Driver of the No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford fails to make GEICO 500 field MORE: Sunday's starting lineup RELATED: Play NASCAR Fantasy Live " Sign up for RaceView today TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Changes to NASCAR's qualifying format for the GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway produced a number of surprises, not the least of which was the failure of Ricky Stenhouse Jr . to earn a starting berth in the 43-car field. The Roush Fenway Racing driver was one of three that failed to earn a starting position based on his qualifying speed -- Justin Allgaier and Reed Sorenson also failed to post times fast enough to crack the top 36 here Saturday at Talladega Superspeedway . Sorenson ( Tommy Baldwin Racing ), 36th fastest in the opening round, was eventually added to the lineup after Joe Nemechek 's No. 29 Toyota failed post-qualifying inspection. "I didn't consider the fact that our position in points would leave us in jeopardy," Roush Fenway Racing co-owner Jack Roush said afterward. "That was a blind side on my part. It's unfortunate we weren't in a better place in points, and that we had as many good cars as we did that didn't qualify based on time. It's just unbelievable that we didn't get on the race track in time to get a lap there." Stenhouse has made 72 starts in Sprint Cup competition, including 67 in a row since moving up to the series full time a year ago. He made five starts between 2011-12 while winning back-to-back championships in NASCAR's Nationwide Series . His team's DNQ was the result of several things, from Saturday's slow qualifying speed to his team's position in the owner points standings. During the first round, Stenhouse posted a speed of 176.947 mph, just 43rd overall for the round. While unfortunate, under normal circumstances, he would have been one of several slotted into the field in one of the seven remaining positions available based on owner points. But because seven drivers higher in owner points failed to crack the top 36 (Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin , Kevin Harvick , Joey Logano , Kyle Busch , Kyle Larson and Jeff Gordon ), Stenhouse Jr . wasn't able to secure one of those starting spots. NASCAR determines its 43-car lineup based on the following: positions 1-36 are awarded based solely on lap times. Positions 37-43 are awarded based on a team's rank in the owner standings, and assigned positions based on their lap times. (If a former champion fails to post a speed in the top 36, he may be assigned the 43rd position, if his team isn't high enough in the owners' points standings to receive one of those berths.) NASCAR made changes to the qualifying format for Talladega, with teams split into two groups for the first round, and limiting the time of the round to five minutes. The latter change meant teams would likely get one opportunity to post a qualifying run with no time to return to pit road, allow their cars to cool and return to the track should it be necessary. Stenhouse was last in line in a group of cars that included Gordon and Harvick making their qualifying laps in the first round. But when Gordon slowed (to create a gap between his group and another group ahead of the pack), it slowed those behind him. Because they didn't get back to the start/finish line in time, they were unable to post another lap. "I thought being the last car in line would be beneficial for us," Stenhouse said. "We had Jeff Gordon leading the pack there; I thought we would have a good shot at putting a good lap in, but my spotter was telling me '‘hey, you have 30 seconds to get across the start/finish line' as we were entering Turn 3. "I don't guess the 24’s (spotter) was giving him a lot of information. He kept slowing the pack down and we didn't get a good lap and never got across the start/finish line in time. "My spotter was giving me the information I needed and I wish the 24 would have been doing the same." Stenhouse later tweeted the following: All I got tough day pic.twitter.com/4KWEFvpmQ9 — Ricky Stenhouse Jr . (@StenhouseJr) October 18, 2014 Gordon said the qualifying plan "was shot before the plan started." "I messed up ultimately," the Hendrick Motorsports driver said. "I just mistimed getting to the line. The whole group was going so slow I knew I had to have a gap and when I came across the line I thought I had enough (time) to be able to complete that lap and get one more, which was the only way we were going to make it. "But we came up short. It's a mess out there. It's not easy." It was the second time this season a driver from the RFR stable failed to qualify for a Sprint Cup race. A week ago at Charlotte Motor Speedway , Nationwide Series regular Trevor Bayne was unable to qualify for the