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Biffle seals the deal at last
14 May 2006
Greg Biffle finally opened his 2006 Nextel Cup victory account on Saturday night at the Darlington Raceway as he held off a closing Jeff Gordon to win the Dodge Charger 500 by a handful of car lengths.
Successfully defending his 2005 victory at NASCAR's oldest and toughest venue, Biffle finally made amends for the countless opportunities that have gone begging so far this season by keeping the nose of his #16 Roush Racing National Guard Ford ahead of Gordon's #24 Hendrick Motorsports DuPont Chevrolet in a tense battle under the floodlights at the unique egg-shaped 1.366-mile oval.
From ninth place on the grid, Biffle worked his way to the front within 40 laps, passing polesitter Kasey Kahne for the lead on lap 35 and remaining a constant threat for the rest of the evening. However it took a well timed green flag pit stop some 50 laps from home to put Biffle in front for good as the notoriously abrasive Darlington track surface played havoc with everyone's set-up at some point in the race.
Such is the difference in performance between new and old tyres, the fact that Biffle made his final pitstop a mere one lap before leaders Jeff Gordon and Matt Kenseth allowed him to gain more than three seconds on his rivals and vault from fourth to first in the process.
Unusually for a race at Darlington, the final 115 laps of the 367-lap race ran without caution, forcing drivers to conserve their tyres as much as possible through two complete fuel and tyre runs. This made for some interesting rather than spectacular racing in the closing stages as Gordon first dispatched Kenseth for second and then set about inching towards Biffle for the lead.
With ten laps remaining Biffle's cushion was a full second but as he began to encounter lapped traffic in the final five laps Gordon soon began to close. With three to go Gordon looked primed for a move only to have his momentum dashed by Ken Schrader at a critical moment, giving Biffle the edge he needed.
Gordon crossed the line about three car lengths behind the rear bumper of the #16 Ford and was quick to show his displeasure to Schrader despite taking another big step towards this years chase for the championship while Kenseth chipped another couple of points away from points leader Jimmie Johnson with a typically stout run to third from 31st on the grid.
Johnson led several times after starting 25th but didn't have enough to challenge the top three in the final stages and took fourth place, several seconds ahead of fifth place finisher Dale Earnhardt Jr and the sixth place battle finally won by Ryan Newman over Kyle Busch and Mark Martin.
Jeff Burton and rookie Denny Hamlin completed the top ten while defending series champ Tony Stewart recovered from a mid race spin to take 12th position.
The nuances of Darlington's creaky surface proved too much for several expected major players, including Kahne who faded badly to 21st in the second half of the race and sixth place starter Elliott Sadler, who finished 29th.
Despite more than half the starting field earning a Darlington stripe during the course of the evening there were relatively few incidents of note with the caution flag waving just six times and only four drivers retiring.
Brian Vickers was the only driver to leave Darlington with any significant damage after smacking the inside wall off turn two on lap 27 while Roush teammates Jamie McMurray and Carl Edwards both failed to finish after experiencing identical oil pump failures.
Kevin Harvick also had a rough time of things for after making good early progress from 14th on the grid he then ran over a piece of broken track surface during the first caution of the race for Vickers accident and was forced to pit to repair a holed radiator. The driver of the #29 Richard Childress Racing returned to the track more than a dozen laps down in 41st position but due to the low rate of attrition he was only able to advance to 37th by the chequered flag.
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