 18-year-old grandson was killed Saturday night in an accidental shooting in South Florida.
Media reports indicate that Feliciano Sabates was shot by a 17-year-old after waving a 9mm gun that a group of minors and adults had been passing around the group during a party.
Sabates, known as “Chany,” died at the scene in a Palm Beach Gardens apartment. The 17-year-old shooter was charged with manslaughter by culpable negligence.
ABOUT THE WRITER
George Diaz is a columnist for the Orlando Sentinel.