KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Greg Biffle is back in the title hunt, and Jimmie Johnson has resumed his normal spot atop the NASCAR leaderboard.
Kansas Speedway once again played a major role in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship, which got a whole lot tighter after a fast-paced Sunday race dominated by the title contenders.
Biffle was the first of seven in the Chase to cross the finish line, pulling himself out of a deep hole with seven races remaining to determine the championship.
“Everybody asked us if we’re out of the Chase, have we given up?” the Roush-Fenway Racing driver said. “The 16 team will never give up.”
Nine drivers left Kansas separated by 101 points. It’s the closest the Chase field has been after three races since NASCAR switched to the format in 2004.
But there’s another stat that could mean trouble for everyone besides Johnson and Denny Hamlin: Only once in Chase history has the eventual champion been ranked lower than second after Kansas. Who was that? Johnson, who rallied from eighth in points after Kansas in 2006 to win the first of his four consecutive titles.
And here he is again, rallying from as low as 21st midway through the race Sunday to finish second behind Biffle. He now has an eight-point lead over Hamlin headed into next weekend’s race at California, where four of his five career victories have come in the last six visits there.
Still, Johnson said winning a fifth consecutive championship isn’t in the bag.
“It’s early. I’m not worried about who is leading the championship right now,” he said. “We have to get deeper into the Chase to be concerned about who the points leader is.”
It’s not Hamlin, who had his first off race of the Chase.
Like Johnson, he struggled mightily early in the race. But his adjustments were good enough for only a 12th-place finish, and Hamlin’s 35-point lead before the race began turned into an eight-point deficit heading to California.
“I knew right away we were going to have a long day,” Hamlin said. “You’ve got to make the most of your bad days and, if this is a bad day for us, then we’re going to rebound next weekend.”
Twelve different drivers led laps, including Jeff Gordon, who led a race-high 76 before finishing fifth. But once Biffle got out front, nobody had anything for his Ford, and he beat Johnson by nearly eight seconds.
He opened the day ninth in the standings, 140 points behind the leader. Then he won his second race of the season and cut the number nearly in half: He moved up one spot to eighth and is just 85 points behind Johnson.