"Gordon, McMurray on the Outside Looking In"

by Pete McCole

September 12, 2005

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Jeff Gordon watches his Chase hopes fade
CIA Stock Photo

Despite winning three of the first nine races of the 2005 season, including the season-opening Daytona 500, Jeff Gordon’s bid for his fifth NASCAR title – his “Drive For 5 in ‘05” – came to an end in a shower of sparks on lap 211 of Saturday night’s Chevy Rock N’ Roll 400 at Richmond Int’l Raceway.

Entering Saturday’s race 12th in series points and 30 points out of the coveted 10th-place cutoff spot, Gordon was behind the 8-ball for most of the night, complaining of an ill-handling race car.

Coming off turn two on lap 211, Johnny Sauter appeared to drift high and into Gordon, sending the right side of Gordon’s No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet hard into the wall.

Gordon pitted several times to repair the damage, but despite the valiant efforts of his crew to get Gordon back out and into the Chase, Gordon himself knew his chances were over, telling his crew “We’re done now” over the radio.

Gordon was able to return to the racetrack in 36th-place, a lap down. He managed to fight his way back to finish 30th, but wound up 12th in the standings, 83 points behind Ryan Newman in the 10th and final slot for the Chase.

“It’s disappointing but it’s been a disappointing year,” said Gordon. “There are so many moments throughout the year where you can look back and say ‘boy if this could of happened, we could have been in the Chase’, but lately things have not gone our way and we haven’t performed. I’m looking forward to the challenge of getting ourselves turned around and getting some excitement back in this game so we can go challenge for wins again and go out there next year.”

Gordon joins two other Chase contenders from 2004 - Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Elliott Sadler – missing out on making the Chase in ’05.

Jamie McMurray

Another disappointed Chase contender was Jamie McMurray, who missed out on the Chase for the second year in a row.

Coming into Richmond 10th in the standings with a slim one point advantage over 11th-place Ryan Newman, McMurray needed only to stay ahead of Newman in order to make the Chase. A tall order for any driver.

37 laps from the finish, McMurray got tangled up with Tony Raines, sending McMurray hard into the inside wall. The damage was terminal, both for the race and for McMurray’s championship hopes.

Despite missing out yet again, McMurray still flashed his customary smile as he emerged from his broken machine, trying to remain upbeat.

"I could see Ryan ahead of me all night and they kept telling me I had to beat him. We just couldn't get there,” said McMurray. “I told my guys that we could not beat him the way we are. It's so hard to pass. I said at least put two tires on and let's see if that's going to help us. Late in the race tires make a bigger difference than they do at the beginning, so we decided to put two on. We adjusted alright and honestly we ran 13th and that's about as well as we've run in a while.

“You want to win so bad. We've got all the tools, we just haven't been able to put it together this year. You have 25 other races to make it into this deal. There are people who are a lot worse off than we are right now with Hurricane Katrina.”

The author can be contacted petem@autoracing1.com

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