LOUDON, N.H. — In 12 laps Sunday, Greg Biffle went from long shot to legitimate contender for the Sprint Cup championship.
Mired in a 33-race winless slump dating to last season, Biffle admitted he and his Roush Fenway Racing team should have gotten good odds as the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup got under way.
Digital Access For Only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
With his surprisingly effortless pass of then-leader Jimmie Johnson on Lap 289 of 300 and his victory in Sunday's Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Biffle not only thrust himself into the thick of the championship picture but might have earned a favorite's role.
"The overlooked, dark horse, not the favorite — makes no difference to me," Biffle's crew chief, Greg Erwin, said of how his team was perceived entering the Chase.
"It's common sense. You've got a guy out there that's won eight races (Kyle Busch), you've got a guy that's won six (Carl Edwards), you've got a guy that's won two (in a row, Johnson). Of course, they're going to be the favorites. That's just human nature."
Running down Johnson, who was on a tear entering the Chase and won the past two championships, was rewarding in its own right.
"We have to beat those guys in order to get that Sprint Cup trophy," Biffle said. "That's what we're here to do. That's what we're thankful, fortunate enough to do today."
Johnson took the loss in stride.
"We'd love to have been in Victory Lane celebrating," he said. "But the big picture, second place is not a bad day at the office.
There is some historical irony surrounding Biffle's win.
Biffle's victory revived hopes of a possible record-setting run: Should he win the Cup title, he would be the only driver to win championships in all three of NASCAR's national series — Cup, Nationwide and Truck.
"I think it inspires me a little bit to want to make a statement, I guess," Biffle said of his victory, his first since Sept. 30, 2007, at Kansas Speedway. "I've been thinking about it for quite some time.
"I just got to get my car right on Friday and Saturday and drive the best race I can on Sunday. The best man's going to win at the end of the 10 weeks."
Biffle's win and the disastrous day by previous points leader Kyle Busch jumbled up the standings as the series moves to Dover, Del., next weekend.
Carl Edwards, who finished third Sunday, and Johnson are tied atop the standings. Biffle is 30 points behind. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (finished fifth) and Jeff Burton (finished fourth) are fourth and fifth, respectively, in points.
Busch, 34th after breaking a front sway bar, a one-lap penalty by NASCAR and a wreck, dropped to eighth in the standings, 74 points behind the leaders with nine races remaining to determine the champion.
Were it not for his eight wins and the 80 bonus points Busch received for them, he would be even worse off .
Busch was none-too-interested in discussing his day and left the track without comment, climbing over part of an adjacent hauler to meet a waiting golf cart.
His trouble started early when a bolt holding the front sway bar in place came loose and sent his No. 18 Toyota sliding all over the track. During a NASCAR-mandated competition caution on Lap 36, Busch came in for repairs. After trying to come around a second time on pit road, Busch was penalized a lap by NASCAR for "pulling up to pit" — essentially passing cars under caution to reach pit road.
From there, the race only got worse. Busch spun without hitting anything on Lap 83, but before he could drive off was hit hard by Jamie McMurray.
"He was real disappointed," said team owner Joe Gibbs, who met briefly with Busch. "In a situation like that you don't talk very much and you let him spend some time by himself."
Busch's crew chief, Steve Addington, wasted no time trying to lift the team.
"I told these guys, 'We weren't supposed to be here. This was supposed to be a year to get to know our driver and see where we stood.' But we came out and had a great year," he said.
"We're not giving up, trust me."