Stewart Misses Chase

Everyone knew that it could happen, but no one really believed that it would happen. But with an 18th place finish in Saturday night's Chevy Rock & Roll 400 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at Richmond International Raceway, Tony Stewart missed the cut in the 10-driver Chase for the Championship.

The two-time and reigning NEXTEL Cup champion had an inauspicious start to the weekend, as his primary No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet was no more after crashing in the opening laps of Friday's practice session. For just the fourth time in the team's seven-and-three-quarter-year history, the backup car was brought out from the transporter to finish practice and qualify for the 400-lap race.

A 40th place qualifying effort only added to the team's woes, but spirits remained high due to the No. 20 team's success at the .75-mile oval - three Cup wins, five top-fives and 10 top 10s. And the backup car was no slouch, having finished seventh in last year's September race at Richmond and winning earlier this year at Martinsville (Va.) in just its second career start.

Despite the past success of team and driver, there was little rock or roll for the No. 20 team in Saturday night's Chevy Rock & Roll 400.

"We just missed it tonight," said a cool and collected Stewart, who showed his championship form outside the race car despite the disappointing result. "We couldn't get the car to turn in the center (of the corner) and all we did was make it loose in and on the exit.

"It's been an up-and-down year, and the day we needed to be on, we just couldn't get on.

"It's not for a lack of effort. Zippy (Greg Zipadelli, crew chief) and all the guys on The Home Depot team, they worked their rear ends off. I did everything I could do behind the steering wheel. It wasn't one night that got us in this situation. It took 26 weeks to get here. We did the best we could, we just came up short."

Stewart entered Richmond with just a 45-point buffer over 11th place Kasey Kahne, the only driver capable of knocking a top-10 driver like Stewart out of the top 10. But Stewart's 18th-place finish combined with Kahne's third-place result meant that Stewart's spot in the 10-race, playoff-style Chase for the Championship was gone.

After seven straight years - beginning with the team's rookie season in 1999 when they finished fourth in points - the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Team will not finish the season among the top-10 in points. Eleventh - and the million dollar payout that comes with it - is the best point result they can achieve.

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