Greg Biffle took his first win of the year under the lights at Texas Motor Speedway to consolidate his lead in the point standings. The Roush-Fenway Ford driver was a constant threat during the 334 lap race, and was deserving of his 17th career win, the second of the weekend for team-owner Jack Roush after Ricky Stenhouse Jr. won the Nationwide race.
For Biffle, who had not won since Kansas in 2010, 49 races ago, the win was a huge relief after watching team-mates Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards, who finished fifth and eighth respectively, both challenge for the title last year, while he failed to make the Chase.
“We knew it was a matter of time and we were going to win one of these things,” he said. “Matt [Puccia, crew chief] makes the right decisions on pit road and makes the right calls in the team. [He] doesn’t make mistakes, and has the cars prepared right, and we’re qualifying better and all those things.
“That’s what keeps you going. You know, I’ve been where I won six or nine wins in a season, and you cherish those moments because you don’t know when the next one will be.”
Biffle made the decisive move with 30 laps to go, passing Jimmie Johnson, who led 156 laps, when the five-time champion got caught up behind lapped traffic. From there, Johnson had no answer for Biffle's long run pace, and his quest for victory was ended finally when he rubbed the wall while lapping the returning Wood Brothers Ford of Trevor Bayne.
“I was foaming at the mouth,” Biffle reflected on the winning pass. “When you haven't won in a long time and you've got a guy, it doesn't even matter who it was. If it was the five time champion or what. I was driving my heart out. I was doing all I could do. I kept moving up the track, down the track, up the track.
“I just dug deep, I knew I had to do it and I kept trying and trying and trying. I knew the team would forgive me if I wrecked it trying to beat him so I just gave it all I had.”
Johnson was disappointed to miss out on his first win of the season once again after he was taken out while leading by an optimistic Clint Bowyer lunge last time out at Martinsville, meaning team-owner Rick Hendrick will have to wait a little longer for his 200th win.
“Man, second sucks. I wish we could have won,” Johnson said. “I’m definitely disappointed, but we had a great race car and there’s a lot to be proud of here. Our pit stops were just amazing all night long.
“I just got tangled up in some lapped traffic and [Biffle] made a great move and got by me. And then I was pacing him from there and didn’t have anything left to go get him. I tried and ran out of grip going into Turn 3 and drilled the fence.”
Despite loosing the win, it was a good night for Hendrick, with each of his four cars finishing in the top 10 for the first time in 2012. Jeff Gordon put in one of the performances of the race, charging from 34th to 4th ahead of Kasey Kahne, who scored his best result of the season in 7th and Dale Earnhardt Jr, who continued his consistent start to the season with an uneventful 10th. Kahne would go on to take victory in the Truck race on Sunday afternoon at Rockingham Speedway for Turner Motorsports, ahead of James Buescher and Matt Crafton.
Although Martin Truex Jr. was not able to sustain his qualifying pace, dropping from pole to an eventual sixth, Mark Martin upheld the honours for Michael Waltrip Racing with an accomplished drive to third, his best result since joining the outfit over the off-season.
“This is so much fun and such an incredible privilege to drive a race car at this point in my career: to be able to drive a race car for a team like that and in a hot rod like that,” the veteran said. “We don’t have much more work to do, and we can get up there and be battling for the win, so I’m really proud of the guys.”
“We were off a little bit the second half of the race,” Truex reported. “Our car got really loose and every time we tried to tighten it up we would just lose front grip and not help the rear, so we'd end up being tight and loose. We really just had to leave it loose and hang on to it. It was a battle tonight.”
High wind speeds played a significant role in the race, which ran largely incident-free with a record-breaking low of just two cautions, each caused by debris.
“It was tough. The wind was blowing you all over the place,” Biffle said. “I was nervous coming off Turn 2. I wouldn’t run up on a guy coming off the corner like I normally would. I’d leave more room because I wasn’t sure when the wind was going to blow my car one way or another. It kind of gives up sight for us coming off the corner and then it would quit. I was cautious when I was around cars, and I think probably everybody else was tonight.”
“It was bad,” Truex added. “There was times when it hit me weird on the front straightaway and I was thinking I was losing a cylinder. It was just crazy going off into three. But, again, it was the same for everybody. As long as that's the case, you do all you can do and you battle.”
One of the talking points of the weekend was Tony Stewart's curious lack of speed. The reigning champion dominated at Texas last fall, and has already won at Las Vegas and Fontana this year, but after a practise brush with the wall, was forced to revert to a back-up car and eventually finished a miserly 24th, two laps down.
“It was just off,” his crew-chief Steve Addington said to the media, with Stewart refusing to speak on the matter. “If I could explain it, I could have fixed it. Everybody worked really hard, we just missed the balance on it.”
In the intense battle for a spot in the top-35 in owners points, which guarantees a starting spot for next week's race at Kansas, the Tommy Baldwin no.10 shared by David Reutimann and Danica Patrick leapfrogged Richard Childress' part time no. 33 car, with Landon Cassill's BK Racing no.83 remaining on the bubble in 35th.