Oh what a way to end a season. How exactly do I break down all the pieces of this puzzle for the season finale of NASCAR? The only way I can come up with is look at each individually.
First, let me start off with what got lost in all the championship buzz once the race was over…the race winner. Keep in mind, last week I went off on this guy because of his late-race actions against another competitor. I may have been harsh by some standards, but I was brutally honest. The act was frankly one of a coward, and in hindsight was probably not the best idea. But as we all know, emotions can get the better of any one of us, and that’s ultimately what happened.
Now, one week later, after a $100,000 fine, loss of points, and probation, that same driver was in victory lane.
It is hard to believe that one week ago that Jeff Gordon was spinning and wrecking Clint Bowyer and now he’s the one that went to victory lane. After all that his team endured all year with the heartbreaks, unfortunate incidents, and weird moments, it first took a rain delay and a stroke of luck to get him to victory lane. Now, in the last race of the season, Gordon stretched his fuel long enough over the final two runs to notch his first win at Homestead, ending the year on what was possibly his version of a championship.
It was special as Gordon’s team honored long-time sponsor, DuPont, in the race. The 2012 season was the 20th year that Gordon had the DuPont Chevrolet on the track, and in the final race for the season, it went to victory lane. The last time Gordon won the last race of the year was 1998, and that was a championship year. Not a bad way to close out a season in my book.
Next on the list, the championship. Let me begin with the guy that ran runner-up. It’s not often that this team has a hiccup in a race, but to have two nearly laps apart is literally unforeseen.
Sadly, that’s what happened to Jimmie Johnson. On the critical final pit stop, Johnson came in with the lead, and had a strong gap on his closest championship contender. But, a NASCAR official made the call that he only saw four lug nuts on one of the wheels when the No. 48 left pit road. That is a penalty, and Johnson was forced to come back in and have the lug nut put on the car.
Then, as if fate seemed to step in, Johnson began seeing and smelling smoke in his car. He came to pit road, and the crew jacked it up. Soon, the remark on the radio was one that set the tone for the end of the night.
“We’re done guys.”
Three words that meant so much, especially on this night. Johnson’s night was over due to a broken rear gear, meaning that he was not going to capture his sixth championship in seven years. A man who just two years ago seemed to be on track to equal or better the seven championships of Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt, Johnson would fall and realize that the agony of defeat can sometimes catch the best competitors.
Finally, on this night, it was the No. 2 that would be No. 1 in the end. After seasons in the Nationwide and Cup Series that saw some minor success, but many run-ins with other drivers, Brad Keselowski broke onto the scene one year ago, and it was all because of a broken foot. A testing crash put him in the headlines. But one race after the wreck he wins, then the next week finishes second, then third, and then another win. Soon he was in the Chase, and was considered a possible title contender.
One year later, he outright earned his spot in the Chase, and then wins the first event out. Two races later he does it again, and as the season wound down, found himself in a battle with the best Chase driver since the Chase was introduced.
But not once did the pressure get to him, his team, or car owner. At the end of 400 grueling miles, Keselowski emerged from his Miller Lite Dodge to a sea of confetti and a beer shower, as he is the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion.
This is monumental in many aspects. Two years ago, Keselowski won the Nationwide Series title, the final season before NASCAR instituted the “one points-paying series” rule last year. Last year he took over the No. 2 car, a move that many questioned. Now, he put the deuce at the top of the points. Owner Roger Penske has won the biggest races of the year, the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500, and has over 20 championships to his credit. But one in NASCAR was just out of his reach. The last time Penske came close to winning the title was in 1993 when Rusty Wallace was his driver.
It is also monumental as come next year, the Miller Lite Dodge will become the Miller Lite Ford, as Penske is switching to Ford as its manufacturer and Dodge has elected to walk away from NASCAR. Dodge had not won a championship since Richard Petty in the 1975 season. Now, in its final season of competition, the Dodge Charger and Daimler-Chrysler are at the top of the racing world.
Simply an incredible end to an incredible season, but that doesn’t mean this author is done just yet. Next week, after all the turkey and pumpkin pie is eaten, and all the door-busting bargains are bought, I will provide a final wrap-up of the moments that stand out in the 2012 season.
For now, just like Keselowski did after the race was done and he emerged from his car, I’ll toast a Miller Lite to a great accomplishment by a very tough young man.
RESULTS: 1-Gordon 2-Bowyer 3-Newman 4-Kyle Busch 5-Biffle 6-Truex Jr. 7-Almirola 8-Harvick 9-Kurt Busch 10-Earnhardt Jr.
NOTABLE FINISHES: 12-Edwards 15-Keselowski 17-Stewart 18-Kenseth 21-Kahne 24-Hamlin 36-Johnson
CAUTIONS: 3 for 17 laps. Lap 79-93 (Debris), 144-148 (Debris), 156-161 (#6 accident-T3).
LEAD CHANGES: 19 among 8 drivers. Ambrose 1-14, Kyle Busch 15-49, Newman 50, Kyle Busch 51-116, Truex Jr. 117-127, Johnson 128, Kenseth 129-130, Newman 131-132, Kyle Busch 133-144, Johnson 145-157, Kahne 158-161, Kyle Busch 162-165, Kahne 166, Kyle Busch 167-199, Kahne 200-201, Johnson 202-212, Gordon 213, Kyle Busch 214-254, Gordon 255-267.
TIME OF RACE: 2 Hrs, 48 Mins, 56 Secs.
AVERAGE SPEED: 142.245 MPH
MARGIN OF VICTORY: 1.028 Seconds
2012 Chase for the Sprint Cup: 1. Keselowski, 2400 points; 2. Bowyer, -39; 3. Johnson, -40; 4. Kahne, -55; 5. Biffle, -68; 6. Hamlin, -71; 7. Kenseth, -76; 8. Harvick, -79; 9. Stewart, -89; 10. Gordon, -97; 11. Truex Jr, -101; 12. Earnhardt Jr, -155.