The disappointing season for Kyle Busch got more frustrating in Richmond when he missed making the Chase. (Getty Images)
With the Sprint Cup Series regular season now in the rear view mirror, here's a look at the winners and losers from the first 26 races of the campaign:
The veteran driver turned in one of the best performances in his recent career with a stirring drive on Saturday night in Richmond to secure the final wild card spot in this year's Chase field. After qualifying for the Federated Auto Parts 400 on the front row, Gordon sunk like a rock once the green flag flew and ultimately fell multiple laps behind the leader. But through sheer determination and solid adjustments from crew chief Alan Gustafson, Gordon roared back and was in contention for the win by the closing stages. He didn't need the win to get in, but Gordon's effort on Saturday night might be the launching pad in a serious bid for a fifth championship.
Team owner Rick Hendrick was ridiculed by some at the start of the season when he predicted all four of his drivers would make the Chase. There were times during the campaign when Hendrick's statement looked like nothing more than a lot of bluster. Although Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson stayed near the top of the series standings for most of the year, newcomer Kasey Kahne and Gordon struggled periodically. But Kahne came alive in mid-summer, and Gordon's furious charge at the end of the regular season put the Hendrick quartet in the title picture. All appear to have legitimate shots at bringing home another crown for Hendrick.
Put an impressive cap on the Michael Waltrip Racing turnaround story with his second win of the season late Saturday night at Richmond. Bowyer and teammate Martin Truex Jr. give MWR its first-ever Chase berths and have the potential to be more than simply field fillers. There's a confidence at the Waltrip shop that rivals organizations with much more Chase experience. Keep an eye on these two possible upset specials.
Lost a chance to make the Chase when Gordon beat him for the final wild card spot by a single point. A bad call from crew chief Dave Rogers and then a fatal miscue on pit road doomed Busch to missing the playoffs and a chance at some redemption for what has been a very disappointing season for the Joe Gibbs Racing driver. With Matt Kenseth joining the team next year and Denny Hamlin the No. 1 Chase seed this season, 2013 will be a pivotal year for Busch's career. It will be interesting to see how he responds during this season's remaining 10 races and whether there are personnel changes in the off-season with the No. 18 team.
What a difference a year made for the Roush Fenway Racing driver. Perhaps there's something to be said about the hangover impact when a driver loses a title the way Edwards did to Tony Stewart last year. Although he has repeatedly dismissed that, Edwards joins the likes of Hamlin and the Buffalo Bills as coming so close to the promised land only to flail around in the aftermath of missing out. Will Jack Roush now tinker with the No. 99 team's personnel after this year's disappointment?
Nearly pulled off an upset Saturday night when he took the lead from teammate and boss Tony Stewart. A win would have put Newman into the Chase as the second wild card, but he couldn't stay at the front of the field and his eighth-place finish sealed his fate. The good news for Newman is the one-year deal that he signed to remain at Stewart-Haas Racing in 2013. But the challenge is for the team to find sponsorship for the No. 39 car in the wake of the U.S. Army's decision to leave the sport. A spot in the Chase and a run at the title might have been beneficial to SHR's quest to land a new sponsor.