NEXTEL Kansas 400Final
Biffle wins LifeLock 400, Johnson takes Chase leadOct 1, 2007 - 1:57 AM By Bruce Martin PA SportsTicker Contributing Editor
KANSAS CITY, Kansas (Ticker) -- About the only thing missing from the NASCAR Nextel Cup LifeLock 400 at Kansas Speedway was the tornado at the beginning of "The Wizard of Oz."
When Greg Biffle finally drove to victory when the race was called for darkness over six hours after it originally started, there were two red-flag periods because of rain, including one that lasted four hours, 13 minutes and 14 seconds after it appeared Tony Stewart had won this race for the second year in a row.
Even Biffle's victory was momentarily in doubt as his Ford Fusion ran out of gas on the final lap and he could not keep up with the pace car. But NASCAR deemed him the victor due to the field being frozen when the final caution flag flew with four laps remaining.
"The spotter up in turn 3 and 4 because I was up on the banking, when you are going that slow on the banking, the fuel was running away from the pickup, it sputtered up there," Biffle said. "So I shut it off and coasted down on the flat and steering with my knee so I could have enough to make it to Victory Lane.
"I was far enough along I didn't feel it was really necessary. The race was over, the caution was out, I was declared the winner and all I had to do was cross the finish line."
Clint Bowyer of nearby Emporia, Kansas was second in a Chevrolet Monte Carlo, followed by the Chevrolet of defending series Jimmie Johnson.
Both were critical of the outcome of the race, believing that Biffle was unable to maintain the pace car speed and had lost the race under caution on the final lap.
"Their opinion doesn't really count as far as I know; it's NASCAR's opinion that counts," Biffle said. "One other thing they don't know is NASCAR came to my car in the grass and asked, 'Will it run?'
"I said, 'Yes' and they said, 'Don't touch it.' They are thinking it ran out of gas, it won't run and I had to be pushed to Victory Lane. That's not the case. They need to understand that the car still runs; it still has gas in it."
The weird outcome also scrambled the standings in the Chase, as Johnson took the lead - six points ahead of Jeff Gordon, 14 ahead of Bowyer, 117 ahead of Tony Stewart and 126 in front of Kevin Harvick.
Practically every driver in "The Chase for the Nextel Cup" suffered one form of misfortune or another to make this one of the most bizarre races of the season.
Out of the 12 drivers, only Harvick and Gordon were able to avoid any problems in the race.
After seeing red for most of the weekend, including an incident with an ESPN camera man on Saturday morning where he uttered a profanity on live TV, Stewart was happy to see the red flag come out on lap 148.
To Stewart, the red flag could have meant victory, as a heavy rain storm with high winds and large hail swept through Kansas Speedway, forcing the race to be stopped after 148 laps.
For the second year in a row, it appeared Stewart was able to win this race using a fuel mileage strategy. Last year, he ran out of fuel after milking his gas tank for the final 71 laps but was able to coast across the finish line first under the checkered flag.
On Sunday, Stewart was within three caution laps of running out of fuel. He last pitted on lap 90 and was going to pit on lap 145. But he was told by crew chief Greg Zipadelli to stay on the track, hopeful the red flag would come out before he ran out of gas.
At that time, Biffle was running second and ready to fly home.
"At that time, I was praying for rain," Biffle said. "I was ready to go home, the storm was tearing the roof off the garage area and I was happy with second place."
But once the cars were refired over two hours later, Stewart was able to get fuel when he stopped on lap 149 along with the other cars that had not pitted before the rain.
The race was shortened to lap 225 and the green flag waved on lap 155.
That was a bad break for several cars that didn't even make it through the second turn, including Chase drivers Matt Kenseth and Martin Truex Jr.
Further up the track, Michael Waltrip's Toyota came down on Ken Schrader's Ford. As Kenseth slowed up, Stewart ran into the back of Truex's Chevrolet, which was pushed into Kenseth's Ford.
After the mess was cleaned up, the green flag waved on lap 165 - and it was bad news for Stewart, who had a fender rub through his left-front tire, sending smoke billowing out of the car. He continued on the track, however, but was in ninth place.
Meantime, Harvick was leading the field before he was passed by Biffle.
Stewart's troubles continued when the tire finally went flat and his car was punted by Kurt Busch's Dodge on lap 175 when he entered the third turn and slid in the front of Carl Edwards' Ford.
Stewart slammed his helmet at the in-car camera and angrily ripped the steering wheel out of its stem. Stewart began the day second in the Chase, just two points out of the lead.
"It looked like Tony got bumped a little bit, I had committed to the high side and did everything I could to try to stop," Edwards said. "I did everything I could to stop.
"It's too bad it ended up my day and his day. Tony had a tire rubbing for a long time. Kurt did everything he could to stop. Man, this feels pretty bad. Tony should have pulled in to fix his car."
Stewart declined comment.
Because of that wreck, NASCAR officials had slashed another 15 laps off the length of the race, knocking it down to 210.
The green flag waved with 27 laps to go and the field couldn't get through that lap, either, as Denny Hamlin and Jamie McMurray crashed coming off the second turn for another caution.
Hamlin was another Chase contender and the fact he entered the race 12th out of the 12 drivers virtually ends any hope he has at the championship.
The green flag waved with 23 laps to go and darkness closing on over the horizon. Biffle was back in front ahead of Harvick. But with four laps left in the race, a tire on Juan Pablo Montoya's Dodge exploded, bringing out the final yellow flag and the end of the race.
Biffle led the final 36 laps of the race and won $316,225. There were 12 cautions for 54 laps and 17 lead changes among 11 drivers. The average speed was slowed to just 104.981 miles per hour.
With a race that was going to finish so late that darkness was going to be an issue, even the winner was left in the dark.
"I was running with my visor open, it was so dark," Biffle said. "But the 16 (his car number) is back."
- LifeLock 400 Preview Sep 30