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Kyle Larson , Dale Earnhardt Jr. and others talk about not being able to catch Brad Keselowski at Chicagoland Speedway.
Kyle Larson cuts down a left front tire in practice and hits the wall hard sending him to a backup car at Chicago.
Both drivers miss out on making the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup RELATED: Play Perfect Chase Grid Challenge for chance at $100,000 prize RICHMOND, Va. -- Their chances at racing their way into NASCAR's 10-event playoff were slim, but both Clint Bowyer and Kyle Larson had a chance, and any chance is better than no chance at all. Bowyer nearly pulled it off, but neither race winner Brad Keselowski nor Greg Biffle , who finished 19th, gave the Michael Waltrip Racing driver much to work with. "That's all I had; that's all we had as a race team," Bowyer said of his third-place finish. "We put it all out there and still we were just third-best. We've got some work to do, but a lot of racing left." A win would have earned either driver, Bowyer or Larson , a ticket into the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, which begins next weekend at Chicagoland Speedway . The more difficult process involved finishing the appropriate number of positions ahead of Ryan Newman and/or Biffle. Newman was steady if unspectacular, rolling his way to a rock-solid ninth-place finish. Biffle seemed more likely to fold, going two laps down at one point in Saturday night's Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway . But in the end, he managed to do what he needed to do to make the Chase, eventually ending the night with a seven-point margin on Bowyer, and the final of the 16 berths to be awarded. "If you make the Chase you want to compete for a championship," Bowyer said. "Truth be told, we're not there right now. A lot of work to do. We've got to continue to build on momentum like we had here tonight. "You know, it's definitely frustrating not making that Chase, but like I said, when you do make the Chase, you want it to be for a championship, not just ride around in it. We still haven't won a race … everybody on this 15 team deserves a win by the end of the year, and I'll see to it they get it." Bowyer had been a Chase participant on five previous occasions, including the two previous seasons. After qualifying sixth for the final regular-season NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race, Bowyer had moved to fourth when NASCAR brought out the caution just past the 50-lap mark. Quick work by his No. 15 Toyota team put him second in the running order for the restart, but the outside line failed to advance, and Bowyer soon found himself running fourth and having to fight for lost positions. Throughout the race, he remained in the top five. But Keselowski's dominance and Biffle's unwillingness to go quietly into the night left Bowyer Chase-less. "Tip my hat to my guys, I'm really proud of them," co-owner Michael Waltrip said afterward. "They were really close to winning that race." But Keselowski, he said, "was just amazing" while runner-up Jeff Gordon "was just a little bit better" than Bowyer. No Chase, perhaps, but 10 races remain just the same. "I think that's their attitude, too," Waltrip said of the No. 15 team. "They don't quit, they don't give up. We know that this chapter is closed for us but we can come back and win races; we need to be on TV for … all our sponsors. "Clint's got a great attitude, he's energetic and fun to be around; I think maybe he can let loose now and maybe go win some races and we can finish the season strong." While Bowyer ran in the top five the majority of the night, Larson , the Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender, spent most of his evening inside the top 10, eventually finishing 11th. The Chip Ganassi Racing driver finished 16 points behind Biffle. "I'm still proud of my team," Larson said as he leaned back against his No. 42 Chevrolet. "We've been working hard and we're getting closer." Larson said he knew his odds weren't good, but "it was more that I was just hoping for the 16 (of Biffle) to have some trouble; he had about the night I figured he would, which was a smart night, to stay up there and make his way into the Chase. "Clint was doing a very good job too, all race long. I thought he might have a shot to win. I guess he fell just a little short." MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: NASCAR Chase Grid games WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL CHASE COVERAGE • Chase hub page • Chase Grid games • #MyChaseNation
Alan Cavanna chats with Kyle Larson and Dylan Kwasniewski as they get ready for Sound Garage at Chip Ganassi Racing.
Kyle Larson , Ryan Blaney and Kyle Busch talk about coming up short at Chicagoland Speedway.
Cain: Don't expect these guys to lay off in the postseason RELATED: Track your picks in the Perfect Chase Grid Challenge and Chase Battle Grid Presented by Toyota As Kyle Larson juked and jived his No. 42 Target Chevrolet to a near victory at Chicagoland Speedway on Sunday afternoon, his ultra-determined effort served as NASCAR's ultimate spoiler alert. Even in a season featuring 16 title contenders -- the largest Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship field ever -- it should surprise no one if one of the super talented, highly motivated non-Chase drivers hoists a trophy in the remaining nine races, stealing a Chaser's fast pass to the title round. After all, non-Chase drivers have won races in four of the last five postseasons. And not only is the rookie Larson a leading candidate to win before the season winds down, his Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Jamie McMurray has earned his late season television time, too. His No. 1 McDonald's Chevrolet has led 180 total laps in the last four races and is keeping the Chasers honest. A couple other veterans, Clint Bowyer and three-time Cup champ Tony Stewart , boast resumes that absolutely make them favorites in the season's final races as well. For the 22-year-old Larson , it's been simply about "when" he'll score his maiden Sprint Cup victory. His third-place effort in a back-up car that started last in the Chicago field is proof of how driven he and that team are to win. Far from backing off and letting the Chase drivers settle the checkered flag in Chicago, Larson demonstrated exactly the kind of grit and gumption that makes this Chase portion of the season so exciting and potentially the most competitive in history. Nearly half the field has something to prove, whether it be a championship run or scoring a season- or career-first victory. There are sponsors to attract and scores to settle. No one is backing off or playing it safe. It's go time from the front to back of the grid. "(People might think) those guys might be a little bit more cautious, won't race you as hard,'' Larson said. "I didn't feel that way at all. I felt everybody was racing as hard as they do all season long. "We definitely have to be a little bit more careful around those guys, too, because we don't want to hurt their chances of advancing. "(But) like I said, I had a lot of fun racing Kev (Harvick), Jeff (Gordon), Brad (Keselowski) and Junior (Dale Earnhardt Jr.) at some points in the race. I didn't feel like anybody was holding back at all." As good as Larson was Sunday, his teammate McMurray also furthered his case as someone who will have to be dealt with each week. In fact, McMurray is definitively the champion Chase spoiler of the last five years -- winning more Chase races (three) than any non-Chase eligible driver during that time. Four of McMurray's seven career Cup wins have come at Chase tracks. He's won twice at Charlotte and twice at Talladega, where he is the defending winner of the upcoming Oct. 19 race at NASCAR's biggest track. Bowyer, a preseason Chase favorite who like Larson just missed making the field, is another driver who has proven himself a contender at the 10 Chase tracks, venues where he has recorded five of his eight career Cup victories. He has a pair of wins at this week's stop, New Hampshire Motor Speedway , a pair of wins at Talladega and also a victory at Charlotte . Perhaps the biggest unknown in all this is the most accomplished racer not to earn a Chase berth -- three-time champ Stewart, who may view the race track as a focus for his off-track distractions and heavy heart. He has won in all 15 previous seasons competing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, but is still looking for his first in 2014. He has victories at all nine of the remaining Chase venues and 19 of his 48 career wins have come at these venues. He has three victories apiece at New Hampshire, Dover , Martinsville, and Homestead. Certainly this week's venue -- the notoriously tight and tough 1.058-mile Loudon oval -- is a prime opportunity to shake up the Chase order. But it's not just the championship contenders that see the opportunity, which makes the 2014 version of the Chase that much more compelling in ways that weren't even anticipated. 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
Driver-by-driver news and notes from the opening race of the Chase MORE: Full race results " Updated series standings " Chicagoland photos " Gallery of winners RELATED: Track your picks in the Perfect Chase Grid Challenge and Chase Battle Grid Presented by Toyota Editor's Note: Drivers in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup will appear in italics. 1. Brad Keselowski, No. 2 Ford, Team Penske. The 2012 champion started 25th and had the lead by Lap 46. Keselowski had to come back to pit road for a loose wheel on Lap 186 that took him from second at the time to restarting in 16th. Crew chief Paul Wolfe told him, "I don't want to take a chance." It was a good thing they didn't. Keselowski worked his way back up through the field and went between Larson and Harvick to take the lead for good on Lap 252. The win automatically punches Keselowski's ticket into the Contender Round of 12 drivers in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Watch how Keselowski got the lead 2. Jeff Gordon, No. 24 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports. For the second straight week, Gordon finished as the runner-up to Keselowski. He led 26 laps on the afternoon and really never left the top 10. Gordon was the fastest car during green flags (176.271 mph) and fastest on restarts (176.701 mph). The four-time champion said afterwards "the whole team was extremely solid and that's a great way to get started." See Gordon's race highlights 3. Kyle Larson , No. 42 Chevrolet, Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. The rookie nearly played spoiler in the opening race of the Chase. He led 20 laps, the most he has led in a race in his Sprint Cup career. He had plenty of speed, with 17.2 percent of the fastest laps run (tied for the most), the third-fastest car on restarts at 175.847 mph and he did it all in a backup car after wrecking his main car in Saturday's practice session. After the race, the rookie lamented how close his was to earning his first Sprint Cup victory, telling ESPN, "Man, I was so close." See Larson's race highlights 4. Joey Logano, No. 22 Ford, Team Penske. Logano had his worst starting position since the July Daytona race, starting 28th, but he made up plenty of ground. He recorded 103 green flag passes (the fourth-highest total in the race) and was the best "closer" of the race. He picked up nine spots in the final 27 laps of the race for his fifth top-five finish in eight races, in which he has had an average finish of 5.3. Watch Logano's post-race interview 5. Kevin Harvick, No. 4 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing. Harvick had to pit again after a Lap 68 stop for a wheel going down. He originally pitted in fifth and restarted in 21st. By Lap 151, he had the lead and held it for 79 laps, the most of anyone in the race. He had speed, but had a tough time holding off a hard charging Larson and then Keselowski. He had 16.7 percent of the fastest laps run in the race and earned his sixth top-10 finish in eight races. See Harvick's race highlights 6. Denny Hamlin, No. 11 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing. Hamlin expressed some early fears that he was having engine trouble, but that turned out to not be the case. In Darian Grubb's return to the pit box, Hamlin continued to carry the good mojo from his strong run with interim crew chief Michael Wheeler. Hamlin had 109 green flag passes (tied for the most in the race) and spent the third-least amount of time on pit road. For in-race pit road data, subscribe to RaceView today 7. Kyle Busch, No. 18 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing. "Rowdy" led 46 circuits and never left the top 15 all race long. He showed some speed, laying down the fastest lap of the race on Lap 2 at 185.096 mph. For a team that had struggled in a big way entering the Chase, this top 10 finish -- their first in seven races -- was a huge step for the No. 18 team. See Kyle Busch's race highlights 8. Kurt Busch, No. 41 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing. Talk about an up-and-down day. "The Outlaw" spun entering pit road on Lap 46 and had to serve a pass-thru penalty for a commitment line violation, putting him in 30th place on Lap 60. How did he make up the ground? He tied for most green flag passes in the race with 109 and he closed strong, picking up seven spots in the final 27 laps of the race, despite some minor contact with his brother with 30 laps to go. See Kurt Busch's race highlights 9. Jamie McMurray, No. 1 Chevrolet, Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. McMurray continued his late season surge by leading 32 laps on the day and spending all but one lap in the top 15. He spent the least amount of time on pit road and earned his third top-10 finish in four races. For in-race pit road data, subscribe to RaceView today 10. Matt Kenseth, No. 20 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing. Kenseth recovered well after spinning out on his way onto pit road on Lap 148. Part of that recovery can be attributed to his pit crew, with Kenseth's team earning the fastest average time on pit road (from pulling in to leaving) at 35.267 seconds. 11. Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 88 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports. Dale Jr. struggled in final practice but made some early gains in the race and spent significant time in the top five. Earnhardt had 50 quality passes on the afternoon, which was the fifth-most for the race. But just missing out on a top-10 finish left Junior a little disappointed, as he said over the radio, "I should have done a better job." See Dale Jr.'s race highlights 12. Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports. As he began his pursuit for title No. 7, Johnson spent much of the afternoon in the top 10 but dropped out late. He was the second-fastest car early in a run at 177.930 mph, according to loop data. However, he was just the 11th-fastest car late in a run. Perhaps that explains part of the dropoff. It was Johnson's first finish outside of the top 10 since Watkins Glen. 13. Kasey Kahne, No. 5 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports. Talk about being opportunistic. Kahne spent only 15.4 percent of the race running in the top 15, but those laps happened to fall in the latter part of the race. The result places him 11th in the standings. 14. Martin Truex Jr., No. 78 Chevrolet, Furniture Row Racing. Truex earned his best finish since Watkins Glen, a stretch of five races. He did that in part by being one of the better "closers" in the race. According to loop data, Truex moved four spots in the final 27 laps of the race. 15. Ryan Newman, No. 31 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing. Newman had two separate issues with tires during the races. The second of which -- a tire rub issue on Lap 155 -- led to Newman sternly saying over the radio, "find out why that tire started rubbing and make sure it doesn't happen again, please!" He was two laps down at one point and rallied for a top-15 finish. He is just outside the transfer spot to the Contender Round but can improve over the next two races to advance. For more in-car audio, subscribe to RaceView today 16. Austin Dillon, No. 3 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing. In his best result since Watkins Glen, Dillon registered the fourth-most quality passes of the afternoon with 51. He also spent 59.9 percent of the laps in the top 15 -- not bad for a rookie who looks to get better in the latter half of the season. 17. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., No. 17 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing. The second-year Sprint Cup driver was credited with the most quality passes in the MyAFibStory.com 400 with 63. He had a little run-in with his girlfriend on the track, but managed to earn his sixth top-20 result in the past seven races. He had just seven top-20 finishes in the 20 races before that. 18. Tony Stewart, No. 14 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing. It was a quiet day for "Smoke," who has put together back-to-back top-20 finishes. He ran well at Loudon in the summer and that one-mile track could be where Stewart gets his first win of 2014. He has three victories there in his Sprint Cup career. 19. Danica Patrick, No. 10 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing. Danica has now scored three straight top-20 finishes for the first time in her Sprint Cup Series career. However, there was a little dust up late when Stenhouse Jr., her boyfriend, made contact with her, bringing out a caution. See the contact between Danica and Ricky 20. Carl Edwards, No. 99 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing. Edwards showed plenty of speed in practices and looked to be one of the cars to contend with here. After starting third, he was out of the top 10 by Lap 60 and spent only 39.7 percent of the laps in the top 15. Edwards holds the final transfer spot in the standings, but his hold on that spot is anything but secure with two more races in the Challenger Round. 21. Paul Menard, No. 27 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing. With his first top 10 starting spot since the August Michigan race, this was not the result Menard was hoping for. It was also the sixth straight race at Chicagoland where Menard finished in a worse position than where he started. 22. AJ Allmendinger, No. 47 Chevrolet, JTG Daugherty Racing. Allmendinger's first career Chase race did not go badly, but it could have gone better. The result leaves him in 14th place in the standings and in need of better results at Loudon and Dover, which are not exactly two of his strongest tracks. 23. Greg Biffle, No. 16 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing. It was a tough day for "The Biff," who never mounted a charge out of a mid-20s position. Over the radio, the Chase driver sounded frustrated, telling his crew on Lap 257 "that this thing goes from hauling (expletive) to junk." Biffle will need two solid finishes at Loudon and Dover to advance to the Contender Round of the Chase. For more colorful in-car audio, subscribe to RaceView 24. Brian Vickers, No. 55 Toyota, Michael Waltrip Racing. Vickers has fared well at Chicagoland in the past with three top-finishes in his first five starts at the track, but this year's race continued a trend in the opposite direction. In the past two races at the venue, he has finished 38th and 24th, well below his average finish of 14.9 at the 1.5-mile track. 