As recently as just a few weeks ago, few people would have believed that we'd we going into the 2012 Chase without the presence of Roush Fenway Racing's Carl Edwards and Joe Gibbs Racing's Kyle Busch among the contenders.

But even before the final regular season race got underway at Richmond last weekend, the writing was on the wall for Edwards, and only a last-gasp victory could have changed the gloomy prognosis for last year's Cup runner-up. In the end, an anonymous run to 17th place rather summed up his year so far.

"Yeah, this isn't about one race," Edwards said on Sunday, shrugging off the relevance of the Richmond result. "It is 26 races and we just let too many points get away for a bunch of different reasons. There was a lot of luck involved and everyone tried really hard."

At least now the Chase is no longer hanging over everyone's heads means that the remainder of the season becomes relatively straightforward: "It makes it pretty simple for the last 10. We just go race as hard as we can. That has been kind of fun lately to do that," he said. "But man, I don't know, it is going to be wild to not be in the championship hunt. It won't be as much fun at all."

Edward accepts that, painful as it is, his role now becomes that of team player helping Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth in their title campaigns as much as he's able to.

"Just to be the best teammate I can be and to help them develop any setups they can and help them during practice," Edwards said of his intentions over the remainder of the season. "There isn't much I can do on the race track once the race starts, but before the race starts I can help.

"We will just go try to build the best team we can for next year and try to make sure a Ford wins this championship," he added.

By contrast, Joe Gibbs Racing's Kyle Busch went to Richmond with reasonable hopes of squeaking through into the Chase, despite what had been by his standards a mediocre season so far. Despite that, his one win of the season so far had come at Richmond and that had put him at the front of the battle for the second "most wins" wildcard ahead of Jeff Gordon. Assuming that Gordon didn't win last weekend's race, all Busch had to do was finish close to his rival and the Chase spot was his.

Instead, it all went wrong - even more galling coming at a track that it one of the driver's personal favourites and which has given him considerable success in the past. But a miscall on the pit strategy and a problem with a missing lugnut dropped Busch down the order, and when the chequered flag dropped Busch was in 16th place - 14 behind Gordon. That swung the wildcard away from Busch, leaving him clearly gutted.

"We missed. That's it. Plain and simple," he said tersely after the race. Asked what team owner Joe Gibbs had said to him on pit road after the race, Busch said: "'Handle it the right way.' There's no right way to handle this situation."

But perhaps learning from the recent costly media troubles of his brother Kurt, Kyle would say no more in public.

The man left carrying the can for the last-minute fumble was Busch's long-time crew chief Dave Rogers, who had taken the decision to keep Busch out on track when the rain had interrupted the race on Saturday night while other leaders gave up short term track position for longer term strategic advantage by pitting.

"The Chase is more than one race, but we certainly were in a position to capitalise and make it, but yeah, that call -- I blew it," he said. "I looked at the clock, saw how late it was and figured if we lost the racetrack, then NASCAR wouldn't go back green ... It was hard to call - and I called it wrong. I just did a bad job."

Rogers admitted that he'd been at a loss for words for what to say when he saw his driver on pit road as it was still settling in that they had missed the Chase: "We were both speechless," he said. "We went up there and looked at each other and nodded at each other and just acknowledged that we'll talk later. Both of us are hurting, but we didn't say much. Kyle did a good job of keeping his composure and took it on the chin like a man and went back to his bus."

Gibbs had made a point of being supportive of the beleaguered crew chief after the race, Rogers revealed.

"I work for the greatest team owner in the business, a guy that's been in the fire," said Rogers. "He's lost them before. So, he shared some of his failures and some of his successes with me and gave me some words of encouragement and then we talked about how we could be better.

"The goal is to get better every time, turn a negative into a positive. So, we spent a lot of time talking about that, 'Hey, what can we do to make this race team stronger?' The lessons we learned and how can we be better from it," he added. "Joe is an awesome guy. I love working for the man. If I was Joe I probably wouldn't have handled that conversation so graciously. I would've been yelling and screaming at me, but he's wonderful. He gave me some words of encouragement and left it at that."

"I was up there with him just sharing the disappointment," said Gibbs. "It's just that we were there, we were sharing the moment together, we were in this together and I think we have a great tight-knit team here. We all go up together and if we have a tough night, we all have a tough night together.

"I've got to tell you I think he's one of the brightest and the best," added Gibbs about his view of Rogers.

Whether Busch himself will continue to have sufficient confidence in his crew chief to continue their partnership into 2013 remains to be seen. And perhaps Rogers has been sufficiently shaken by the ramifications of his blown strategy call to decide to call it a day in the post?

"There's no two ways to look at it. I evaluate myself as hard as I evaluate my guys, and I gave one up today," he said. "I feel like I let them down ... That hurts."

But for the immediate future, Rogers and Busch will be watching the 2012 Chase from the outside looking in, although they'll still be doing their best to help Denny Hamlin - the sole remaining Joe Gibbs Racing representative in the hunt - if they can.

"Now we're just going to stand behind the #11 car and try to help them win a championship," agreed Rogers.


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