Saving his equipment for the final green-flag run, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points leader Greg Biffle finally put a win on the board, cruising to a 3.235-second victory over Jimmie Johnson in Saturday night’s Samsung Mobile 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.
Biffle took the lead on Lap 304 of 334 and pulled away to win his first race since Oct. 3, 2010 (at Kansas), his second at Texas and the 17th of his career. Johnson, who led a race-high 156 laps, scraped the wall trying to run down Biffle in the late going.
“I just dug deep,” Biffle said. “I knew I had to do it and kept trying and trying and trying. I knew the team would forgive me if I wrecked it trying to beat him, so I gave it all I had.”
Mark Martin came home third, followed by Jeff Gordon and Matt Kenseth. With Kasey Kahne finishing seventh and Dale Earnhardt Jr. 10th, all four Hendrick Motorsports drivers ran in the top 10, but Biffle denied them their most coveted prize, a 200th Cup victory for team owner Rick Hendrick.
The victory was the first in the Cup series for Biffle’s crew chief, Matt Puccia.
“I could say it’s about time,” said Biffle, who snapped a 49-race winless streak. “But I’m just thankful to be able to drive these cars, as fast as they are. We knew it was a matter of time that we were going to win one soon — we’ve been running so good.”
From the moment he passed pole-sitter Martin Truex Jr. for the lead on Lap 180, Johnson was dominant, as Biffle chased the five-time champion lap after lap through three cycles of green-flag pit stops.
Biffle frequently gained ground when Johnson hit traffic, but the margin would expand when Johnson got to clean air. The lead stayed at roughly one second — give or take — and by the time the race hit Lap 300, Martin in third at 7.8 seconds back was the only other driver within 10 seconds of the leader.
With 34 laps left, however, Biffle turned up the wick. On Lap 304, as Johnson tried to work his way through traffic, the series leader made the pass for the top spot, streaking to the inside of Johnson’s No. 48 Chevrolet as the cars approached the start/finish line.
Biffle said he was “foaming at the mouth” with Johnson in his sights, but he had to conserve fuel and save his tires for the first few laps of the final run after his last pit stop.
“I was a little short on fuel, so I kind of lifted a little early and let the car roll down through the corners,” said Biffle, who expanded his series lead to 19 points over Earnhardt and Kenseth. “When he started catching a little bit of traffic, that’s when I started going.
“I just pushed as hard as I could, and I was driving the thing sideways around the corner trying to catch him. I could tell I was catching him, and he had a little trouble with traffic.”
Johnson took issue with drivers of lapped cars — particularly the No. 39 of Ryan Newman — who Johnson felt failed to show the respect due a race leader.
“When I caught lapped traffic, some guys that were multiple laps down didn’t show much respect for myself, the leader,” said Johnson, who posted his fifth runner-up finish against one victory at Texas. “Before I knew it, the 16 (Biffle) was there inside of me and got by.
“We ran with him for the next eight or 10 laps, and then I made a mistake into (Turn) 3 and hit the fence. At that point, I just needed to make sure I brought it home. A great night, all in all. I certainly wish we could be in Victory Lane, but we’ll try again next week.”
The race featured only two cautions and ended with a green-flag run of 234 laps. That was a race record, as were the average speed (160.577 mph), fewest number of cautions and fewest number of caution laps (10).
Notes: Hendrick put four cars in the top 10 for the first time since last year’s spring race at Talladega. . . . Roush Fenway Racing earned its series-best ninth Cup win at Texas. . . . Both Johnson and Martin posted their 13th top-10 at TMS, Johnson in 18 starts, Martin in 23.