Biffle drove to new heights in trucks By Dave Rodman
SAN FRANCISCO (Dec. 10, 1999) Greg Biffle is simply paid to drive the No. 50 Grainger Ford F-150 in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, and it's debatable that he didn't do it better in 1999 than everyone including two-time series champion Jack Sprague.
But despite a series record nine race victories from May through the end of September, Biffle ended up his sophomore year in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series in second place.
Biffle followed up his 1998 Cintas Rookie of the Year campaign by taking more checkered flags than Sprague and third through fifth place finishers Dennis Setzer, Stacy Compton and Jay Sauter combined. In fact, he recorded three times as many wins as both Sprague and Setzer on his way to breaking Mike Skinner's previous win record of eight.
What had seemed like an inexorable march to the title sparked by an eight-for-16 streak from May 8 to Sept. 9 that left Biffle with a 125-point lead over Sprague with four races to go all went for naught after the Orleans 250 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Sept. 24.
Biffle won the 22nd race of the season for his ninth victory, defeating Sprague by .299 seconds. The feat overtook inaugural NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series champion Mike Skinner's mark of eight wins in a season, scored in both 1995 and 1996. But in the normal post-race inspection, Biffle's truck was found to have an unapproved intake manifold on its engine.
Biffle was penalized 120 points, or the difference between first and last place points, although he was allowed to keep his victory. The net result was that Biffle's margin over Sprague in the championship was not 130 points with three races to go, but only 10 points.
It provided the most thrilling finish in the five-year history of the series, as Sprague and Biffle swapped the point lead three times in the final month of the season, but it was a truly frustrating end to a career year by the Vancouver, Wash., driver.
"We had a great year," Biffle said of finishing eight points behind Sprague in the second closest championship battle in series history. "There is no disputing that. The Grainger team has so much to be proud of but unfortunately what happened to us leaves a bad taste in our mouths because we felt like we had a championship season.
"All we can do is try to pick up the pieces and go win the title next year."
If Biffle was considered overdue to win his first NCTS race in 1999, after his Cintas Rookie of the Year performance keyed by best finishes of second, twice in 1998, he was akin to an Atlas rocket in '99.
"There were three big differences between 1998 and 1999 for us," Biffle said. "One, in 1999 I really figured out how I wanted the truck to feel. I am one year more familiar with the tracks and the biggest thing is that I learned to be more patient and learned you can't win races if you don't finish every lap."
Biffle merged near perfect race strategy with cagey tire management and several cases of the racing "chips" falling perfectly in place to become Ford's major weapon in its inaugural NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series manufacturers' championship.
"Randy, the team and I brought our communication to a new level this year," Biffle said of his excellent working relationship with crew chief Randy Goss, a former champion motorcycle racer, and their crew. "I started to figure out how the truck had to feel in order for us to run near the front. I learned to communicate this to the team and the team could give me what I wanted.
It paid off in laps completed and, as a result, victories for Biffle. He led the series in percentage of possible miles completed at 98.8 percent -- an astounding improvement over his rookie season 90.8 percent rate.
Ford NCTS teams won 12 of 25 races - a record for the manufacturer. Biffle completed all 25 races in 1999 and contributed an astonishing 91 of the 174 points to Ford Division's manufacturers' title.
Biffle concluded the season with 16 top-5 and 19 top-10 finishes and also won four Bud Poles, at Memphis, Bristol, Milwaukee and Nazareth. With the second-place championship awards, he became the 10th driver in series history to win $1 million in his career.
As good a year as 1999 was, it has only filled Biffle with a greater resolve to go to greater heights in 2000.
"We're gonna carry the consistency we had this year into 2000," he said. "You may not see us win nine races, but we think that this Grainger team is going to be good enough to run up front and get what we want most -- the 2000 championship."