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Well, now, just what more surprises do Jack Roush's guys have up their sleeves for California?

  Jack Roush (R) hasn't been this happy in quite a while. Can Greg Biffle (L) do it again this weekend in California? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   KANSAS CITY, Kansas  

   Shades of 2005?
   Ah, Greg Biffle remembers that season well.
   He came within just 35 points of winning the NASCAR championship: 35 points, about the difference of one dropped lug nut at Texas in the final days of the season.
   Now, three races into another championship chase, and fresh off his second tour win of the year, Biffle is thinking again of another championship charge brewing.

   "They've been talking about all the other guys...so we'll give them something to talk about for the next couple weeks," Biffle was saying late Sunday afternoon after dazzling the crowd of some 90,000 with his sprint-away to victory over Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick.
   So, does Biffle really have something now to match with 'Four-time' Johnson and regular season champ Harvick?
    Everyone knows Chad Knaus, and they're learning about Mike Ford and Gil Martin this season, and now it's time to put Greg Erwin's name up high on the list of championship caliber crew chiefs.
   Sunday's Kansas 400 victory was more than just invigorating for Erwin and Biffle; it was energizing....and at just the right moment – heading out to Los Angeles for next weekend's California 400.
   And the performance of the entire Jack Roush operation at this 1-1/2-mile track was striking in breadth and depth. Everyone on the roster had strong runs.
   Only late race rallies by Johnson and Kevin prevented what could have easily been a major Roush Ford sweep.

  Crew chief Greg Erwin (R) and Greg Biffle had their backs against the wall at Kansas Sunday afternoon, and they delivered big-time. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   This day has been a long time coming, a long, long time.
   Ford teams haven't had much to gloat about this season. Even newcomer Kasey Kahne was raising eyebrows earlier this year when he was upstaging the Ford veterans.
   It was somewhat ironic that Kahne and Paul Menard, who are both leaving Ford at the end of the season and moving on, were on the front row for Sunday's start. Kahne, like many, had an uncomfortably handling car and bounced into the wall. But Menard ran up front the entire race, and was one of the many Roush threats to win.
   The Roush turnaround first started back in July, and Biffle finally got Ford's first win of the year at Pocono in August. And Carl Edwards has been one of the strongest runners all summer (though still winless).
   But none of that gave hint of what the impressive crowd here saw Sunday.
   Now can the Roush men make it stick, with more good runs at California's Auto Club Speedway?
   And just what was the trick here?

   Maybe it was that $100,000 bonus Ford had posted for any Ford team that won....
   Roush himself, centerstage again post-race, after a long absence, toyed with that question after the victory, teasing that 'it was the paint job.'
   Biffle, for this run, had a Sherwin-Williams paint scheme.
   Of course maybe it wasn't such a breakthrough as it was a recent NASCAR inspection crackdown.
   Another Sunday surprise: Stewart. In fact Stewart and Biffle appeared to have evenly matched cars, and Erwin said he figured the battle for the win would come down to the last round of pit stops, which came under green:  "The pit stop got us out there in front...He could catch Tony, and get right to his bumper (but not complete the pass that easily). So it was going to be about the guy that had the 'best' (clean) air.
    "We were fortunate to have it at the end.
   "We had a tiny, tiny mistake earlier in the race -- We hung a nut on the right-front and lost a couple spots.
   "That very easily turns a bad day worse for a guy.  But they turned it right around and got us out first (on the money stop)."
    And then Biffle runs well at this track. "We really knew when chase-time came, this track would be good for us," Erwin said.
   "We were showing that at Michigan a couple weeks ago. 
    "This guy is pretty incredible here.  Look at his track record.  Heck, I've only been with him three years now, and we're in victory lane twice.  That ought to say something. He does a great job here."
   Early on, though, the race appeared to be Stewart's. "I couldn't keep up," Biffle conceded.
   "And I was just so afraid to get the car too tight. Once you get the car sliding the nose off turn four, you're just dead. 
    "So about the first half of the race, I didn't adjust on it.
   "I took a 'If it's not broke, don't fix it' attitude."
    Biffle could challenge Stewart but couldn't get around him: "I couldn't get the gas down.
   "At that point I said 'I've got to tighten the car up if I'm going to win the race. If I go backwards, I go backwards.'
    "I'm a guy that likes to drive a free, loose car. But we decided to tighten it up...
    "And I'll tell you what -- those last two runs it was amazing.  It was literally the best car I've ever driven here.  I could drive anywhere on the track; I could enter any line in the corner...and push the gas down whenever I felt like it. 
    "It was pretty incredible.
    "I knew at that point, whether a caution came out or not -- even if I didn't have track position, I was going to be able to beat Tony.
     "I didn't know who else was going to come up there and play at the end of the race. But I had a lot of confidence after those two pit stops the car was going to be pretty hard to beat."
    Biffle won going away, by more than seven seconds.

   So, ah, does this make up for that controversial win here in 2008, in a gas-mileage finish?
   Biffle is still a bit steamy about the questioning of that win.
   "Well, first of all, we did cross the finish line...." Biffle said.
   "And most races we're about out of gas when we go across the start-finish line. 
   With that caution coming out at the end, and darkness coming on, and we can hardly see where we're going.
    "So NASCAR made the right call by stopping the race.
    "We were close on fuel, and I wasn't doing my job to watch the fuel pressure gauge.  I got up in the corner and let the fuel run away from the pickup; the thing started sputtering. 
    "So I made my way down to the apron, got the fuel back in there, and accelerated the car up to 70 or 80 mph, pushed the clutch in and shut it off to save the rest of the fuel.
    "I was still coasting probably 40 mph. The pace car goes about 55, so I thought 'Boy, that's plenty fast enough. The caution is out. I've already won the race.  As long as I can maintain a cautious pace....'
   "Other guys sped up and went around me...which you're not allowed to do under caution. Then they complained I didn't maintain enough speed.
   "NASCAR looked at it, and they were going 70 or 80 mph when they passed me.  They knew the other guys sped up to go by."
    Erwin said that car still had more than a gallon of gas in it, when measured at the post-race pumps.


   This the target: Jimmie Johnson (L) and crew chief Chad Knaus (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


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