Cloud Covers Biffle Title

FORT WORTH, Texas - As Bryan Reffner celebrated in victory lane, Greg Biffle was also doing some celebrating in the garage area. But that celebration was clouded by concern.

Biffle, who finished 25th in the O'Reilly 400 Craftsman Truck Series race Friday night at Texas Motor Speedway, won his first NASCAR championship.

"It was really disappointing not to have won this title last year," Biffle said. "We started out kind of slow this season, but I knew we'd come around. I have to put last season behind me and just be thrilled to win the first NASCAR title for (owner) Jack Roush."

To say Biffle clinched the title the hard way would be an understatement. Biffle slammed his No. 50 Ford straight-on into the wall with 88 laps remaining, one of several hard hits during this Friday the 13th event under a full moon in Fort Worth.

"Greg was just trying to take care of the truck and I don't think there was a tire problem," said Roush. "We'll have to take a look at the truck, but he may have gotten into some marbles...or there may have been something on the track that sent him around."

Biffle spent some time in the infield care center, but hung around with hopes of celebrating his championship.

"I've got a cracked rib and a bruised sternum, but I'm alright," Biffle said. "I had a little trouble getting my breath after that hard hit and they tell me I'm going to be really sore for awhile."

It was hard for the No. 50 team to be in much of a celebratory mood Friday, as a violent crash early in the race left driver Tony Roper critically injured.

Roper, who made contact with Steve Grissom's truck, slammed head-on into the wall and it took track crewman several minutes to cut him from his machine.

Roper was transported by helicopter to a local hospital, and reports from the track said he was in critical condition, unconscious upon delivery to the hospital, and breathing through the help of a ventilator.

Grissom - who will fly to Talladega to compete in the Winston Cup race there Sunday - was uninjured in the accident.

Biffle - along with crew chief Randy Goss - will move to the Busch Series full time next season and drive cars owned and prepared by Roush Racing. The combination has certainly been a winning one this year. Biffle has five wins and 17 top-five finishes. He enters the final race of the truck series season, Oct. 28 at California Speedway, with the title in hand.

Lost in the hoopla over Biffle's championship possibility was a tremendous run by Reffner. The win was the first of his career.

"To finally win one in this series is tremendous," Reffner said. "Hopefully we've got many more wins to come. It's a great weekend for the guys on this team."

Following Reffner across the line and rounding out the Top 5 were Andy Houston, Kurt Busch, Jimmy Hensley and Dennis Setzer.

The race didn't start off on a high note as Chad Chaffin spun his No. 61 truck on the second lap. As other trucks checked up, problems ensued and a dozen competitors got involved in the wreck. Nine of those had to go behind the wall.

It was fewer than 20 laps later that Grissom and Roper were involved in their violent wreck.

Biffle, who won the truck race earlier this season at Texas and started this race third, didn't sit back knowing he needed to finish only 27th or better to win the title. By Lap 14 he was leading the race and continued battling for the lead until his crash.

"No way were we just going to sit back," Biffle said. "We really wanted to wrap up this championship at Texas."

With 100 laps remaining, Houston (who started sixth) led by nearly a second over polesitter Reffner, Busch and David Starr.

Starr, the unknown quantity in that group, is a Houston native who finished 11th at TMS earlier in the season.

Starr, who got black-flagged for jumping the start of the race and was sent to the back of the field, caught Houston just as Biffle smacked the wall.

On the ensuing yellow-flag stops, Starr won the battle off pit road and came out first. But on the restart, Houston and Sprague got the jump on him and put Starr back to third before one green-flag lap had been run.

Starr tried to keep up with the leaders, but a loose condition forced him to fall back in the field.

Another horrific wreck happened with 53 laps remaining when Sprague and Houston - battling for the lead - got together.

Sprague's Chevy spun, and as it came down the track, it was creamed by the truck driven by Derrike Cope. Cope's truck went down the straightaway - after smashing into Sprague and the retaining wall - on its side. Both drivers were uninjured, but their trucks were demolished.

With Sprague off the track, Houston and Busch appeared to have the trucks to beat...if, unlike many others, they could make it to the finish.

A caution flag, fairly predictable by that point, came out when Mike Wallace blew a motor with just under 20 laps remaining.

That set up a 13-lap shootout to the finish with Houston, Reffner and Busch battling for the win.

Houston got the jump off the green flag, but Reffner was able to move past him with seven laps to go.

"It's really tough to lead like that and then lose it at the end," said Houston, who will be a full-time Winston Cup driver in 2001. "This is likely my last truck race at Texas, and we would have liked to have won it."

The win is Reffner's first in 112 career truck series starts.

"Andy was better than us in Turns 1 and 2, but we were strong in 3 and 4," Reffner said. "I just drove it in there hard at the end and went by him.

"The owner and crew chief on this team put a lot of faith in me, and I'm so happy I was able to give them a win like this."


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