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NASCAR Phoenix 2014: Ryan Newman bumps Jeff Gordon out of the Chase

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An audacious last-lap pass by Ryan Newman knocked Jeff Gordon out of the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Todd Warshaw

In desperate need of advancing in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, Ryan Newman figured there was little choice but to execute an aggressive last-lap pass of Kyle Larson Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway.

One point behind the Chase cutline, Newman dove hard underneath Larson entering Turn 3 and then body-slammed the rookie in Turn 4. This pushed Larson up into the wall and allowed Newman to get by to claim 11th-place, moving him past Jeff Gordon for the final spot in next week's championship finale.

"I figured if I'm going to try this, I'm going to try it and see if it works, and it worked," Newman said. "I don't know how much of it was racing luck, but the old adage of eight tires are better than four was definitely true today."

The most consistent driver throughout the regular season, Gordon would have avoided elimination had Newman not passed Larson via a tiebreaker (best Round 3 finish). Newman jokingly tried to justify the bold maneuver several times post race, but acknowledged he was left with little choice to be aggressive considering the circumstances.

"I think if Kyle Larson was in my shoes, he'd have done the exact same thing," Newman said. "I didn't take him out. He still finished the race. I think in a day or two he'll understand, if he doesn't now. It's hard to rationalize that, but I did what I had to do and tried to keep it as clean as I possibly could.

"I don't like racing that way, but there's a lot on the line here, and we'll keep digging."

That Gordon missed transferring to the final four was due to an incident last week where Brad Keselowski cut Gordon's left rear tire while attempting a late three-wide pass for the lead. Gordon would spin because of the flat and finished 29th, a result all the more damning considering Sunday's outcome.

Gordon won four times and accumulated the most points during the regular season. A four-time series champion, he was seeking his first title since 2001 and his first under the Chase format.

"It's just unfortunate, it's just unfortunate," Gordon of being eliminated. "We did everything so good this year. That one race is going to stick with me for a little while. I got over it this week, knowing that we could come here and compete like this. Now it makes it sting that much more.

"I couldn't be more proud of what this team did this year. What a great season and great race cars. That's what I'm most disappointed in."

Although he took umbrage with Keselowski a week ago, Gordon understood Newman's desperation and why he was so forceful in passing Larson Sunday.

"That's the system that we have," Gordon said. "That's what NASCAR wants this to become to create intensity and interest and that's what's going to happen. You have to expect it. But just like what happened on pit road last week, there are lines that need to be drawn or somebody's going to cross the line and they'll have to back everybody up."