In NASCAR, winning isn't always everything.
Blame it on the long schedule with 36 checkered flags each year sometimes separated by fewer than six days. Blame it on the point system that pays race winners—even on their best days—a tad over 10 percent more points than second place. Or even blame it on the overall emphasis the sport puts on scoring the season title.
Sure, winning remains plenty fun and good for those who earn it. There's the checkered flag and the tire-smoking burnout. There's the rain of sprayed Victory Lane liquid and the shower of confetti. Sponsors and other drivers send their congratulations. And the paycheck boost for a driver, I would guess, is nothing to bemoan.
But most times, that victory celebration is quick, fleeting and occasionally overrun by the sport's next event. The notability of a win can often be obscured in the cloak of larger "meaning" in terms of a driver or team's recent performance or other storylines.
Greg Biffle seems to be a bit different in how he regards winning.
Biffle is often a refreshing reminder that wins in NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series—triumphs so tough to secure even on the best of days—are a very cherished part of this sport's ever-running pursuit. It's a trait he displays in two ways. First, there's his competitive and fiery side that sits at the core of every great athlete in any sport. Then there's his ability to realize that any given win could be the last.
Sure, he'll answer questions about how a line of recent finishes has forged the overall competitiveness of his race team. He'll analyze his points standing. But Biffle is often quick to point out that a NASCAR win at some point will become a driver's last.
"You never know when your last win is going to come," Biffle said. "Every time I've won—it doesn't matter at what level—you never know when the next race is you're going to have a chance, an opportunity, to be at the right place at the right time."
He notes that just one error can be the difference, whether that's a blown engine, a bad pit stop or a poor strategy call.
"They're so prestigious to have," Biffle said. "I'm thankful for every one I get."
Biffle's admiration of winning makes his revelry in the moment seem more authentic and meaningful, too. In his win at Michigan International Speedway, Biffle ultimately held off a charging Jimmie Johnson and watched as the No. 48 pushed hard enough to blow a tire with two laps left.
"I love it when the No. 48 crashes trying to catch me," Biffle shouted over his in-car team radio after crossing the start/finish line. "Love it!"
It was a line that some could have seen as distasteful, and Biffle cleaned it up a bit in a later press conference. Still, he made his point: Topping the competition even in a race that may have little forbearance on the championship matters.
"I don't want to see anybody wreck; I should have said 'make a mistake,'" Biffle said. "And that's truly what (Johnson) did, is he made a mistake. He pushed the envelope."
To Biffle, it was no different from a bunt in a baseball game forcing a pitcher into an error, or a well-timed pick-and-roll ending in a wide-open layup in basketball. It was applied competitive pressure while grasping for the race win that saw the strong stand up and weak fall out.
"We got him to make a mistake, we got him to falter, and we pushed the envelope," Biffle said. "That's part of racing and part of running hard and being competitive, and it makes you feel good when you push the guy over the edge."
It's the difference between winning and losing that matters to Biffle. It's racing—better yet, competition—at it's purest and indicative of Biffle caring deeply about being first on any given day.
That's not to say Johnson or any other NASCAR driver doesn't cherish winning. They certainly do and often say all of the right things afterward. It's not as if Johnson earned his five consecutive titles by being blase about finishing first. He's accomplished it more than any driver since the start of his career, and celebrated each one pretty strongly.
It's just that Biffle tends to appear more in awe of taking home that checkered flag because of how his perspective of such a great moment—at the highest echelon of his craft—could easily be his final taste.
There's no doubt that Biffle's satisfaction of winning is rooted in the simplistic competitive desire to finish first. It's also set in his personal demand to beat the competition. It all culminates in a winning celebration that appears to be much more about the moment at hand and not for the larger outlook.
That's refreshing in this sport because of how quick the next lap, the next race and the next season seem to come. It's a sport forever tied into the preparation of getting better for next week, with seemingly less attention being paid to being great this week. Perhaps that's just simply indicative of most sports and most professions.
Improvement is always sought, with desired results hoped for along the way.
Greg Biffle is in tune with that kind of continued betterment. He has to be if he wants his most recent win not to be his last. But Biffle's a rarity in that he's able to enjoy and savor the importance of taking the largest prize of the event at hand. He just simply appreciates the joy of it all.
In a NASCAR world full of "what's next," it's kind of nice to have someone driving for the now.
Quotes used in the article were sourced firsthand from NASCAR press conferences.