Kurt Busch looks on before qualifying for a NASCAR Sprint Cup series auto race, Friday, Sept. 26, 2014, at Dover International Speedway in Dover, Del. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
Nick Wass
September 28, 2014
Kurt Busch looks on before qualifying for a NASCAR Sprint Cup series auto race, Friday, Sept. 26, 2014, at Dover International Speedway in Dover, Del. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
Nick Wass

DOVER, Del. (AP) Kyle Larson walked into the Dover media center and asked, ''OK, who made it? Who didn't make it?''

That was the hot NASCAR topic all week.

For Kurt Busch, AJ Allmendinger, Greg Biffle and Aric Almirola, championship hopes were over at Dover.

Separated by just a few points from the final spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship field, they were the first four drivers knocked out of contention Sunday at Dover International Speedway. Four drivers are eliminated after every third race, and a win guarantees a driver an automatic berth into the next round.

Jeff Gordon won at Dover, joining Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano in a field of 12 drivers in the next round.

NASCAR's revamped Chase format held its first elimination race, when four of 16 drivers were out of the title picture by Sunday night.

Busch was 18th, Allmendinger 23rd, Biffle 21st and Almirola 28th.

''If you're off, it's hard to put the car up on your back and run it,'' Busch said.

Allmendinger entered 10th in the standings and was the lone driver to fall to the bottom four. Denny Hamlin finished 12th and was the only driver of the bottom four entering Dover to race his way into the top 12. The points will reset for Kansas, Charlotte and Talladega.

Allmendinger fell two points shy of the cutoff. Busch was six off, Biffle seven and Almirola 18.

''We just missed it all weekend,'' Allmendinger said. ''It's disappointing to miss it by two points, but we didn't deserve to be in it with the run that we had. We have to look at it, I'm not going to take a moral victory out of it to miss it by two points, it's disappointing, but we know we are making steps in the right direction.''

Allmendinger and Almirola were the underdogs of the Chase, the two drivers nobody thought could win the championship.

Almirola made the Chase by winning the rain-shortened July race at Daytona, where he gave Hall of Famer Richard Petty his first win in 15 years. Allmendinger used a gritty drive on the road course at Watkins Glen to score his first Cup win and put tiny JTG/Daugherty Racing into the Chase.

''It just didn't work out for us. I hate it,'' Almirola said. ''We picked a bad day to run the way we did and we can't blame anybody but ourselves. My car didn't have any grip. You can't go fast without grip.''

Almirola's bid for an upset basically ended in the first Chase at Chicagoland. Running as high as fourth in the race, he was sixth and headed for a routine pit stop when his engine suddenly failed. Almirola finished 41st and could not pull off another stunning trip to Victory Lane.

''I'm sure we'll be able to look past this another day, but right now it's pretty disappointing,'' he said.

Chase driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. tweeted support to both drivers.

''Be proud. You guys went further than anyone imagined. You especially have so much to be thankful for. Hell of an effort,'' he tweeted at Allmendinger.

And at Almirola: ''Awesome effort man. Yall showed you belong. Made lots of gains. You and Trent are getting stronger.''

Biffle is winless and was a lackluster 23rd at Chicagoland and 16th at New Hampshire. Busch has one win this season and was eighth and 36th in the first two Chase races. Allmendinger was 22nd and 13th.

Busch, the 2004 Cup champion, failed to advance for Stewart-Haas Racing in his milestone 500th career start.

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