Bank of America 500 in a fourth RFR entry fielded just for that race. Roush, whose organization also fields Sprint Cup entries for drivers Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards , didn't blame the qualifying format for the setback. "We just didn't get on the race track fast enough and I'm not sure who actually made that call. I'm not sure if it was left up to Ricky or the spotter or (crew chief) Mike Kelley," Roush said. "It's my responsibility to make sure we execute our program so we have a chance to qualify. We clearly didn't do it here and that's an oversight." MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule FULL CHASE COVERAGE • Chase hub page • Chase Grid games • #MyChaseNation
Dale Jr . led 31 laps, but ultimately came up short at Talladega RELATED: Follow your picks in the Perfect Chase Grid Challenge for chance at $100,000 prize TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Dale Earnhardt Jr .'s title hopes came to a disappointing end Sunday on the backstretch of Talladega Superspeedway . Caught up in a multi-car accident during the first of two green-white-checkered attempts, the Hendrick Motorsports driver wound up 31st in the GEICO 500 . A long shot became no shot. The opportunity to advance to the Eliminator Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup went out the window when contact from Greg Biffle sent Earnhardt's car spinning into the wall. Earnhardt joined teammates Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne , along with Joe Gibbs Racing driver Kyle Busch , as those eliminated from Chase title contention. "I don't know if I came down on him or what," Earnhardt said of the contact with the Roush Fenway Racing driver. "I thought I was holding my line, but we were all kind of tight back there.” Earnhardt, Johnson and Brad Keselowski , bringing up the rear of the Chase points heading into the race, needed a win to advance to the next round. Keselowski accomplished the feat, on one of the most treacherous tracks on the schedule. Earnhardt's No. 88 Chevrolet was out front twice for 31 laps, and when he wasn't leading he was often dicing up front among those who were. But getting shuffled back in the field during the final stage of the race left him in a precarious position. "We worked real hard all day long trying to run up front," Earnhardt said. "I knew we needed to be up front all day long. We got shuffled to the back. I made a move trying to get up front and it didn't work out. So, we lost a lot of track position and never got it back. "You need to be up front. You need to be in the top four the last few restarts. Those are the guys that have a shot at it. You know you're not going to pass 10 or 12 cars there in six or seven laps. We tried. It just didn't work out." In a race that saw 38 lead changes among 19 drivers, Earnhardt broke out on top on Lap 75 and stayed on the point for 29 laps. He lost the lead during a round of pit stops, then led briefly for two more laps shortly afterward. He was able to stay around the top 10 for much of the second half of the race, until only some 30 or so laps remained. Even then, given the unpredictable nature of racing on the 2.66-mile track, hope remained. "We worked hard to try to get back into the top five or so, and it just didn't work out," he said. "The car did get loose on one run. We made a good adjustment and it was driving good at the end." Crew chief Steve Letarte said it was a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. "We just never could get a foothold; never could mount a charge back to the front," he said. "That's just how it is. Sometimes you get cycled out at the wrong time and that was definitely not the right time to get cycled out." While the car certainly seemed capable of winning, Letarte said the nature of racing here tempers expectations. "I'm not going to say it doesn't matter," he said. "I don't want to discount the hard work our company puts in the engines and these (crew) guys put into the car, but … a great car gives you very little guarantee." A winner of three races prior to the start of the Chase, Earnhardt came to Talladega on the heels of disappointing finishes at Kansas and Charlotte that put his team in a must-win scenario. That he was unable to advance was disappointing, but not crushing. "There have probably been worse things," he said. "I'm not retiring or anything, so we'll try next year. "We've had a good season and have a lot to be looking forward to. We're definitely not going to get too torn up about (it); we didn't run well." MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL CHASE COVERAGE • Chase hub page • Chase Grid games • #MyChaseNation
Dale Earnhardt Jr . is caught in a major wreck in the first Green, White, Checkered attempt at Talladega.
