DOVER. Del. - It's probably not right to say Greg Biffle is this year's Clint Bowyer. At least not yet.
Sure, each was seeded 12th when he opened the Chase for the Sprint Cup by winning at New Hampshire - Bowyer last year and Biffle this year. But Bowyer's win last September was really his coming-out party - it was his first career Cup win. Biffle's victory last week was really more resurgence from a driver from whom much more has been expected than delivered since he strongly contended for a title in 2005.
On the other hand, there's the fact that last year Bowyer had no finish worse than 20th in nine races leading up to the New Hampshire win that kick-started his surprising run toward a third-place finish in the final standings. This year, Biffle's Chase run-up was similar - no finishes worse than a 21st at Watkins Glen in the eight races prior to last week's win.
"I knew that the Chase was going to be something fun for us," Biffle said at Dover International Speedway, where he'll start fifth in Sunday's Camping World RV 400. "We struggled to make it in, but the last five races leading up to the Chase were really good for us and I knew we'd have some momentum going in."
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Actually, Biffle was just hoping to have a decent finish at New Hampshire, where he hadn't had a top 10 since the first race there in 2006, and then planning to do some damage at Dover and at Kansas, which comes up next week. He's finished worse than 13th only once here in his past 10 tries and until a week ago his most recent Cup win had come at Kansas.
Biffle hopes all of that translates into a big head of steam for him and his No. 16 Ford team as the Chase cranks up. He's already moved all the way up to third in the standings with last week's win, just 30 points behind Roush Fenway Racing teammate Carl Edwards and two-time defending champion Jimmie Johnson.
"I'm a big believer in momentum and I feel like that's why we started the Chase so strong," he said. "You have to have confidence and you've got to have confidence in your team, your crew, everything, your equipment, and right now we've got a lot of confidence."
It's interesting that Biffle puts so much stock in the concept of momentum because Edwards doesn't believe in it at all. Edwards' reasoning - and in theory at least he makes a good point - is that the work done to prepare a driver's car for a particular race is done weeks ahead of time. The hours spent on those preparations came long before anything that Edwards or Biffle - or Kyle Busch, who fell from first to eighth in the standings with a 34th-place finish last week - did at New Hampshire. So how could last week truly have an impact on this race?
What that idea disregards, however, is the human element of NASCAR racing. Drivers and crews have emotions and attitudes that ebb and flow with their on-track fortunes.
Bowyer said he certainly felt it last season.
"I think confidence is a huge part of this sport," said Bowyer, who starts outside of Biffle on Row 3 Sunday afternoon. "Success breeds more of the same. I think Greg's team is on a good wave ride here and they hope they can ride it throughout the Chase like we did last year.
"When we got that first win, our first win together ever, and that was just a huge sigh of relief. It was a huge momentum builder. Got the ball rolling and we were able to keep the ball rolling throughout the Chase. Aside from that it was just a huge boast of confidence and knowing that you've got the cape on when you go back the next week."
As a Chase rookie, Bowyer wound up as the best of the rest last year while Johnson and Jeff Gordon ran off and turned the final half of the Chase into an intramural Hendrick Motorsports battle for the title.
Biffle is back in the Chase after missing it the past two years, but he believes the battle he fought in falling 35 points short of '05 champion Tony Stewart can help him this time around.
"There are several little things that you learn when you're in the Chase," Biffle said. "I don't think it's anything significant or any one thing I could talk about, but there are several things that play issues along the way - how we execute the weekend, how we execute pit road and all those things.
"I'm thinking about what small mistakes I may have made last time and what I'm going to need to do this time to be able to win the championship and not be 35 points short."