M&M’s Team Misses Chase for NASCAR Sprint Cup by Just Three Points
Date: Sept. 8, 2012
Event: Federated Auto Parts 400 (Round 26 of 36)
Series: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series
Location: Richmond (Va.) International Raceway (.75-mile oval)
Start/Finish: 15th/16th (Running, completed 399 of 400 laps)
Point Standing: 13th (774 points, 140 out of first, 36 behind 10th – OUT OF THE CHASE)
Winner: Clint Bowyer of Michael Waltrip Racing (Toyota)
Kyle Busch finished 16th in the Federated Auto Parts 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Saturday night at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway.
The 16th-place finish, coupled with Jeff Gordon’s second-place result, caused Busch to miss the 12-driver Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup by a mere three points as Gordon ended NASCAR’s regular season with 777 points to Busch’s 774.
“We missed,” said Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR). “That’s it. Plain and simple.”
The top-10 drivers in points are eligible to compete for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup along with two wild-card drivers – Kasey Kahne and Gordon – who were admitted to the Chase field by having the most wins among the drivers who were between 11th and 20th in the standings. Kahne had two wins, which gave him the 11th spot, while Gordon claimed the 12th, as he had a higher point total than fellow one-race winners Busch, Marcos Ambrose, Ryan Newman and Joey Logano, who were all between 11th and 20th in the standings.
The race was delayed for more than two hours by rain and started just past 9:30 p.m. EDT. Busch started 15th and was a top-10 mainstay for much of the first 275 laps. But while a rain shower on lap 152 gave Busch and the other competitors a nearly one-hour break, it was the third rain shower of the night that ultimately affected his Chase hopes.
On lap 277, rain began falling at Richmond. Several of the lead cars had the option to make pit stops, including Busch, who was in eighth place. Crew chief Dave Rogers made the call to keep Busch on track, just as the cars ahead had done, but the cars immediately behind him headed to pit road for four tires and fuel.
Busch restarted fourth, but the cars behind him had much fresher tires. Those cars quickly took advantage of the situation by motoring past Busch once the race restarted on lap 282. Gordon, who had been behind Busch much of the night, suddenly was in the top-10 and a contender for the win thanks to his fresh tires and a better handling car than he had previously been driving. That, coupled with the race going caution-free the rest of the distance, left Busch no time to make up the ground. He finished outside the top-15 one lap down, while Gordon took the runner-up spot.
“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,” Rogers said. “There’s no two ways to look at it. I’m pretty honest. I evaluate myself as hard as I evaluate my guys, and I gave one up today. But hats off to the 24 (Jeff Gordon) crew. Alan Gustafson (crew chief), Jeff (Gordon) – they hung in there. They fought. They got behind early and they could’ve easily folded, and they didn’t. They deserve to be in the Chase, and I’m happy for them.
“I’m tough on myself. I just gave up a chance at a championship for this team, for Kyle (Busch) and for everyone at M&M’s, 450 employees at Joe Gibbs (Racing) that worked so hard this year. Had a lot of confidence and really hoping for some good things in the Chase, and I feel like I let them down. That hurts. It’s always personal. But you know what? They are great guys, and I know they’re going to stand behind me. Great managing staff is going to stand behind me, a great driver, and we’re just going to stand behind the 11 (Denny Hamlin) car and the MWR (Michael Waltrip Racing) guys and try to make sure Toyota wins this championship.”
JGR owner Joe Gibbs shared in the disappointment of missing the Chase.
“I think for all of us here you just feel bad because of all that was put into this,” Gibbs said. “Again, this is pro sports and the best people in the world competing at this level. It can happen to you. Just very disappointed. I hate it for M&M’s and for all of us on the race team – Kyle, all of us. It was just a real disappointing night.
“We love Dave Rogers. I think he’s one of the brightest and the best. I think we have a great, tight-knit team here. We all go up together and if we have a tough night, we all have a tough night together.”
Busch’s JGR teammates – Denny Hamlin, driver of the No. 11 Toyota Camry, and Logano, driver of the No. 20 Toyota Camry – finished 18th and 30th, respectively. Hamlin led a race-high 202 laps but, like Busch, didn’t pit during the rain shower and never recovered.
Hamlin will represent Team Interstate in the 2012 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Hamlin is seeded first among the 12 Chase drivers, as his series-high four regular-season wins give him 12 bonus points (three points per win) to begin the 10-race Chase.
Clint Bowyer won the Federated Auto Parts 400 to score his seventh career Sprint Cup victory, his second of the season and his second at Richmond.
Gordon finished 1.198 seconds behind Bowyer in the runner-up spot, while Mark Martin, Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth rounded out the top-five. Jeff Burton, Brad Keselowski, Newman, Greg Biffle and Kevin Harvick comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were six caution periods for 41 laps, with seven drivers failing to finish the 400-lap race.
Richmond marked the last race of the regular season, as the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup now begins. Hamlin will be making his seventh Chase appearance, and he finished a career-best second in 2010.
NASCAR recalibrated the points for the 12 drivers when the Richmond race ended, with each driver getting 2,000 points. With the exception of the wild-card entrants of Kahne and Gordon, drivers also received three bonus points for each of their respective wins during the 26-race regular season. For drivers starting the Chase with identical point totals, their seed was determined by the traditional tiebreaker of best finishes beyond race victories.
1. Denny Hamlin (2,012 points)
2. Jimmie Johnson (2,009 points, -3)
3. Tony Stewart (2,009 points, -3)
4. Brad Keselowski (2,009 points -3)
5. Greg Biffle (2,006 points, -6)
6. Clint Bowyer (2,006 points, -6)
7. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (2,003 points, -9)
8. Matt Kenseth (2,003 points, -9)
9. Kevin Harvick (2,000 points, -12)
10. Martin Truex Jr. (2,000 points, -12)
11. Kasey Kahne (2,000 points, -12)
12. Jeff Gordon (2,000 points, -12)
The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule – the first race of the 10-race Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup – is the Geico 400 on Sept. 16 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill. The race begins at 2 p.m. EDT with live coverage provided by ESPN beginning with a pre-race show at 1 p.m.