Carl Edwards won the race taking the lead in the closing laps, but that was the least of the drama. Jeff Gordon needed a near miracle to secure his spot. He led from pole and was in control early leading 49 laps. Gordon caught lapped traffic though and began to fade. On lap 224, Gordon’s hopes to make the Chase took a huge hit as he suddenly slowed and pitted with a loose right front tire.
Never one to give up, Gordon began to battle back from a two lap deficit. With fresher tires Gordon was quickly able to make up one lap by passing the leaders. The third caution came out on lap 267 for debris and the timing proved great for Gordon who had just become the first driver a lap down. By lap 330 Gordon was on the lead lap and had made his way inside the top 15. He would make his way into the top 10 and combined with troubles for Joey Logano Gordon was in the Chase as the laps wound down.
A final caution proved to be his undoing however as Logano was able make up just enough spots to secure his spot in the Chase while leaving Gordon, who finished 7th outside the championship run for only the second time in his career.
“Yeah, it’s disappointing to miss it that close,” Gordon said. “We started up front and the car was good and then we got off and had to fight our way back. Got a lap down, had a loose wheel so I love the effort this team put in and didn’t need to see that last caution. “
While Gordon lamented his misfortunes, Logano was able to celebrate his first appearance in the championship Chase.
“Obviously tonight wasn't the night we were looking for as far as where we ran on the racetrack,” Logano who finished 22nd said. “We struggled pretty hard tonight. These last three, four weeks have been very stressful. Feels like a big weight has been lifted off your shoulders to get in this thing.”
Logano’s happiness was muted somewhat. His teammate Brad Keselowski didn’t make this year’s Chase, becoming only the second reigning champion in Chase history who won’t be able to defend his title.
“It's unfortunate that Brad missed the Chase,” Logano said. “Obviously, our goal tonight was to get both Penske cars in the Chase. We got one in. Brad is a champion no matter what you say. He won the championship last year. He still will be out there in contention to win races. I'm sure he'll win some races before the year is out.”
Missing the Chase certainly wasn’t from a lack of effort on the part of Keselowski. He led a race high 149 laps but faded late and finished 15th.
“We were pretty good at the start and led a lot of laps,” Keselowski said. “But we just weren’t strong enough to really stay up there. We needed clean air to really run well and once we lost that we just weren’t strong enough.”
Another driver who faced disappointment was Ryan Newman. Newman needed to win in order to make the Chase and nearly pulled the feat off, until a caution with three laps to go. The leaders pitted and Newman left in third. That’s where he finished, short of what was needed to make the Chase.
“Winning would have changed everything and that last caution definitely hurt us,” Newman said. “But we got killed on pit road, there's no doubt about that. We should have been able to come off pit road first and come off pit road first if we were a championship contending team. We needed a championship contending pit crew, and we didn't have that tonight.”
As Newman lamented, Martin Truex Jr. celebrated as he finished 7th, good enough to overtake Newman and secure the last Wild Card spot.
"I'm speechless -- I don't even know what to say,” Truex said. “We were terrible tonight -- just terrible, terrible on the long runs. We fought and we fought. I don't even know how that happened. Good Lord was on our side tonight. My guys did a good job and now we can go back and regroup and start back from zero and go get them."
Truex’s bid to make the Chase came with a little bit of controversy as he may have been aided by a spin by teammate Clint Bowyer with three laps remaining that brought out the final caution. Truex was able to make up enough spots to make the Chase. There was some speculation however that the spin was intentional.
"We had a flat tire or something -- we went from leading the race and got back there,” Bowyer said."I got down in there and it kept getting tighter and tighter and tighter and then the 88 (Dale Earnhardt Jr.) got in there and by the time I got back in the gas, he got into me and I had so much wheel in it that it snapped around.”
Another winner on the night was Kurt Busch. Busch led 73 laps and in the end held on for second place. That was good enough to secure the 10th spot in the Chase marking the first time in Chase history that a single car team will compete for the championship.
“This feels incredible,” an emotional Busch said. “The way that we worked together as a team and built up over the year it’s amazing that we have come this far and we have put ourselves in position and here we are in the Chase. We didn’t win a race yet this year. We still have some work to do to get to that point, but we have a lot of good tools on this team that help us and it’s an amazing feeling to go up against these big teams and to put a little lone Chevrolet from Colorado into the Chase against the big boys.”
The Chase field will be Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson, Clint Bowyer, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kurt Busch, Greg Biffle and Joey Logano on points. Martin Truex Jr. and Kasey Kahne are the Wild Card bids. The first of the ten races in the Chase will be Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway.