The field has been set for the 2013 Chase for the Sprint Cup and NASCAR's current champion is not one of the participants. Nor is one of the sport's biggest stars.
Although it looked at times that Brad Keselowski and Jeff Gordon would gain entry into the Chase, when the checkered flag waved Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway both were on the wrong side of the Chase cutoff.
Initially everything appeared promising for Gordon, who started on the pole and led the opening 49 laps. However, an ill-handling car caused him to plummet down the running order and his problems were further compounded when a loose right-front wheel nescitated a green-flag pit stop.
By the time No. 24 car returned to the track Gordon was two laps down and for the second straight year his playoffs hopes were dim.
Yet just as he did a year ago, Gordon staged an impressive rally, got back on the lead lap and was in position to clinch a Chase berth. This time, however, it wasn't enough as a controversial late-race spin by Clint Bowyer bunched up the field and ultimately Gordon missed the Chase by a single point.
"It's disappointing to miss it that close," Gordon said "...We haven't had the kind of year that this team is capable of, and that's where our focus is these next 10 races is just to know that we put in every bit of effort we possibly could.
"We fought through a lot of things. It wasn't pretty but we were getting it done until that caution came out, and you know, we still could have made it in. The restart just didn't go the way we needed it to, so that's unfortunate."
Much like Gordon, Keselowski was seemingly going to pull off the improbable and win the Federated Auto Parts 400. He took the lead from Gordon on Lap 50 and from there was out front for 142 of the next 219 laps.
But with tires worn Keselowski lost the lead and fell back. And his fate was sealed when shortly after making a routine green-flag pit stop the caution came out trapping him a lap down. He finished 17th, becoming the first defending Cup champion since Tony Stewart in 2006 who failed to make the Chase.
"I don't really have any emotions right now," Keselowski said. "We weren't good enough to make it and we didn't. That is the reality."
"We haven't executed as well as we needed to. We have work to do. At the end of the day, the thing about points is it is the best measuring stick in sports. You know who deserves to be where because the results speak for themselves. We didn't have enough results to get where we needed to be."