Sports

Gordon squeezes into Cup playoffs

NASCAR pulled an all-nighter to set the field for the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

The Saturday night race at Richmond was delayed by rain, started, delayed again, but eventually run to its conclusion -- a full 400 laps won by Clint Bowyer around 1:30 a.m. Eastern time in Richmond, Va.

Good thing for Bowyer, who picked up his second victory of the season.

And good thing for Jeff Gordon, who finished second and made the Chase by three points. If the race had been called, he would have been out and Kyle Busch would have been in.

But Gordon is back, the 12th seed, for a chance to win his fifth championship.

So is "Five-Time" Jimmie Johnson, whose run of five straight titles was stopped last year. But he is the most successful driver ever in the eight-year Chase era, and he's never missed one.

And so is defending champion Tony Stewart, who won five times in the 10-race "playoffs" last year to clip Carl Edwards at the figurative wire and win the championship on a tiebreaker.

Edwards didn't make it. Neither did three other Chasers from last year, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch and Ryan Newman.

In their place are Bowyer, Martin Truex Jr., Greg Biffle and Kasey Kahne, whose appearance gives Hendrick Motorsports all four of its drivers in the Chase.

Denny Hamlin, the winningest driver of the year, starts with a 3-point lead on the field thanks to 12 bonus points from his four wins. But with the final 10 races beginning Sunday at Chicago, every driver in the Chase feels like they've got a shot.

"Man, I feel good," Truex Jr. said. "I know we're kind of an underdog and not a lot of people expect us to do much. It's a good position to be in. We just need to be smart, make good decisions, and our NAPA Toyotas are strong enough to do this thing."

Hamlin, who almost had his third win in three weeks Saturday night -- er, Sunday morning -- can't wait, either.

"Obviously, our stuff is really good right now -- as good as it was in 2010," he said. "What do you got to lose? We've never won a championship. We're going out there trying to win our first."

1. Denny Hamlin

Bonus points: 12

Total points: 2,012

Wins: 4

Top 5s: 11

Top 10s: 13

Sprint Cup championships: None

Won more often than any other Chaser, and nearly had another win Saturday night. He starts with a 3-point edge on the field.

2. Jimmie Johnson

Bonus points: 9

Total points: 2,009

Wins: 3

Top 5s: 12

Top 10s: 17

Sprint Cup championships: 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010

The only driver in the Chase every year, has won more Chase races than anyone (20) and led more Chase laps than anyone.

3. Tony Stewart

Bonus points: 9

Total points: 2,009

Wins: 3

Top 5s: 10

Top 10s: 12

Sprint Cup championships: 2002, 2005, 2011

Knows how to finish a championship season. Last year, he won five of the 10 Chase races to win his third title.

4. Brad Keselowski

Bonus points: 9

Total points: 2,009

Wins: 3

Top 5s: 10

Top 10s: 15

Sprint Cup championships: None

Comes in as one of the hottest drivers in the field. He's reeled off nine top-10s in the last 10 starts, faltering only at Bristol.

5. Greg Biffle

Bonus points: 6

Total points: 2,006

Wins: 2

Top 5s: 10

Top 10s: 15

Sprint Cup championships: None

The points leader at two points during the year. Finished second in the 2004 and 2005 Chases.

6. Clint Bowyer

Bonus points: 6

Total points: 2,006

Wins: 2

Top 5s: 6

Top 10s: 15

Sprint Cup championships: None

Back in the Chase after missing a year, but this time not handicapped by the 2010 penalty that put him in last place.

7. Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Bonus points: 3

Total points: 2,003

Wins: 1

Top 5s: 10

Top 10s: 17

Sprint Cup championships: None

Comes in riding no consistency. He's had six finishes out of the top 10 and five in since winning at Michigan.

8. Matt Kenseth

Bonus points: 3

Total points: 2,003

Wins: 1

Top 5s: 10

Top 10s: 15

Sprint Cup championships: 2003

The former points leader has an average finish of 16.9 over the past eight races. But he's a mile-and-a-half king.

9. Kevin Harvick

Bonus points: 0

Total points: 2,000

Wins: 0

Top 5s: 4

Top 10s: 11

Sprint Cup championships: None

Made the Chase on consistency, but he's not spiking. Has only four top-5s and hasn't threatened for a win since June at Dover.

10. Martin Truex Jr.

Bonus points: 0

Total points: 2,000

Wins: 0

Top 5s: 6

Top 10s: 14

Sprint Cup championships: None

Making his second Chase appearance. Finished 11th in 2007. Spent the last half of the summer reeling off top 10s.

11. Kasey Kahne

Bonus points: 0

Total points: 2,000

Wins: 2

Top 5s: 7

Top 10s: 13

Sprint Cup championships: None

Making his third Chase appearance, and first with the Hendrick machine. Top-10 at TMS in April launched his Chase run.

12. Jeff Gordon

Bonus points: 0

Total points: 2,000

Wins: 1

Top 5s: 7

Top 10s: 12

Sprint Cup championships: 1995, 1997, 1998, 2001

Got in under the wire, taking second at Richmond on Saturday night. He took advantage of NASCAR's decision to hang in there through the rain.

Numbers game

20Wins in the Chase for Jimmie Johnson, more than any other driver

11Wins in the Chase for Tony Stewart, including five last year

4Chasers from last year who did not make it this year: Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch, Ryan Newman and Kurt Busch.

3Non-Chase drivers who have won Chase races: Jamie McMurray (twice), Joe Nemechek and Dale Jarrett.

They said it

"To win this last race before this Chase got off -- we had a bad race last weekend. Had a lot of adversity we had to bounce through. Just kind of bummed out as a team as a whole coming into this race. This is a good way to get things bounced back headed into this Chase."

-- Clint Bowyer, the early-morning winner at Richmond

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