With another top-10 finish, Greg Biffle will match Jimmie Johnson. That still might not be enough to overtake the dominating champion. Biffle goes into tonight's Sprint Cup race at Phoenix International Raceway looking for his seventh consecutive top-10 finish to open the season, a feat last accomplished by Johnson — five years ago, the season before the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team began its unprecedented and ongoing run of four consecutive championships. Even with his best start ever, Biffle is still second in points. Guess who the Roush Fenway Racing trails by 14? Yep, Johnson, who has won three of the five races since finishing 35th with a rear-axle problem at the opener, the Daytona 500.
"We've been good so far, and that's not good enough," Biffle said. "You'll have to be flawless at this."
Especially at Phoenix.
Johnson has won four of the past five races at the oddly shaped mile track. The eight victories by Hendrick Racing are the most by any team there, including Mark Martin's last April. Roush has the second-most PIR wins with five, but Biffle has none. He was runnerup to Johnson in November 2007.
After having two of the past four weekends off, including last week, the Cup drivers start a stretch of 14 consecutive race weekends.
"You go away for a week and relax and recharge your batteries," Johnson said. "When I came in and saw the cars, I got that feeling of goose bumps and got fired up to be back at the race track and looking forward to it."
For everyone else, the challenge resumes to try to unseat Johnson from the top of the standings. Biffle is closest, though Matt Kenseth is only two points behind his Roush teammate.
Biffle said he is "really focused" on leading the points. He has won Nationwide series and truck races at Phoenix, and a first-time Cup victory there could get him what he wants.
"Unless (Johnson) finished second and led the most laps, and he probably will. … We're nipping at his heels. We're going to keep him honest, that's for sure," Biffle said.
His winless streak is at 50 races, since Dover in September 2008. But Biffle, 40, has won twice at Darlington and once in Texas, the 1½-mile high-banked track where the series races next week.
If he keeps his streak going, he could get to Darlington in early May with a chance to tie Morgan Shepherd's Cup record of 11 consecutive top 10s to start a season, set 20 years ago.
As for tonight, the Subway 600 is 63 laps longer than last year, now at 375 laps, ensuring that despite an earlier start it will still end under the lights.
"It's definitely going to be a lot different. The track is really slick during the day, cools down at night," Biffle said. "More of the race is going to be run in the daytime now. Staying on the lead lap and keeping your car running good is going to be more important."