Greg Biffle has been nothing short of a conundrum in 2012.
He's flown so far under the radar that he's been almost invisible to many fans. Yet at the same time, he's been the most consistent and successful drivers in the Sprint Cup Series this season, including leading the points after 13 of the first 24 races.
While there are still two races left to qualify for NASCAR's 10-race marquee playoff championship, the Chase for the Sprint Cup, Biffle (along with Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr.) has already assured himself a spot in the Chase following this past Saturday's race at Bristol, Tenn.
Biffle has been neither flashy nor boisterous in 2012. Rather, like a blue-collar worker on an assembly line, he's gone out and done his job virtually every week with workman-like efficiency and a quiet confidence that we've rarely seen from the driver of the No. 16 Roush Fenway Racing Ford.
But now, with 12 races left in the season, Biffle has started to emerge from his almost cocoon-like place to become one of the early favorites to win his first Sprint Cup title.
"I know that a lot of people don't expect us to win the championship, don't expect us to compete for the title," he said a week ago, after winning his second race of the season (at Michigan). "I don't care what they say or who they want to talk about or what they talk about. We will be a factor when it comes down to (the season finale at) Homestead, I promise you that."
With the way he's driven this season, Biffle has been quietly yet effectively sending a message to other drivers like defending Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart, five-time champ Jimmie Johnson and even Roush Fenway Racing teammate Matt Kenseth (who won the season-opening Daytona 500): If they, or any other driver, are going to win the championship this season, they're going to have to pry it away from Biffle's grasp.
And, he promises, it's not going to be easy for anyone to do that:
"I mean, I probably approach it differently," Biffle said. "In my heart I know what my team is capable of and I know what I'm capable of as a driver on the racetrack. So I focus on that.
"I don't really put a lot into what people talk about, the drivers they talk about, what the stories are. I'll go home kicking rocks like I did (two weeks ago after Watkins Glen). You know, I was disappointed with myself. I left that racetrack without the points lead. It was totally my fault. I gave up two positions on the last lap at Watkins Glen and handed the points lead to the 48 car (of Jimmie Johnson).
"That went under the radar. Nobody said a word about it. Nobody mentioned it. Nobody even knew about it except for me because I was driving the car and I knew I gave up those two spots and I was one point behind the 48 coming (to Michigan)."
Biffle has a lot to prove this season, particularly with the disappointing way he performed in 2011, failing to make the Chase for the third time in its eight-year existence, finishing with his third-worst overall season record (16th) in the Cup Series and failing to win at least one race in a season for only the second time in his Cup career.
This season has obviously been much different. With just two-thirds of the season over, he already has two wins, 10 top-five finishes and 14 top-10 finishes in 24 starts.
But more importantly, in addition to leading the Sprint Cup standings for 13 weeks (the only exception being one week in which he fell to fourth), Biffle has consistently been ranked in the top three in the points after every race this season.
Biffle has come close to winning a Cup title twice before. He finished second to Tony Stewart in 2005 and was third to Johnson in 2008, when he started the 10-race Chase with wins in the first two playoff races.
And now, even at the relatively advanced Sprint Cup age of 42–he got a relatively late start in the Cup Series, turning full-time at the age of 33–Biffle appears to have his best chance ever to win the long-coveted Cup crown.
If he does win the championship, it will be a significant moment—not only in Biffle's career but also in NASCAR history—as no other driver has ever won all three major titles: Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Truck series.
Biffle won the Nationwide (formerly Busch) title in 2002 and the Camping World (formerly Craftsman) Truck Series crown in 2000.
While his opponents know how good Biffle is, there's no question he's received the short end of the stick when it comes to media coverage and attention. Print, web and broadcast outlets seem to focus more on guys like Stewart, Johnson, Earnhardt and the like, rather than Biffle.
That's fine, the man they call "The Biff" says, because when the time comes—and he's more than confident it will—there will be only one story left for the media to cover: when he is handed the Sprint Cup championship trophy following the season-ending race at Homestead in mid-November.
"I pay attention to what we need to do as a team, not make mistakes, do what it's going to take to win this championship," Biffle said. "If it's not a story, they (media) don't cover it, then that's fine. But they'll be forced to after Homestead."
All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.