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Busch wins Chevy 400; Gordon left out of Chase
RICHMOND, Va. -- Jeff Gordon slipped out, Ryan Newman surged in and Matt Kenseth held on in the frantic, nerve-wracked final race to make NASCAR's Chase for the championship.
The second year of NASCAR's 10-race, playoff-style finish will feature five Roush Racing cars in its 10-driver field, including Kenseth and Carl Edwards, who locked up two of the final spots with solid runs Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway.
Roush heads into the Chase as the clear favorite to win his third consecutive title, and will have momentum on his side. Kurt Busch won the race and was followed by Kenseth and Greg Biffle, giving Roush a sweep of the top three -- the first team to do so since 1997.
Gordon, NASCAR's four-time series champion, will not be eligible to win the Nextel Cup championship after faltering yet again in a high-stakes situation. His shot at making the Chase ended midway through the race in a fit of frustration.
"I'm done now," a dejected Gordon radioed to his crew after slapping the wall in a race he had to be nearly flawless in to qualify for the championship hunt. He finished 30th, and is assured his worst points finish since his rookie season.
"It was a disappointing night along with a disappointing season," Gordon said after the race. "Now we can put this behind us and just go on and try to make this a better race team. "The bottom line is we're way off and we've got a lot of work to do for next season."
Kenseth and Newman didn't need to be perfect -- they simply had to stay out of trouble and hope for the best finish possible to lock up the final two spots in the 10-driver field.
Kenseth, who finished second, had to climb out of a huge hole over the past 10 weeks to qualify and started the race ninth in the standings. He slowly worked his way to the front Saturday, then capitalized when teammate Busch was out front by briefly passing him to gain a five-point bonus for leading a lap.
"It feels great to come from as far behind as we did," Kenseth said. "We're back in it and running real good right now. Our cars came back to life in the second half of the season."
Kenseth joins Roush teammates Busch, the defending Nextel Cup champion, Biffle, Mark Martin, and Edwards in the Chase field. Edwards heads in eighth in the standings.
Newman had to fight to make it in, starting the race 11th in the standings, one point behind Jamie McMurray. His battle hit a setback during Friday's practice session when he crashed and had to pull out his backup car.
It didn't seem to matter for Newman, who finished 12th in the race and passed McMurray for the final qualifying spot.
"I've never driven so conscious since this race a year ago," Newman said. "We have 10 races to prove ourselves if we're a championship team."
For the second consecutive year, McMurray came up short in the final qualifying event. He crashed with 37 laps to go to end his chances and leaves Richmond 13th in the standings, eligible only to battle Gordon and the rest of the also-rans for NASCAR's consolation prize.
"There's a lot more worse things in life right now than not making the Chase," McMurray said.
Edwards, in his first full Nextel Cup season, is the surprise of the 10-man field. He made it into the Chase by winning two races this season. Once in the top 10, he did his best to stay there by staying out of trouble.
He had one close call Saturday night, narrowly escaping serious damage by skirting through a seven-car accident with 44 laps to go.
Even before the near-miss, the tension began to get to Edwards, who radioed crew chief Bob Osborne begging for a Chase update.
"If you could, Bobby, just let me know where we're at in the points deal. I mean, if I gotta make something happen, I gotta make it happen, you know?"
"Ninth place right now. Just keep running where you're running, pick up the spots when you've got room on the track, don't take any chances and we're going to be fine," Osborne said.
"Alright, buddy, I'm just real nervous about it," Edwards replied.
Edwards finished 21st, good enough to hold onto the eighth spot in the standings.
The chase will start next week in New Hampshire with Tony Stewart as the points leader, followed in five-point increments by Biffle, Rusty Wallace, Jimmie Johnson, Busch, Martin, Edwards, Kenseth and Newman.
Shut out this year after making it last season are Dale Earnhardt Jr., NASCAR's most popular driver, Elliott Sadler, and of course, Gordon.
By not qualifying, Gordon will not finish any higher than 11th in the standings -- marking the first time he will not finish in the top 10 since his rookie season in 1993 when he was 14th.
Things went wrong for him when he pitted during a caution period early in the race and his crew sent him back out with a loose lug nut on his left rear tire. Gordon had to make a second stop to have it repaired, and it dropped him to 29th on the restart.
Unable to make up any ground, tensions began to run high in radio communications with his team.
"Come on buddy, fight for it," crew chief Robbie Loomis said.
"Give me something to fight with," he snapped back.
He hit the wall shortly after.