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 in the Chevy Rock and Roll 400 Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway in Richmond, Va.
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.
Kenseth and Newman didn’t need to be perfect. The two 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, then capitalized when teammate Busch was out front by briefly passing him to gain a five-point bonus for leading a lap.
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.
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.
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.
Danica Patrick was awarded the pole for today’s PEAK Antifreeze Indy 300 in Joilet, Ill., after fellow rookie Ryan Briscoe failed a post-qualifying inspection at Chicagoland Speedway.
Patrick claimed her third pole, tying Tomas Scheckter for the IRL rookie record, with a fast lap of 215.970 mph.
•Sarah McCune became the first woman to capture the pole in an Indy Racing League Menards Infiniti Pro Series event, taking the top spot in her first race on the circuit during qualifying. The 26-year-old McCune claimed the top spot for today’s Chicagoland 100, turning a fast lap of 187.795 mph.
Kimi Raikkonen won a front-row spot for today’s Belgian Grand Prix in Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium, behind teammate Juan Pablo Montoya, boosting his chances of preventing Fernando Alonso from becoming Formula One’s youngest world champion.
Montoya edged his McLaren-Mercedes teammate for the pole position during qualifying. Alonso was fifth fastest but will move up to the second row because Renault teammate Giancarlo Fisichella was penalized 10 places after replacing his engine earlier in the day.
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