- Associated Press - Sunday, September 9, 2012

RICHMOND — With his season essentially on the line, Jeff Gordon used a vintage drive to rally his way into NASCAR’s championship chase.

Gordon, 41, battled an ill-handling car early Saturday night, then took off at the end to finish second to race winner Clint Bowyer at Richmond International Raceway. His finish wrested the final berth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship from Kyle Busch.

“How ‘bout Gordon!” yelled winner Bowyer, “he was terrible all night!”

Not when it mattered.

The four-time NASCAR champion got major adjustments to his Chevrolet through the race, fell a lap down, then nearly drove the wheels off in his bid to pick up as many positions as possible. He trailed Busch by 12 points at the start of the race, and beat him by three to claim the final spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship field.

“I felt like we won the race,” Gordon said. “What that was over, they told me I was in the Chase, we made it — I was ecstatic. I was going nuts.

“To me, after you have that kind of effort, fall back, them come up there and finish second, almost win the race.”

Busch finished 16th, fading after poor pit strategy and a slow final stop to miss the Chase for the second time in his career. Team owner Joe Gibbs met Busch on pit road and leaned into the car window to console the angry driver.

“We missed. That’s it. Plain and simple,” said Busch, adding Gibbs told him, “‘Handle it the right way.’ There’s no right way to handle this situation.”

It was opposite emotions on pit road, as Gordon’s team celebrated. He qualified second but was terrible early in a race that was marred by three different rain showers.

The start was delayed almost two hours, and a second shower caused a stoppage that lasted just under 52 minutes.

Denny Hamlin, who went into his home track as winner of the past two races, led a race-high 202 laps but faded to 18th. He still goes into next week’s Chase opener as the top seed based on his series-best four “regular season” victories.

Hamlin goes into Chicago up three points over five-time champion Jimmie Johnson, defending champion Tony Stewart and Brad Keselowski, who are tied for second.

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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