In any playoff elimination format, there are always going to be those that came oh, so close, yet fell short of making it to the championship round.
In many instances, it’s heartbreaking, particularly for certain teams that had so much incentive and drive to accomplish something special this season, such as Jeff Gordon’s “Drive For Five” and Carl Edwards’ bid to leave Roush Fenway Racing in his final season with the organization as a champion.
Sadly, that’s part of what happened Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway, as Gordon, Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski and Edwards all ultimately ended up being eliminated.
Here’s a breakdown of those four drivers who fell short of both advancement and a chance for the championship:
For the 13th consecutive season, Gordon’s drive for a fifth championship — the so-called Drive For Five — came up short.
Even though he finished runner-up to Harvick in the race, Gordon missed advancing to Homestead by one single point as Newman’s move on Larson knocked Gordon out.
While obviously disappointed, Gordon took things in stride.
“We have a lot to hold our heads up high about,” Gordon said. “The way raced this race, this whole Chase and the whole season, we raced hard, we raced together as a team.”
But Gordon also didn’t pass up the opportunity to surreptitiously blast Keselowski again for last week’s run-in at Texas.
“But I hope we taught somebody (veiled reference to Keselowski) you can race clean, still go out there and give it your best and you don’t have to wreck people to make it in the Chase or to win the championship, Gordon said.
“This makes last week hurt that much more, but we did everything we could. Second just wasn’t good enough. Harvick was in another zip code. There was nobody that was going to get him today.
“We did a great job finishing second. I’m not happy about it, but at the same time, I’m really proud of what we’ve done this year and we’re going to try and win Homestead and end the season on a positive note.”
Bad Brad is now Sad Brad. Keselowski failed to advance to the championship round, missing the cutoff by eight points, and also missing the chance to compete for his second championship in three seasons.
“We were just a little bit short,” Keselowski said somberly. “Kevin (Harvick) was really, really strong all day long. We just weren’t strong enough to win. We were strong enough to finish second or third, and wound up fourth. We have a lot to be proud of, just not enough.
“It doesn’t really feel good, but at the end of the day, we won six races and that’s a lot to be proud of. We’re going to wind up solidly in the top five or six points, so that’s an effort to be proud of, as well.”
Kenseth was hoping to become the second driver to reach the championship round without having won a single race this season.
But in the end, the same guy who won a series-high seven races last season, remains winless and missed advancing to the championship round by a mere three points.
He pointed to last week’s race at Texas as being more of a reason why he fell short than his third-place finish in Sunday’s race.
“The last half of last week’s race was just disastrous,” Kenseth said. “I can’t say I’m surprised (he came up short Sunday). I’m pleasantly surprised in the way we ran today. These guys never gave up.
“We’re still going to go to Homestead and try to win the race. I was surprised we were out by one point last week, and we performed real good this week, but that just wasn’t enough.”
Can he still get that elusive first win of the season at Homestead, where he has won before?
“The performance just hasn’t been that good this year,” Kenseth said. “… We’re definitely a championship caliber team, we’re looking forward to go try and go win Homestead and get ready for next year and hopefully run (in 2015) like we did last year (2013).”
Edwards seemed like he was never in Sunday’s race from the opening green flag.
Sure, he managed to get up close to the top 10 a couple of times, but with the poor practices and qualifying effort he had on Friday and Saturday, it was just a matter of too little, too late for Edwards.
“We tried every trick that we could,” Edwards said. “We just didn’t have a lot of speed all weekend. The car actually drove pretty decently at the end, so I thought Jimmy (crew chief Jimmy Fennig) did a great job with it. We just didn’t have enough speed, so that’s how it goes.”
Edwards ultimately missed advancing to the championship race by a fairly hefty 15 points.
In falling short, it ended his hopes for a Cinderella-like story that would have culminated in his first career Cup championship in his final season with Roush Fenway Racing.
“These guys dug deep and worked hard,” Edwards said. “I’ve never been a part of something like this where everybody just doesn’t give up. This means the world.”
Edwards had so wanted to leave RFR with a going-away title, but it was not to be. He’ll try yet again for a championship next season with his new home, Joe Gibbs Racing.
“We made it awfully far, so I’m very proud of everybody,” Edwards said. “We’ll just go to Homestead and try to get another win. Hopefully, Joey (Logano) can get the win and bring Ford a championship.”
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