Struggling Biffle preparing for life without the Chase

BRISTOL, Tenn. -- Greg Biffle was signing autographs between practices last weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway when a fan asked how his season was going.

He shrugged his shoulders, not knowing exactly what to say, admitted things could be better and then walked away.

There were times this season when Biffle wanted to walk away from Roush Fenway Racing, forego the final year of his contract in 2008 and sign with another team.

"There was a discussion about the possibilities," Biffle said. "I was fairly unhappy early in the season. There was a discussion on my part about not coming back."

Biffle still isn't happy with the way his season is going. He is 15th in points heading into Sunday's race at California Speedway and prepared to miss the Chase for the Nextel Cup for the second straight year after finishing second to Tony Stewart in 2005.

He hasn't won since last year's season finale and he has only two top-5s, his fewest since his rookie season in 2002 when he had three.

But he's not so unhappy that he's looking elsewhere. He's committed to fulfilling his deal with owner Jack Roush, and likely won't decide where he will drive in 2009 until this time next year.

"I believe I could do a deal with somebody right now for 2009," Biffle said. "But I don't think that's what I need to be doing. I need to worry about what I'm doing here.

"What if we got together [next season] and had great cars and ended up third in points and everything was going well and I'd already made a decision to leave? That would kind of be premature."

Biffle's name has come up most in connection with the No. 8 at Dale Earnhardt Inc. The speculation will intensify with Mark Martin and Aric Almirola reportedly taking over that ride next season until DEI can find a permanent solution.

Biffle could be that solution.

He will be arguably the biggest free agent on the market, having won 11 races since 2003. He had a career-best six wins, 15 top-5s and 21 top-10s in 2005 to finish only 35 points out of the championship.

He already has championships in the Busch and Craftsman Truck series.

He easily could have jumped ship and few would have given him grief.

"I didn't want to do business like that," Biffle said. "Certainly I don't want to make any enemies along the way if I can. We've had our differences. Jack and I have yelled at each other behind closed doors."

Biffle's frustrations reached a peak at Charlotte when he blew a right front tire "for no reason," crashed and finished last to fall to 19th in points.

"I was discouraged enough that I left the track on Sunday saying I'm not driving that car next year, I'm doing something else," he said. "Then on
Monday or Tuesday I calmed down a little bit."

The frustration returned a few weeks later after a 38th-place finish at Michigan.

"I had a top-five car and rubbed a hole in the radiator with some rivets some moron put together," said Biffle, frustration returning to his face momentarily. "Just stuff like that gets under your skin.

"That's your livelihood. We're trying to make the Chase, and when stuff like that happens it completely takes you out of it. If I have two races back I may be in the Chase today."

General manager Max Jones senses Biffle's frustration, but there's not much he can say or do beyond try to put him in the best equipment.

"A guy that has finished second in the championship and has won as many races as he has in the trucks, Busch and Cup, he probably doesn't need me to tell him what to do," Jones said.

Biffle has 16 wins in the truck series, which he won in 2000. He has 18 wins in the Busch Series, which he won in 2002.

He doesn't have a win in any series this year despite running in all three from time to time.

"He's got a lot of frustration," Jones said. "There is more frustration than there is pressure. So you've got to deal with that frustration. Getting frustrated and wanting to leave the track or can't take it anymore, that won't get you better. When things are tough you've just got to dig deeper."

Roush tried to help the situation in May when he replaced veteran crew chief Pat Tryson, who was at a philosophical difference on several levels, including Roush's lack of testing that since has been rectified.

Biffle wasn't convinced that was the right move, but went along with it. He has shown steady improvement over the last nine races with four top-10s and six top-15 finishes.

That won't be enough to get in the Chase, but it gives him hope of getting a victory before the season is over.

"He's a seasoned veteran," Jones said. "He knows what he's got to do. It's not like he's a rookie that I'm trying to foster along. When he was driving trucks for me I might have been able to do that. ''

Biffle also has to be encouraged that teammates Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards are running strong. Kenseth is fourth in points and had seven finishes of 14th or better before last week's 39th at Bristol.

Edwards has three straight top-10s, including a win at Bristol, to climb to fifth. He's won two of the last 10 races.

"We were hoping to have everybody in the Chase," Jones said. "We don't have that done yet. It's no secret we've started behind. I feel like we've done a good job of catching up. We're better than we were when we were here in the spring."

Roush had all five cars in the Chase in 2005 when Biffle and Edwards finished tied for second. There's been a lot of turnover since, from crew chief changes to the loss of veteran driver Mark Martin after last season.

Biffle recently lost the person who had assembled his cars the past few years -- Tate McGee -- to rival Penske.

"Another good big team, probably," Biffle said with a look of disappointment.

Two years ago, everybody was pointing at Roush Fenway Racing as the good big team. And Biffle was considered among many the top driver from a pure talent standpoint.

"We set the bar pretty high a couple of years ago when we had five in the Chase," Jones said. "There's a lot of dynamics in the sport now with new cars and new things we have to look at.

"There was some erosion there that needed to get filled back in. We're getting it done, but we're not at a point we need to be."

Until it is, Biffle will keep one eye on the track in front of him and another on the teams around him to determine what he'll do in 2009.

"Since the news came out that I'm driving this car next year, a lot of people backed off and are looking elsewhere for drivers," he said. "We'll see how the rest of this year goes, how next year goes and I'll make a decision based on information that I have."

"Really, money has very little to do with this business. Just like Junior [Dale Earnhardt Jr.] made the move and the decision Kyle Busch made. It's based on performance. Who's got the best equipment and has an opening."

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at dnewtonespn@aol.com.