Newman supplants McMurray in top 10

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 Nextel Cup.

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
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 his car
and had to pull out his backup.

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.

"All right, buddy, I'm just real nervous about it," Edwards

Edwards finished 21st, good enough to hold on to the eighth spot
in the standings.

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.