Dale Earnhardt Jr ., Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Jeff Gordon, and Ryan Newman talk about their finish at Talladega.
Alan Cavanna looks to Dale Earnhardt Jr .'s past to see how the No. 88 can advance to the Eliminator Round after the GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway.
Driver of the No. 88 in a win-or-go-home situation in Contender Round finale RELATED: Follow your picks in the Perfect Chase Grid Challenge for chance at $100,000 prize As the Sprint Cup Series rolls into Talladega Superspeedway for the GEICO 500 (Sunday at 2 p.m. ET, ESPN), several drivers are desperate to make a big move and keep themselves in the postseason. One of those drivers is Dale Earnhardt Jr . Earnhardt Jr . comes into Talladega 12th in the points standings and so far on the outside looking in at the Eliminator Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. He is 26 points behind Kasey Kahne , who holds the final transfer spot to the next round. So the surest -- and in all likelihood only -- way for Junior to advance is with a win. With plenty on the line and only two spots locked up for the Eliminator Round, the expectation is for a wilder race than normal. "I think Talladega is going to be pretty crazy -- I expect guys are going to have to take some pretty big chances to continue to move on into the later rounds of the Chase, and Talladega is a track where we are all pretty much on top of each other in the draft and guys are going to have every opportunity to make things pretty interesting, so I expect that race to get pretty wild," Earnhardt Jr . said when asked about the Contender Round finale. The recently turned 40-year-old has had his share of success at Talladega with five wins in 29 starts at the 2.66-mile track, but he has not won there since 2004. He has led laps, though, in all but three of his starts at the Alabama track. And while he won't need to lead plenty, he will need to be leading at the end in order to keep his championship hopes alive. So what is his strategy? "I think you got to get in there and just run as hard as you can and try and take every opportunity you can to just keep moving forward and take every position you can take," Earnhardt Jr . said. "We've thought at times that a more relaxed and patient attitude will be more beneficial, but I haven't really ever had that pay off for me and good results with that race track. The races where I've ran my best is where I've been more proactive and aggressive, trying to move forward and trying to make passes and trying to keep track position, so I think that's what we'll try to do this time." Steve Letarte, Earnhardt Jr .'s crew chief for the past four seasons, echoed those thoughts in an interview earlier this week on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio's "The Morning Drive." "We're going to be that team that's aggressive. Aggressive with our fuel strategy, aggressive with our pit strategy. Try to keep the lead, try to assume track position does matter at Talladega. Try to be in the lead when it matters and then Dale's gonna have to do his thing and then we're going to have to get some help from the guys behind us. That's the one unfortunate part about speedway racing, is that no matter how good you are, you are going to need some commitment from the people pushing you. That's the scenario we didn't want to have happen, but you know, we're here." Letarte is leaving the No. 88 team after this season to move to the broadcast booth with NBC Sports' coverage of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in 2015. He says the team knows what has to be done. "I don't think there's anymore pressure than there was going to Charlotte," Letarte said. Dale Jr . called his own shot of winning the Bank of America 500, but a broken shifter derailed his day and led to a 20th-place finish. Letarte added that the No. 88 team's position in the standings lends itself to a go for broke mentality. "The guys that are in, that could fall out, they're going to have a more stressful day, in my opinion, at Talladega than the guys that are way out hoping to get in, because we've kind of made our bed." Should the No. 88 team not advance, Letarte says not to expect them to lay down for the final four races. "We're not giving up by any means," Letarte said. "Even if we fall out at Talladega, we are still not giving up. We race to win and I know the championship was the big buzz all year long and its great, but there's a lot of years you don't race for a championship. There's a lot of guys that miss the Chase. You look at the 42 car, he's not laying down. He's racing to win and I think you're going to see it out of the four teams that don't make it out of Talladega." MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL CHASE COVERAGE • Chase hub page • Chase Grid games • #MyChaseNation
Hendrick teammates are on their own when the checkered flag flies
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