BROOKLYN, Mich. – Greg Biffle never considered pitting during the last caution period Sunday at Michigan International Speedway.
Instead, he stayed on track with slightly worn tires and turned that decision into his fifth Nextel Cup victory in 15 starts this season.
Biffle, in his third full season in NASCAR’s top stock car series, is beginning to make winning races look easy.
He outdueled and outfoxed Tony Stewart on Sunday in winning the Batman Begins 400 on Michigan’s 2-mile oval, earning his eighth career victory.
The powerful Roush Racing team, winner of the last two season championships, got its eighth win of the season. It was another strong showing for the entire team, with three of Biffle’s four teammates finishing in the top five and the fifth driver, defending series champ Kurt Busch, fading to 12th after running in the top 10 throughout most of the 200-lap event.
Stewart led a race-high 97 laps, but lost a strategy battle at the end.
Biffle, who led 63 laps, was running second to Stewart when he decided to stay on the track during a late caution as the front-runner and several of the other lead-lap cars pitted for fresh tires with 31 laps to go. Biffle and the rest of the leaders had pitted only about a dozen laps earlier.
“It was my decision,” Biffle said. “I wanted to lead and there was no doubt in my mind that we had a fast enough car to beat those guys. It’s just so hard to pass here. And I was hoping enough of those guys would stay out with us that Tony would have to burn up his tires trying to get back to us.
“If everybody behind us had gone in, we could have been a sitting duck. But we had four or five of those guys stay out there with us.”
The drivers who did stay out were Roush teammates Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards and Busch, as well as Elliott Sadler.
Playing into Biffle’s hands, Joe Nemechek and Michael Waltrip also beat Stewart back onto the track, leaving him eighth for the restart on lap 174.
Stewart, trying for his first win since last August at Watkins Glen, got all the way to third by lap 178, but it took him until lap 198 to get past Kenseth, the 2003 series champion.
“I never would have imagined that we wouldn’t have got to the front with 12 laps fresher tires,” Stewart said.
“They may have got us at the end, but we held our own today,” he added. “We had fresher tires at the end but, for some reason, they didn’t take off the way they had all day. I probably overdrove the car to try to get to the lead again.”
Mark Martin, another Roush driver, finished third, followed by Kenseth and Edwards, Nemechek, Waltrip, Sadler and rookie Kyle Busch.
Martin, running his final season in the Cup series, said Roush’s domination this year is no fluke.
“It’s only my opinion,” Martin said, “but Roush Racing has the hottest drivers in racing. We have great engines, great drivers and great crew chiefs. We’ve been working real hard for a long time and it’s showing now.”
Biffle, who also won the season-ending race last year at Homestead, Fla., flew back to Michigan late Saturday night after crashing and finishing 30th in a Busch Series race in Kentucky. He drove Sunday with a sore foot from the hard hit the previous night.
Edwards, who won last week at Pocono, also won Saturday night in Kentucky.
Ryan Newman, who set a track qualifying record in winning the pole, lost the lead on the first lap to Casey Mears and never got back to the lead, finishing 15th.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. continued to struggle. He started near the back of the 43-car field and worked his way up, but had to regain a lost lap late in the race and wound up finishing 17th. It was the fifth straight race the fan favorite has been outside the top 10.
It was also rough day for the Hendrick Motorsports team, which has five wins this season.
Series leader Jimmie Johnson never got into contention and wound up 19th, allowing Biffle to slice his points lead from 123 to 49 going into next Sunday’s road race in Sonoma, Calif.
Johnson’s Hendrick teammate Jeff Gordon, a four-time series champion, continued his recent struggles, finishing 32nd, three laps behind Biffle, and falling all the way to 12th in the standings, 406 points behind Johnson.
While Kyle Busch did manage a top 10 finish for the team, the fourth Hendrick entry, Brian Vickers was knocked out of the race early. Vickers, coming off a second-place run last week at Pocono, brought out the first of four caution flags in the race when a deflating tire sent his car careening into the water barrels at the entrance to pit lane early.
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