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Bold Biffle conquers California

28 February 2005

Despite qualifying on the third row, Greg Biffle announced during Saturday's Bud Pole qualifying session that he would be leading the Auto Club 500 within five laps of the green flag.

The Roush Racing driver led lap four, and went on to take his fourth career Nextel Cup victory.

It wasn't all plain sailing for the driver of the #16 National Guard Ford, which benefited from additional Post-It backing this weekend. 100 laps in to the 250-lap race, Biffle made a green flag pit stop for fuel and tyres only to find himself trapped on the tail of the lead lap when the caution flag waved eight laps later.

However, Biffle was able to stay ahead of the leaders, regain his lost ground when the caution flag flew again, and then make his way back towards the front.

Electing to forego a final stop for fuel and tyres with 30 laps to go, Biffle swept by teammate Kurt Busch to take the lead on lap 228 and never looked back.

Despite being chased by a group of drivers on fresher tyres, Biffle held on for his second win in three races (Homestead 2004 and today).

Jimmie Johnson, who earlier saw a no tyres gamble fail, stopped with 30 laps to go and used his better rubber to snatch second from Busch in the closing laps of a race that saw far less two and three wide racing than in 2004.

Defending series champ Busch, like Biffle, found himself on the tail of the lead lap at the halfway point thanks to the lap 108 caution caused by Dale Earnhardt Jr's puncture. After a fight back similar, but less publicised than Biffle's, Busch was in position to take the lead when the majority of leaders pitted with 30 to go but could only hold off Biffle for eight laps once the green flag had waved.

Busch would cross the line third, just holding off Jamie McMurray and Carl Edwards.

Edwards, who was a factor in the race all day, scored just the second top five finish of his career for Jack Roush's team but lost out in the penultimate round of pit stops when he slowed to avoid several other cars.

California native Kevin Harvick finished sixth in front of his home crowd while Mark Martin's late race no tyres gamble didn't pay off and he dropped to seventh.

Elliott Sadler failed to make it two wins in the last two Nextel Cup races at the two-mile Fontana oval and finished eighth while Ryan Newman's ninth place finish came on day that saw him make several unscheduled pit stops, suffer a pit road speeding penalty, a puncture and lose a total of two laps to the leaders at one point.

Rusty Wallace enjoyed another solid run to tenth place ahead of Dale Jarrett, Mike Bliss and Bobby Labonte while Ken Schrader's 14th place finish marked his best effort for the #49 BAM Racing team since their sixth place effort at Bristol in March 2004.

NASCAR's new practice system and the elimination of traditional 'Happy Hour' final practice resulted in more engine failures than usual, including several for Hendrick Motorsport customers MB Motorsport.

First to go was Scott Riggs, who lapsed onto seven cylinders shortly after half distance but still managed to hobble round until 21 laps from the end. There was more heartbreak in store for Joe Nemechek, who had the car to beat and was leading when, without warning on lap 180, his Hendrick prepped engine went bang.

The last of the Hendrick victims was none other than Daytona 500 winner Jeff Gordon, who watched a potential top five finish disappear less than 15 laps from home when his engine went sick. Although he plugged away to the finish, he dropped

Michael Waltrip and Jason Leffler, who both served drive through speeding penalties, also suffered engine failures while the returning Bill Elliott, his Evernham Motorsport teammate Kasey Kahne and Robby Gordon also saw their chances go up, quite literally in smoke.

Sunday was also a day to forget for Matt Kenseth and Dale Earnhardt Jr, who finished 26th and 32nd respectively while last weeks hero Kevin Lepage came down to earth with a bang as he could only manage 31st position.

With Gordon's late problem, Busch moves back to the top of the standings at this early stage from Johnson, Martin, Edwards and Biffle while at the other end of the table, where teams must fight to stay in the top 35 and guarantee themselves a place in next weeks' race following the fifth round of the championship, Kenseth, Waltrip and several others are already struggling to dig themselves out of a potential rut.



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