RICHMOND, Va. — Jeff Gordon failed to make NASCAR’s championship chase, Ryan Newman raced his way into title contention, and Kurt Busch won Saturday night’s Nextel Cup race at Richmond International Raceway.
Gordon, the leading winner among active drivers, struggled before contact with the wall ruined his hopes for a fifth series title.
He finished 30th.
Newman earned the 10th and final spot in the chase after Jamie McMurray crashed with less than 40 laps left .
McMurray was 18 points behind Newman before the accident. McMurray triggered the incident when he clipped Tony Raines, who sent Ricky Rudd into the wall in turn 2. Then on the backstretch, McMurray was hit from behind and slammed into the inside wall .
“You have 25 other races to try to make it into this,” said McMurray, who missed the chase by 15 points last year. “We just didn’t run well enough in those. It’s frustrating.”
Tony Stewart, Greg Biffle, Jimmie Johnson and Rusty Wallace each had qualified for the chase before Saturday’s race. Kurt Busch clinched by starting Saturday night.
Jeremy Mayfield, Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth and Newman earned the final berths with their performance on the short track. Edwards and Kenseth helped Roush Racing qualify all five of its cars .
Kenseth earned his way by finishing second with Biffle, Kyle Busch and Wallace completing the top five. Newman secured the final transfer spot by finishing 11th.
Gordon’s fall guarantees he will not finish in the top 10 in points for the first time since his rookie year in 1993. Gordon joins Dale Earnhardt Jr. among those not making the chase, meaning NASCAR’s two most popular drivers will not be racing for the title.
Gordon’s title hopes ended on lap 212 when Johnny Sauter squeezed Gordon’s car into the wall. Gordon’s car suffered right side damage .
Gordon, who rarely offers a pre-race pep talk on the team’s radio, tried to spark his crew moments before the race.
“All right guys, this is what it’s all about right here,” Gordon said. “Let’s see what we’re made of.”
Not much, it turned out.
Gordon’s season-long woes continued as he struggled with the car’s handling.
“I just have absolutely no grip off the corner,” Gordon radioed his crew 24 laps into the race as he ran sixth.
Gordon’s pit crew also let him down. The team failed to tighten all the lugnuts on the left rear tire during a lap 116 pit stop and had to pit again. He restarted 29th.
Gordon’s temper grew as his chances faded.
“Come on buddy, fight for it,” crew chief Robbie Loomis radioed.
“I need something to fight with,” Gordon responded. “What do you want me to do, just wreck?”
A few laps later, came the contact with the wall.
“That’s it,” Gordon told his crew. “We’re done. (Sauter) rammed me into the wall.”
Gordon lost a lap making repairs and later lost another lap on the track. He never made it back to the lead lap.
Contact Dustin Long at 373-7062 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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