Gordon leaves the desert disappointed

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AVONDALE, Ariz. (AP) - Jeff Gordon's bid for a fifth NASCAR Sprint Cup championship was wrecked twice.

The first, in Texas last week, involved him directly and led to a melee with Brad Keselowski.

The second, at Phoenix on Sunday, came in the pack behind him, and turned out to be just as devastating for one of NASCAR's most popular drivers.

Racing for a spot in the season finale next week at Homestead, Gordon had his hopes dashed when Ryan Newman knocked Kyle Larson into the wall on a last-lap pass.

Gordon finished second to race winner Kevin Harvick, but came up a point short of the playoff race because of Newman's last-gasp move.

"We come home second and I just was hoping that it was going to be enough," Gordon said. "When you hear those words that it wasn't, it's disappointing."

Gordon was in solid position in NASCAR's new knockout playoff system after finishing second at Martinsville two weeks ago. Still, he was a bit disappointed that he couldn't overtake Dale Earnhardt Jr. for a victory that would have earned an automatic berth into the finale.

Gordon was in position for that automatic berth last week at Texas, racing for the lead on a late restart. His chances ended when Keselowski tried to squeeze between him and Jimmie Johnson, creating contact that sent Gordon spinning into the wall with a flat tire.

Gordon finished 29th and confronted Keselowski in the pits, leading to a melee between their two teams and Harvick.

Gordon left Texas bloodied - as did Keselowski - but still had a shot at the finale, heading to Phoenix fourth in playoff points.

He had a good weekend in the desert, too, qualifying seventh and racing near the front throughout Sunday's race.

Running second, Gordon had the final playoff berth in his grasp when Larson passed Newman with 12 laps left. His luck changed on the last lap, when Newman gave Larson a nudge into the wall and raced past him to finish 11th.

That gave Newman 4,103 points, one ahead of Gordon and Harvick, who earned the automatic spot in the finale by winning the race.

"It makes last week that much even tougher to swallow, but that's all right, we put in a great effort at Martinsville, great effort here and it just wasn't enough," Gordon said.

It was a disappointing finish to what was one of Gordon's best seasons.

The 43-year-old Hendrick Motorsports driver won four times, including at Dover during the Chase - for his most victories since he had six in 2007. Gordon also finished in the top 10 in 22 of his 35 starts, including 14 top-fives, proving he's still one of Sprint Cup's top drivers after 23 years of racing.

And Gordon has done it by continuing to be one of NASCAR's most conscientious drivers.

Yes, he will race people hard, occasionally bump someone out of the way if it means a chance to win. But Gordon also will own up to his misdeeds, something he felt Keselowski didn't do last week, which led to the confrontation.

A week later, another wreck knocked Gordon out of the Chase, a fact that wasn't lost on him.

"I hope we taught people that you can race clean and still give it your best, that you don't have to wreck people to make it in the Chase," he said, adding this about the season finale: "If it was that ugly the past few weeks, it's going to be real ugly next week."

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