Going into Kansas last weekend, Greg Biffle needed a big finish. He came in dragging a string of disappointing finishes dating all the way back to Atlanta. One more Sunday finishing among the back markers, and Biffle’s run at a historic NASCAR triple crown (he’s also a past champion in CWTS and NNS competitions) would be over for 2010. Thanks to his victory at Kansas, “The Biff” gets more than just a morale boost.

Sunday’s victory also did a nice job of cutting Biffle’s deficit heading in to Kansas. The victory lifts the Roush Fenway driver up one spot in the standings by one spot to eighth, and cuts his points shortfall 140 to 85 points out of first. Another race like California and Biffle will find his name breathed in the same breath as Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin.

Don’t think it can’t be done, because Biffle takes a number of positives with him into Auto Club Speedway, home to next Sunday’s Pepsi Max 400. Seven of his 16 career victories have come in the Chase, so the playoff pressure isn’t a problem. Though it came in the first Fontana race of 2005, Biffle also owns a career victory at Auto Club, as well as four top fives, and five top tens.

In fact, Auto Club Speedway has had a reputation for being a Roush Fenway playground, with seven wins for the organization since its debut. Carl Edwards has also won at this venue, and Matt Kenseth has three career victories at the track modeled after Michigan International Speedway, another Roush wheelhouse.

Speaking of Biffle’s teammates, they offer further evidence that Sunday’s results are no fluke. Edwards and Kenseth also peeled off top tens at Kansas. Heck, even David Ragan scored a top twenty by finishing 16th. You get the feeling a win will come for Edwards any race now, and suddenly Kenseth is showing signs of life, after languishing among the top fifteens for much of the season.

It’s true Jimmie Johnson stands as current points leader, and his five Auto Clubs wins are further evidence of concern for fans eager to see a fresh face hoisting the Sprint Cup this year. By the same token, the race within the chase is as tight as it’s ever been after the third race of NASCAR’s ten-race playoff, and no one in the mix is more confident now than the hard-charging, gritty 40-year old from Vancouver, Washington.

Yes, Johnson’s performance may have launched him into first, but the number of entries mounting serious challenges to the defending champion expanded, not contracted. None of that number looks better poised to reel Johnson in than one Greg Biffle, a Kansas winner and California competitor.