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Jeff Gordon is ecstatic, making the playoffs....Kyle Busch crushed and angry at missing the chase

Jeff Gordon is ecstatic, making the playoffs....Kyle Busch crushed and angry at missing the chase

Jeff Gordon: now on to Chicago....

   By Mike Mulhern

   It was indeed Jeff Gordon versus Kyle Busch for that final wild card playoff spot, with a great cameo by Ryan Newman, in the Saturday night-Sunday morning Richmond 400.
   And for much of the race -- which was 90 minutes late starting, from its planned 7:30 p.m. ET green, and which didn't get the checkered until 1:23  a.m. -- that spot appeared Busch's easily.
   Gordon was running very poorly, 22nd at one point, even though his Rick Hendrick teammates, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne and Dale Earnhardt Jr., were then running top-five.
   But things turned, suddenly almost, during that stretch after a confusing and quickly called round of pit stops -- and no stops -- at lap 278 of the 400-lapper.
   Gordon became a contender, and in the closing laps he was nipping at Clint Bowyer's heels for the win, with Bowyer running out of fuel.
   Busch floundered from that point, became clearly flustered and angrily, snapping at his  crew. And his 16th place finish cost him a place in the playoffs, a crushing blow for a driver that many consider possibly the best pure racer in this sport.
   Busch offered a few snappish comments after the race and then disappeared into the night, skipping planned post-race interviews.
   Gordon on the other hand was almost stunned at making the playoffs, particularly as poorly as his car handled early on.
    "Went from last week to being the most disappointed I've ever been to finish second to the most excited I've ever been to finish second," Gordon said.
    "Wow! What a race for us.  
    "We just flat-out missed the setup at the beginning.  Luckily Alan (Gustafson, his crew chief) and the engineers got together and found the tools that we could utilize to make the car better.  
    "The biggest thing is that rear (sway) bar: we just had to get rid of it. We cut the chain....and our car really started coming to us right then.  We finally got some driveoff the corners.
     "All the things that have gone wrong for us this year... everything went right for us tonight.  We had some guys stay out there on tires on basically that last caution that really cost them good finishing positions.  We came in and got tires, and we were able to drive up through there.
    "Alan had great timing for that last pit stop. We shortpitted, and it worked -- getting us out ahead of Tony (Stewart) and run Mark (Martin) down at the end.
    "It was amazing.  I still can't believe we actually did it."

   Down the stretch "I didn't know what position we were in.  I didn't know what was going on.
   "I knew that it looked like some guys were staying out because of how slow they were running.  
   "Then Alan got pretty animated when he said "You've got to get the 55 (Martin), you have to get the 55," and there was 10 to go.
     "I kind of had an idea that that would get us in, but he didn't ever say it."

    It was quite a change from the first half of the race.
    "I was not very smiling and happy at that rain delay, " Gordon said. "I was pretty ticked off that we got that far behind.
    "When you have that kind of start to the race, you don't have a lot of hope you're going to get it turned around.
    "Alan never wavered.  He was confident.  They were looking at the data, from what we had, to our teammates, even Tony.  
     "I felt like I won the race.  When it was over and they told me I was in the chase, that we'd made it, I was ecstatic.  I was going nuts.  
     "Man, I don't see any reason why we can't go out over these next 10 races and be a real threat for the championship."


   Kyle Busch's crew makes a pit stop. But it was the stop they didn't make that wound up costing Busch and the team a spot in the playoffs (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   Dave Rogers, Busch's crew chief, was hard on himself.

   "The chase is more than one race, but we certainly were in a position to capitalize and make it. But that call, I blew it.

   "I gave one up. But hats off to Jeff and Alan; they hung in there, they fought. They got behind early and could have easily folded, and they didn't. They deserve to be in the chase, and I'm happy for them.

   "I just gave up a chance at a championship for this team, for Kyle, for everyone. I feel like I let them all down. That hurts.

   "We were both speechless (when meeting Busch afterwards). We looked at each other and nodded and just acknowledged that we'll talk later.

   "Both of us are hurting. But we didn't say much. Kyle did a good job of keeping his composure and took it on the chin like a man."

   Team owner Joe Gibbs: "I didn't really talk to Kyle much. I was up there with him, just sharing the disappointment. You just feel bad because of all that was put into this.

    "It's just a real disappointing night.....the agony and defeat...."


18 vs 24 was great show. Super article,great pics.

18 vs 24 was great show. Super article,great pics.

Kyle Busch's performance

I also hold the opinion that Kyle is the best driver in Sprint Cup today. But last night's race showed that he has no initiative. He's capable of racking up points but fails to take things to the expected conclusion when the need is greatest. Consider his prior chase performances. He's never won a chase race, nor a championship. He seems to want everything to fall into his lap and won't strain himself when it doesn't.

Maybe his crew chief missed a call for tires. He should have sucked it up and drove his heart out. But he didn't. As the best driver, I feel that he could have gained three spots if he had really wanted to, even with an ill-handling car.

It wasn't Kyle's best year overall. Maybe with a new teammate next year, and Hamlin's expected good run in the chase, he'll want to get off his butt and make an effort.

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