25. Marcos Ambrose, No. 9 Ford, Richard Petty Motorsports. Ambrose is leaving NASCAR after this season, but the Tasmania native is hoping to go out strong. This was his best finish since the August race at Michigan and he completed 67 green flag passes on the day. 26. Casey Mears, No. 13 Chevrolet, Germain Racing. Mears scored his sixth top-30 finish in seven races, while also earning his best Chicagoland finish since 2009. 27. Justin Allgaier, No. 51 Chevrolet, HScott Motorsports. After making some gains in the late summer, Allgaier has dropped off a bit of late. He has finished no better than 26th in his last three races, after finishing inside the top 20 in three of the previous four races. 28. Landon Cassill, No. 40 Chevrolet, Hillman Racing. This was Cassill's first top-30 finish in three races and his best finish in a Sprint Cup race at Chicagoland. 29. Reed Sorenson, No. 36 Chevrolet, Tommy Baldwin Racing. For the ninth straight week, Sorenson finished in a better spot than where he started. In the past four weeks, Sorenson has bounced between finishing 24th, then 29th, then 24th and 29th. So should we expect a 24th-place finish at Loudon? 30. Cole Whitt, No. 26 Toyota, BK Racing. It seemed like the rookie was heading for a really bad day with reports of engine trouble but Whitt was able to stay on the track to carry the flag for BK Racing for his fourth straight 30th-place finish. 31. David Ragan, No. 34 Ford, Front Row Motorsports. Ragan has had a knack over the past two months for finishing in a better spot than where he started. That continued this weekend as he started 39th, earning the ninth straight race of finishing in a better spot than where he started. 32. Michael McDowell, No. 95 Ford, Leavine Family Racing. The part-time driver finished exactly where he started but it was his best result in five starts at Chicagoland. 33. Josh Wise, No. 98 Chevrolet, Phil Parsons Racing. The past three races have seen Wise average a finish of 32.7. This finish at Chicagoland was the best of his career at the 1.5-mile track. 34. David Gilliland, No. 38 Ford, Front Row Motorsports. After six straight weeks of top-30 finishes, the veteran regressed with his result at Chicagoland. 35. Alex Bowman, No. 23 Toyota, BK Racing. For the 12th straight race, the rookie was running at the finish, although he was six laps down. He did, however, have 71 green flag passes on the afternoon. 36. Joe Nemechek, No. 66 Toyota, Jay Robinson Racing. Nemechek improved his position from start to finish for the second straight week. This result was his best since a 35th-place showing at Michigan nearly a month ago. 37. Joey Gase, No. 32 Ford, FAS Lane Racing. The Nationwide Series regular was making his Sprint Cup debut. The 37th-place showing was right around where this car has been all year. 38. Travis Kvapil, No. 33 Chevrolet, Circle Sport. Kvapil finished 11 laps down for his worst finish at Chicagoland finish since 2008. 39. Clint Bowyer, No. 15 Toyota, Michael Waltrip Racing. After the disappointment of not making the Chase following a strong run at Richmond, Bowyer found the wall a few times on the way to his second finish of 38th-or-worse in the past three races. Over the radio after the second time of hitting the wall, Bowyer's frustration was evident, "damn it, hit the (expletive) wall again." Another smack of the wall led to some significant right side damage and a trip to the garage. For more in-car audio, subscribe to RaceView 40. Michael Annett, No. 7 Chevrolet, Tommy Baldwin Racing. The rookie is trending the wrong way in recent weeks, as this was his fourth finish of 37th-of-worse in the past five races. 41. Aric Almirola, No. 43 Ford, Richard Petty Motorsports. A promising run for the Chase underdog was cut short by engine woes. He spent much of the day in the top 10 and led two laps before the disappointing end on Lap 231, at which he radioed in, "we blew up guys, push it back. Wasn't a tire, push it back." He has no margin for error now in the final two Challenger Round races. See how Almirola's day ended 42. Ryan Truex, No. 83 Toyota, BK Racing. An oil leak and a broken wheel bearing are never a good combination and the rookie paid the price for both. Truex finished in 42nd place for the second straight week, and it was his eighth DNF of the season. 43. Mike Bliss, No. 37 Chevrolet, Tommy Baldwin Racing. Making his fifth start of the season, Bliss finished 254 laps down due to a vibration for his third last-place finish this season. 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