Possibility Becomes Harsh Reality Stewart Finishes 18th at Richmond, Misses Chase by 16 Points Everyone knew that it could happen, but no one really believed that it would happen. But with an 18th place finish in Saturday night's Chevy Rock &...
Possibility Becomes Harsh Reality
Stewart Finishes 18th at Richmond, Misses Chase by 16 Points
Everyone knew that it could happen, but no one really believed that it would happen. But with an 18th place finish in Saturday night's Chevy Rock & Roll 400 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway, Tony Stewart missed the cut in the 10-driver Chase for the Championship.
The two-time and reigning Nextel Cup champion had an inauspicious start to the weekend, as his primary No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet was no more after crashing in the opening laps of Friday's practice session. For just the fourth time in the team's seven-and-three-quarter-year history, the backup car was brought out from the transporter to finish practice and qualify for the 400-lap race.
A 40th place qualifying effort only added to the team's woes, but spirits remained high due to the No. 20 team's success at the .75-mile oval - three Nextel Cup wins, five top-fives and 10 top-10s. And the backup car was no slouch, having finished seventh in last year's September race at Richmond and winning earlier this year at Martinsville (Va.) in just its second career start.
Despite the past success of team and driver, there was little rock or roll for the No. 20 team in Saturday night's Chevy Rock & Roll 400.
"We just missed it tonight," said a cool and collected Stewart, who showed his championship form outside the race car despite the disappointing result. "We couldn't get the car to turn in the center (of the corner) and all we did was make it loose in and on the exit.
"It's been an up-and-down year, and the day we needed to be on, we just couldn't get on.
"It's not for a lack of effort. Zippy (Greg Zipadelli, crew chief) and all the guys on The Home Depot team, they worked their rear ends off. I did everything I could do behind the steering wheel. It wasn't one night that got us in this situation. It took 26 weeks to get here. We did the best we could, we just came up short."
Stewart entered Richmond with just a 45-point buffer over 11th place Kasey Kahne, the only driver capable of knocking a top-10 driver like Stewart out of the top-10. But Stewart's 18th place finish combined with Kahne's third-place result meant that Stewart's spot in the 10-race, playoff-style Chase for the Championship was gone.
After seven straight years - beginning with the team's rookie season in 1999 when they finished fourth in points - the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Team will not finish the season among the top-10 in points. Eleventh - and the million dollar payout that comes with it - is the best point result they can achieve.
Only the top-10 drivers in points are eligible to compete for the championship. All are legitimate title contenders, as each driver is separated from one another by a mere five points, since NASCAR recalibrated the points for those in the top-10 as soon as the Richmond race was over. With each driver separated by only five points, their respective shots at earning a championship in the season's last 10 races are incredibly equal.
Representing Joe Gibbs Racing in this year's Chase will be Hamlin. The rookie driver from Chesterfield, Va., earned his way into the Chase by way of his two wins, four top-fives and 13 top-10s. He is the only rookie competing for this year's championship.
Harvick scored his eighth career Nextel Cup victory and his third of the season by winning the Chevy Rock & Roll 400. Busch finished second, while Kahne, Dave Blaney and Martin secured the rest of the top-five. Greg Biffle, Ken Schrader, Kenseth, Burton and Scott Riggs comprised the rest of the top-10.
Hamlin finished 15th, while Stewart's other Joe Gibbs Racing teammate - J.J. Yeley - carried the company flag with a 13th place result.
The next event on the Nextel Cup schedule - the first race of the 10-race Chase for the Championship - is the Sept. 17 Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire International Speedway in Loudon. The race begins at 1:30 p.m. EDT with live, high-definition coverage provided by TNT.