Weekend Preview: The time is now for Greg Biffle

BROOKLYN, MI - JUNE 16:  Greg Biffle, driver of the #16 3M/Give Kids a Smile Ford, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway on June 16, 2013 in Brooklyn, Michigan.  (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images)

BROOKLYN, MI – JUNE 16: Greg Biffle, driver of the #16 3M/Give Kids a Smile Ford, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway on June 16, 2013 in Brooklyn, Michigan. (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images)

Although Greg Biffle can’t secure a spot in the 2013 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup in Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400 (1 p.m. ET, ESPN) at Michigan International Speedway, a strong performance can go a long way in helping him reach the postseason as a championship contender.

Biffle currently is seeded ninth in the standings, 181 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson, who last weekend at Watkins Glen clinched a spot in the Chase. More precariously, however, Biffle sits only four markers in front of Kurt Busch in the 11th position.

To say Biffle is on the bubble would be an understatement.

An early-race accident or middle-of-the-road performance at Michigan could knock him from the top 10 — and possibly even out of a provisional Wild Card position. Heading into the weekend, two-time race winner Kasey Kahne and Ryan Newman, who has one win, hold these spots. Biffle currently maintains a 22-point advantage over Newman for the second Wild Card.

The good news for Biffle is that Michigan is one of his best tracks and he currently rides a two-race winning streak at the two-mile oval nestled in the Irish Hills an hour-and-a-half away from Detroit.

“I’m looking forward to Michigan; it would three in a row if I can pull off another win,” Biffle said. “I feel like one more win would lock us into the Chase.”

While Biffle can’t secure a spot in the Chase with a victory at Michigan, it would put him in a great position to do so over the other three races remaining before the playoffs begin and could be the insurance he needs to claim a Wild Card spot if he does fall out of the top 10.

If Biffle is to find Victory Lane on Sunday, he’ll need to rely more on his success at the track than how he’s performed recently.

In 21 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts at Michigan, he has notched four wins, 10 top fives and 13 top 10s. He twice has had back-to-back victories there, winning in the August 2004 race and June 2005 race. He duplicated that feat this past June after posting his third victory at the track last August.

More impressive, however, is that in those 21 starts, Biffle has finished all 21 races, finished on the lead lap in 20 and led at least one lap in 15. His 110.0 Driver Rating is tops at the track. He also leads all active drivers in the following categories: most laps in the top 15 (2,862), best average running position (8.2), faster early in a run (179.520 mph), fastest late in a run (175.542 mph), fastest on restarts (174.076 mph) and fastest green-flag speed (177.096 mph).

Biffle’s average finishing position at Michigan is 11.3, which is his second-best average among tracks (10.1 at Kansas Speedway).

In the seven races following his June win at Michigan, however, his performance has been inconsistent and not where it needs to be if he’s to make a serious play for the NASCAR Sprint Cup title. He followed up his win with a strong eighth-place performance at Sonoma, but then finished 34th, 17th, 15th, 24th, 10th and 16th in subsequent races.

Not only has Biffle done well at Michigan, but his team, Roush Fenway Racing, has experienced great success there. Biffle’s June victory was a series track record 13th for owner Jack Roush, whose headquarters lies less than 100 miles east in Livonia.

Despite their success, Biffle and his team know Sunday won’t be a walk in the park and they’ll arrive focused and ready to go for that illustrious three-peat.

“Even though we’ve won the last two races, we can’t let our guard down,” said Matt Puccia, Biffle’s crew chief. “The competition has changed quite a bit over the last few months.”

HORNISH EYEING HOME STATE WIN

For the second week in a row the NASCAR Nationwide Series heads to a road course where anything can happen. This weekend, however, there’s something a bit different.

On Saturday, the series makes its inaugural visit to the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio, for the Nationwide Children’s Hospital 200 (2:30 p.m. ET, ESPN). There is probably no driver more excited to visit the 2.4-mile track than Sam Hornish Jr., of Defiance, Ohio.

Not only is the track 2-1/2 hours east of his hometown, it’s a track at which he’s previously competed. In 2007, he finished 14th in an IndyCar Series event at Mid-Ohio. The following season he turned his focus to NASCAR.

Hornish currently is second in the standings, three points behind Austin Dillon. A win in front of his family and friends would mean more to the 34-year-old driver than a win at most any other track and would likely return him to the top of the standings, a position he held after each of the season’s first seven races and most recently after last month’s race at Chicagoland.

“We want to win, especially when we have a car that’s capable of winning,” Hornish said. “Looking ahead to this weekend, we know what we have to do.”

In seven road-course races in the series, Hornish has five consecutive top-five finishes and two poles, including a fifth-place showing at Road America in June and a runner-up performance last weekend at The Glen. This season, Hornish has one victory and five second-place showings in which he was the highest finishing points-eligible series regular.

“It will be something special to win this race in my home state,” he said.

GAUGHAN: MICHIGAN IS BIG, MEAN AND FAST

There’s something in Brendan Gaughan’s back pocket. It’s something every driver entered in Saturday’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Michigan National Guard 200 (12:30 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1) at Michigan International Speedway would like to have, too.

In July 2003, Gaughan led the final 21 laps in the truck series race at Michigan to post a convincing 11.477-second win over Ted Musgrave. He is the only driver entered in this weekend’s race to have ever won a truck event at the two-mile track.

Over the past eight races, no driver has won at the track more than once. Barring any late entrants into the race that streak will increase to nine. Dennis Setzer won in 2005, followed by Johnny Benson (2006), Travis Kvapil (2007), Erik Darnell (2008), Colin Braun (2009), Aric Almirola (2010), Kevin Harvick (2011) and Nelson Piquet Jr. (2012).

Gaughan, who is sixth in the standings 75 points behind leader Matt Crafton, has one win and four top 10s in seven starts at Michigan. His lowest finish is 18th. He has an average finishing position of 8.9 and has finished on the lead lap in all but one start.

“Michigan is another one of those tracks that really fits my style. It’s big, mean and fast,” Gaughan said in response to a question about his thoughts on racing at the track. “Whoever has the best aero and motor package will do well at this race.”

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