The task was clear for Jeremy Mayfield: Win the race and don't worry about the race to make NASCAR's playoffs.
Mayfield won his first race in more than four years last 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, but he 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.
Jamie McMurray finished in ninth place and narrowly missed the chase: He's 11th in the standings, but just 31 points out of the 400-point window that would have qualified him. 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.
The chase will start with Jeff Gordon as the points leader, followed by Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Tony Stewart, Elliott Sadler, Busch, Mark Martin, Mayfield, and Ryan Newman. The drivers are separated in 5-point increments.
Formula One -- Rubens Barrichello won the pole position for the Italian Grand Prix. Barrichello edged Juan Pablo Montoya and Michael Schumacher, his Ferrari teammate and newly crowned world champion, during qualifying at the Monza circuit.
Barrichello covered the 3.6-mile lap in 1 minute 20.089 seconds.
Montoya, who broke his own lap record in pre-qualifying, drove his Williams-BMW in 1:20.620. Schumacher was timed in 1:20.637 and will start from the second row with Renault's Fernando Alonso in the 53-lap race.
IRL -- 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 today's Delphi Indy 300 in Joliet, Ill. After running 214.040 miles per hour on his warmup lap -- a speed that would have been good enough to put him on the pole -- Helio Castroneves ran away with his second straight pole and third of the season with an official lap of 214.759 m.p.h.
Kanaan was second at 214.030 m.p.h., the only other driver to crack 214-m.p.h.