Greg Biffle roared through the early stages of his NASCAR career.
Biffle gave Jack Roush his first NASCAR season title in 2000 by winning the Trucks Series, two years after he was the rookie of the year. Then came the natural progression to the Nationwide Series, where Biffle won another rookie of the year award and followed immediately with the 2002 season championship before moving up again.
A decade later, Biffle is still trying to become the first driver to complete the NASCAR title trio.
This could finally be the year for the re-energized Biffle, who is coming off a victory at Texas that reinforced his standing as the early-season Sprint Cup points leader.
"When I moved from the Trucks Series to Nationwide, it was a huge step. It was much, much harder. And when I moved from the Nationwide to the Cup Series, I had no idea that the competition was going to be what it was," Biffle said. "I knew it was going to be hard. But this year is my year."
Biffle's fifth top-five finish in seven races this season came in the fastest Cup race ever in Texas and snapped his 49-race winless drought. With only two early cautions, and 234 consecutive green-flag laps to end the race, he got a big boost in the pits from crew chief Matt Puccia and the rest of his team at the 1-mile, high-banked track.
"That gives me huge confidence," Biffle said. "I know that from about the third race, that these guys, the guys that Matt had put together, we kind of held the handcuffs on them a little bit last year until we got to the end of the season, and he revamped the entire team over the winter. I really, really like my guys."
Puccia, who like Biffle worked his way up through the Roush organization, replaced Greg Erwin midway through last season. The No. 16 Roush Fenway Ford had its only three poles of the season after that, but wasn't enough to keep Biffle from finishing 16th in points, his worst since 2004 in his second full Cup season.
"That guy, I promise you, if anybody can take me to winning a championship, it's Matt Puccia," Biffle said. "He never gives up, never leaves a rock unturned."
They started this season with third-place finishes in each of the first three races, taking over the points lead after the third race in Las Vegas. A pair of 13th-place finishes are the only ones outside the top six.
"It was really an unusual thing when we went after the team the way we did last year and said, you know, we just got great people but they're not just working together as well as they need to and we need to organize ourselves differently," Jack Roush said after the Texas victory. "That's a rarity that we do that. But that certainly was the key to getting the momentum that we've got going right now."
Biffle is certainly off to a much better start than last season, when the same opening three-race stretch set the tone for a frustrating season.
There was a 35th-place finish at Daytona, before finishing 20th at Phoenix and 28th at Las Vegas.
This week's Cup race is in Kansas, where Biffle had last won before Saturday night in the Lone Star State. He has gone to Victory Lane twice in Kansas with eight top-10 finishes in the 11 previous races at the 1 1/2-mile track.
Even though Biffle hasn't won a Cup season title, the 42-year-old driver has had success on NASCAR's highest level. The win in Texas was his 17th in the Cup Series.
In 2005, Biffle won six times, and had 15 top-five finishes. He tied for second in season points with teammate Carl Edwards, only 35 behind Tony Stewart.
Three years later, Biffle rebounded from missing the Chase two years in a row, and was third behind Jimmie Johnson and Edwards, who won nine races in 2008. Biffle became the first driver to win two of the 10 Chase races in the same season though those were his only victories.
For now, Biffle is enjoying being on top while realizing there are 19 more races before the final 10-race Chase starts in mid-September. He hopes to be in the same spot at the end of the season, no matter what happens before then.
"I know that we're probably not going to lead the points the whole way. So I'm happy and proud of our team fighting to stay in the points lead running as good as we can every week," Biffle said. "If and when that happens, certainly I'm not going to let that take the wind out of our sails. ... We're going to work as hard as we can to keep the points lead, keep in the top five, keep in the top three.
"If we continue to lead the points, that's a bonus," he said. "If we're not leading the points, we still are going to have that positive attitude."