“I saw a lot of cars and wrecks and a lot of things that happened and I knew it was pretty close,” Harvick said. “I saw (Earnhardt) running third, and in my head I knew where we were and kind of turned it up a little bit.” This “regular-season” finale has been full of excitement since NASCAR implemented the Chase for the championship in 2004. It sent several bubble drivers into the race needing miracles to keep their title hopes intact. But NASCAR changed the format this year, widening the Chase field from 10 to 12 drivers and implementing a seeding system that awarded 10 bonus points for every regular-season victory. It diluted the drama of this particular race and made it almost impossible for Earnhardt to race his way in. He knew it long before he arrived in Richmond, and he seemed almost resigned to his fate from the start. It means Earnhardt won’t win a championship with DEI, his late father’s company. Although he won two Busch Series championships while his father was still alive, he’s never been higher than third in the Cup standings. Earnhardt was solid at times this season, but the motor failures derailed his efforts. “We deserved to be in the Chase,” he said. “We ran top-five almost every week.” Although the drama was gone, the new format put a premium on wins and drivers went hard for them every week. Although Jeff Gordon dominated the standings all season long, his points lead is gone because Johnson, his teammate, won two more races than he did. Johnson surged into the top seed by winning last week at Fontana and Saturday night in Richmond to give him a season sweep on the Virginia short track. He said that momentum will be key to winning a second championship. “Momentum means a lot, it really does,” he said. “We’ve seen that time and time again with different race teams. We’re happy to be hitting our stride now and we had a great 26. Now it’s about these last 10 and we’ll see what we can do.” Gordon, the four-time series champion, will be seeded second – just 20 points behind Johnson. Tony Stewart, the two-time series champion, will be 30 points back in third. He missed the Chase last season. Peak Antifreeze Indy 300 Dario Franchitti, hoping to wrap up his first open-wheel championship in the IRL IndyCar Series season finale at Chicagoland Speedway, got the weekend off to a great start by winning his third pole of the year. The Scotsman, who goes into today’s race in Joliet, Ill., with a three-point lead over Scott Dixon, turned a fast lap of 214.646 mph. Dixon was sixth at 214.217. Franchitti, the third of 22 drivers to make qualifying attempts on the 1.5-mile oval, said he slowed down from practice earlier in the day and was uncertain where his speed would place him in the final running order. “I was shocked when I heard my (qualifying) time. I wasn’t sure if we got the most out of the track, but it turns out the track slowed down,” Franchitti said. “But qualifying is only a small part of what goes into the race.” ETC.: Franchitti will become the latest open-wheel star to make the jump to NASCAR. A source close to the negotiations said Franchitti will sign with Chip Ganassi Racing to drive the No. 40 Dodge beginning in 2008. David Stremme, the current driver of the No. 40, has already been told he will not have the ride next year. He will join Juan Pablo Montoya, another former open-wheel star, a heralded rookie with Ganassi’s Nextel Cup team this season. Italian Grand Prix McLaren driver Fernando Alonso clinched the pole position in qualifying for today’s Formula One race in Monza, Italy. Alonso circled the 3.6-mile circuit in 1 minute, 21.997 seconds for his second pole of the season. Alonso’s rookie teammate Lewis Hamilton, who leads the Spaniard by five points atop the drivers’ standings, was second at 1:22.360. ETC.: Alonso, the two-time defending world champion, has reportedly submitted evidence relating to the Ferrari spy scandal to Formula One’s governing body, following its request that McLaren’s drivers cooperate in the inquiry. “I did only what had to be done,” Alonso was quoted as saying in Saturday’s edition of Italian news daily La Repubblica. “The highest body made a request of me.”160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! From news services Jimmie Johnson locked up his spot as the favorite for the Nextel Cup title, while Dale Earnhardt Jr. was locked out of NASCAR’s showcase event. Johnson easily raced to his series-best sixth victory of the season, winning Saturday night at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway to shore up the top seed in the Chase for the championship. The defending Nextel Cup champion will start the 10-race title hunt on top of the standings and with the momentum of two consecutive wins to help him hold off 11 other challengers. But NASCAR’s most popular driver won’t be one of them. Earnhardt will watch the Chase from the sidelines for the second time in three years, failing to race his way into the event. He ran in the top three late in the race, but his fifth motor failure with just a few laps to go sealed his fate. He finished 30th and was clearly dejected as he shared a brief hug with crew chief Tony Eury Jr. The two are leaving Dale Earnhardt Inc. at the end of the season and will join Hendrick Motorsports. “We’ve run good every week. We just can’t finish races,” he said. “We love racing. We’ll be all right. This is disappointing, these dang motors.” Earnhardt started the Chevy Rock & Roll 400 as the only driver mathematically eligible to race into the Chase, but the odds were stacked against him. Kevin Harvick, the driver on the bubble, had to finish 33rd or worse, combined with a flawless Earnhardt run, for Junior to make it. Harvick avoided two different accidents and coasted to a seventh-place finish to end any suspense.