- Scott Engel, ESPN Fantasy Games
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While the manner in which he finished Sunday's race certainly raised some controversy, Greg Biffle was indeed a spoiler at Kansas. He stole a possible win away from at least one Chase driver, and salvaged some respect in what has been mostly a disappointing season for him.
Had the field not been frozen and Biffle awarded the win because of impending darkness, Clint Bowyer had a good shot of catching him for his second victory of 2007. Yet Biffle was the one who ended up as the winner in a questionable finish. Had Biffle not won, there is no doubt he certainly would have at least finished in the top three. It's been a mostly frustrating season for Biffle and his fantasy owners, but he's starting to fare well again at a very important time of the season. While Chase drivers will anchor your squad on the way to a fantasy championship, it's non-Chase drivers like Biffle who can help give you that final nudge into first place.
Overall, Biffle has only four top-5 finishes in a year when many thought he would rebound from a down 2006 season. Yet two of his top-5 outings have come in the past two races, including his Kansas win and a second-place run at Dover. Before the Chase for the Cup began, many top-12 drivers mentioned Biffle as a possible non-Chase guy who could come in and win one of the final races. Biffle is certainly building positive momentum as he builds toward the 2008 season. It would be a surprise not to see him contend next season.
Other non-Chase drivers are capable of rising up and claiming a win in these final weeks of the schedule. These types of drivers are essential partners to guys like Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon during your push for the championship. The next non-Chase driver to end up in Victory Lane and steal the spotlight from the top 12 could very well be Dale Earnhardt Jr. Junior finished 10th at Kansas after placing third at Dover. He has yet to earn his first win of the 2007 season, and there are many apparent reasons why he would revel in a victory. The next race is at Talladega, where Junior has five wins and seven finishes in the top two.
Ryan Newman finished ninth at Talladega earlier this season, and while he looked like a Chase-bound driver for a good portion of the year, bad luck haunted him too often and he ended up out of the top 12. Prior to the Chase, Newman's teammate, Kurt Busch, said he fully expected to see him end up in Victory Lane before the season ended. Newman has only three finishes in the top five in 2007, yet it's not out of the question he could jump up and ahead of the Chase field in any given week. Biffle was the first non-Chase driver to win a Chase race this season. He certainly may not be the last.
Rocky in second
While Biffle was unapologetic for the manner in which he finished the race on Sunday, no one could have blamed him if he felt like Apollo Creed. Biffle was the victor, but many other drivers felt that he didn't win because he didn't cross the finish line ahead of Clint Bowyer and Jimmie Johnson. Biffle was the winner in name, but other drivers thought Bowyer, the biggest underdog when the Chase began, was the true No. 1 finisher. It would have been the second win of the season for Bowyer, who has saved his best for the end of the 2007 schedule. Bowyer is a true contender for the Nextel Cup championship, as he is only 14 points behind Johnson, who currently tops the standings. He's a must-start in all fantasy racing formats right now, even salary cap-style games.
Where are the wins?
Earlier this season, it looked as though Jeff Gordon was ready to dominate for much of the season and win his fifth championship. By this point, though, it's obvious that Gordon is no sure bet to win the title, and he dropped out of first place in the standings on Sunday. He did make a strong push late in the race to finish fifth, but his owners are truly going to need another win or two in these final races to comfortably wrap up their championships. Gordon now has 23 top-10 finishes and 17 top-5 showings, but he has not won since Pocono, the 14th race of the season. Talladega will mark the 30th race of the 2007 season. Gordon is long overdue for his first win of the second half of the schedule.
Around the Track
Casey Mears continues to be one of the best non-Chase drivers in the field during the final weeks of the season. He finished fourth at Kansas, his fifth top-5 showing of 2007. Mears has finished in the top 10 in each of the past three races. He now has a total of nine top-10 finishes in '07.
Reed Sorenson is another fine non-Chase guy to use, especially in salary cap-style games. He finished seventh at Kansas, his fourth top-10 finish of 2007. Sorenson could be primed for a true breakthrough season in 2008. He has already started building toward a more promising future.
Kasey Kahne is still dealing with some bouts of inconsistency, but seems more capable of respectable finishes recently. He finished ninth at Kansas, his sixth top-10 finish of the season. Four of those top-10 finishes have come in the past six races.
Elliott Sadler finished eighth at Kansas, but it's not safe to assume he is about to turn things around during the final few events. It was only his second top-10 finish of the season. His first came when he finished sixth in the opening race of the season at Daytona. Sadler has an average finish of 24.9 this season.
Scott Engel covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can contact Scott here.
12dTom McKean, ESPN Stats & Information