RICHMOND, VA. The task was clear for Jeremy Mayfield: Win the race and don't worry about making NASCAR's playoffs.
Mayfield raced to his first victory in the more than four years Saturday night, taking the Chevrolet 400 at Richmond International Raceway after leader Kurt Busch ran out of gas eight laps from the finish.
The victory locked Mayfield into NASCAR's race for the Nextel Cup title in the final qualifying event.
"We had no choice but to try to win the race and lead the most laps," Mayfield said. "We really put it all together because we had to win. We focused all week on that."
But Mayfield was the only driver to jump into the chase. Kasey Kahne, his teammate at Evernham Motorsports, finished 12th and dropped out of the top 10.
"It was a pathetic race car," Kahne said. "It was not a good day."
Jamie McMurray felt the same way, finishing in ninth place and narrowly missing the chase. He's 11th in the standings, but just 31 points out of the 400-point window that would have qualified him. His team spent the final few laps desperately begging for help from other drivers to get McMurray more positions and more points. But with his engine draining on power, there was nothing he could do.
"The motor just blew up again with about 25 laps to go, and there wasn't a whole lot we could do," McMurray said. "We don't deserve to be in it."
Bobby Labonte, Kevin Harvick and Dale Jarrett were the only other drivers with mathematical shots at racing into the playoff picture, but ended up as also-rans after poor performances on the 0.75-mile track.
Jarrett finished 26th and never was a factor.
"We looked like we weren't prepared for that," he said.
The chase will start with Jeff Gordon as the points leader, followed in five-point increments by Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Tony Stewart, Elliott Sadler, Busch, Mark Martin, Mayfield and Ryan Newman.
The points system was adopted this year, replacing the format that began in 1975 and rewarded consistency while often creating dull championship chases. The champion typically has coasted to his title with few challenges over the stretch run.
Now, any of the 10 drivers can win it, including Martin, a four-time championship runner-up who used a strong surge to qualify for the playoffs.
Bourdais bags seventh pole
Monterey, Calif. -- Sebastien Bourdais won his seventh pole in 11 tries this season, the Champ Car leader taking the top spot for today's Grand Pris of Monterey.
Castroneves claims pole
Joliet, Ill. -- Tony Kanaan had kept a close eye on the competition in practice, so he figured his qualifying run would be good enough to win the pole for the Delphi Indy 300. Then Helio Castroneves took his warmup lap.
"I knew I was done," Kanaan said.
He and everybody else. After running 214.040 mph on his warmup lap -- a speed that would have been good enough to put him on the pole -- Castroneves ran away with his second straight pole and third of the season with an official lap of 214.759 mph.
Barrichello wins Italian pole
Monza, Italy -- Rubens Barrichello won the pole position for the Italian Grand Prix, a victory Ferrari fans had hoped would go to Michael Schumacher. Barrichello edged Juan Pablo Montoya and Schumacher.