Ousted drivers from Chase explain what went wrong
For much of Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway, Kurt Busch looked like the driver most likely to make the leap from the wrong side of the bubble to the Contender Round in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Midway through the race, Busch, who had started 22nd, was running 11th and had advanced from 15th to 12th in the ever-shifting Chase standings. But as the race wore on, the 2004 premier series champion's advantage wore off. He slipped to an 18th-place finish and 14th in the standings, six points behind the 12th and final qualifier Kasey Kahne.
"It was just tight the last 100 miles," Busch said. "I felt like we were in good position to advance, but you just can't expect to advance by running 18th. You have to be more competitive."
Four drivers fell by the wayside in NASCAR's first ever Chase elimination race. AJ Allmendinger, Greg Biffle and Aric Almirola were the other drivers who failed to advance to the three-race Contender Round, which will eliminate three more of the 12 remaining drivers after races at Kansas Speedway, Charlotte Motor Speedway and Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway.
Here's a look at what doomed the four who failed to survive:
--AJ Allmendinger: Allmendinger came to Dover 10th in the standings thanks to his 13th-place finish last week at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. But starting 28th didn't help the chances of the No. 47 Chevrolet, which finished 23rd.
Midway through Sunday's race, Allmendinger was one point behind Busch, two points ahead of Biffle and seven points ahead of eventual qualifier Kahne for the final transfer spot.
After falling a lap down 45 laps into the race, Allmendinger caught a break when Ricky Stenhouse Jr. kissed the wall on Lap 75, enabling him to get a free pass back to the lead lap.
But Allmendinger remained on the outside-looking-in, two points behind the battle between Kahne and Busch for much of the final 60 laps. He eventually overtook Busch, but sitting 13th in the standings was of little consolation this week.
"It was an awful day. I'm not going to take a moral victory out of it to miss by two points," Allmendinger said. "It's disappointing. But we didn't deserve to be in (the Chase) with the run that we had.
"We know (the JTG Daugherty team) is making steps in the right direction. We kept throwing the kitchen sink at it every stop. My crew chief, Brian Burns, did everything he could to keep trying to make it better. We just missed it all weekend."
--Kurt Busch: Busch entered the race eight points out of a transfer spot and knew he had his work cut out for him after his 36th-place showing at New Hampshire wiped out the benefits of his eighth-place finish in the Chase opener at Chicagoland. Busch, whose car was tight early on, had managed only eight top-10 finishes in his previous 28 Cup starts at Dover and had struggled to find speed in practice.
"You've got to have better lap times every time you go and hit the track," said Busch in his first year with Stewart-Haas Racing. "We put this team together pretty late. (Co-owner) Gene Haas has believed in me to come in here. If you're off, it's hard to put the car up on your back and run it. (But) I just chalk it up to me not getting the job done. It's all my fault.
"We don't get to advance to the championship but we can still run for pride and run for wins." --Greg Biffle: Biffle came into Sunday six points out of 12th place but didn't help himself with a 27th starting spot. His Roush Fenway Racing Ford made headway early, moving up 13 positions, but he couldn't maintain momentum.
It's been a frustrating season for Biffle, who has gone 50 races since his last victory and has been no better than 10th in any of his last seven starts -- including his 23rd at Chicagoland and 16th at New Hampshire that created his unmanageable position.
"I've won races my whole career, but to be struggling like this all year is disappointing at best," Biffle said. "Part of you wants to just pull it, put (the car) in the garage, while the other half of you is racing as hard as you can to get in the Chase.
"This is the way it's gone all season. We're just searching for speed and (we) struggled all day. We've worked hard, trying to fix our problems, but it just hasn't come together yet."
--Aric Almirola: Richard Petty Motorsports thought it had a legitimate shot at Dover, where its cars had shown decent speed in the past. But the iconic No. 43 failed to mount a challenge. Starting 21st, Almirola went a lap down early in the race, slipped to 28th and never recovered.
He finished three laps down and 18 points out of 12th place.
"It just didn't work out for us. I hate it," Almirola said. "We picked a bad day to run the way we did and we can't blame anybody but ourselves. My car didn't have any grip. You can't go fast without grip. Right now, it's pretty disappointing.