RICHMOND, Va. -- For the first time since his rookie year in 1993, Jeff Gordon will not finish among the top 10 in the points standings. And for the second time in a row, Jamie McMurray will narrowly miss making NASCAR's playoffs.
On the last night teams could qualify for the 10-race title shootout, Gordon and McMurray came up short -- joining Elliott Sadler, Kevin Harvick, Dale Jarrett and Joe Nemechek (all long shots coming into Saturday night) as the final drivers eliminated from title contention. Although neither hid his pain or disappointment, both refused to blame the events of Saturday night.
"We just have to put it all behind us now and not worry about the points," Gordon said. "We have to fix our race cars and race team and get us in the position for a championship next year."
Gordon's title bid did not end on lap 211, when Johnny Sauter ran Gordon into the wall and damaged his No. 24 Chevy. It wasn't even before the race, when the team apparently set Gordon up with a tight race car that never looked like a contender.
Gordon's title bid ended much earlier, like February, when the team finished 30th in the second race of the year and showed the first signs of how inconsistent it would be.
"It's disappointing," Gordon said, "but it's been a disappointing year. There are so many moments throughout the year where you can look back and say, 'Boy, if this could have happened, we could have been in the Chase.' But, lately, things have not gone our way and we haven't performed."
Gordon was a constant presence on pit road Saturday night. But Gordon did not blame his misfortune Saturday night on the wreck with Sauter.
"It was going to be a long night [anyway]," he said. "I don't think we had the car capable of getting in it anyway."
It took surprisingly little restraint for McMurray to contain his emotions, too. The driver of the No. 42 Dodge, one known for wearing his emotions on his sleeve, was composed after narrowly missing the Chase for the second year in a row.
Last season, he fell 15 points short. This season, he dropped from the coveted 10th position in the final race before the Chase field was frozen.
"You want to win so bad," he said. "We've got all the tools, we just haven't been able to put it together this year."
Still, he didn't doom-and-gloom afterward. In fact, his perspective was at least a little refreshing.
"There's a lot worse things going on now in this world than not making the Chase," McMurray said in the wake of the Katrina disaster and one day before the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. "Everybody needs to think about those people."
McMurray didn't even unleash on Tony Raines, whose contact with the No. 42 eliminated McMurray's bid to preserve 10th place. While Raines got a little defensive ("I don't know what Jamie was thinking or doing; he was driving kind of aggressive all night," Raines said.), McMurray said the focus on missing the Chase cannot be placed on this one event.
"You have 25 other races to make it into this deal," he said.
On the outside looking in, McMurray and Gordon can shift their focus away from title dreaming, now. For McMurray, who has already announced he's leaving the No. 42 team in 2007, the goal is just to get into Victory Lane. For Gordon, top priority is righting the ship.
"We should be doing a lot more," he said. "Now we can just put this behind us and try to figure out what's wrong with this racing team."
Rupen Fofaria is a freelance writer living in Chicago and a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.