By Jason Schultz
That’s the only word to describe Sunday’s race in Phoenix. It was by far the wackiest race of the season.
The first 310 laps were all normal but the last two laps were insane. Fans witnessed a fight in the garage, a big pile-up coming to the checker and a driver break his winless drought.
Kevin Harvick pulled into victory lane after he stole the lead from rival Kyle Busch in the final laps. Throughout the race, Harvick was not a factor for the lead until the end and his strategy propelled him to victory.
At first fans thought the most excitement occurred when points leader Jimmie Johnson wrecked but there was much more excitement to come before the race ended and this race will not be forgotten anytime soon.
Polesitter Kyle Busch dominated most of the race and seemed to have the strongest car until the final laps.
The first caution of the day came out on lap 16 for Mike Bliss, who got into the turn three wall after Matt Kenseth made slight contact with his car.
Early in the race, Brad Keselowski – second in the pre-race point standings – passed Jimmie Johnson – the pre-race points leader – on lap 21. Throughout the race, it seemed Keselowski’s #2 car continued to run better than Johnson’s #48.
The second yellow-flag of the day flew on lap 51 for David Gilliland who hit the wall in the beginning of the frontstretch. The leaders made pit stops under the caution and Mark Martin beat Kyle Busch off pit road. Kyle Busch regained his position in the front of the field on the restart.
With 80 laps remaining in the race, Brad Keselowski passed Kyle Busch for the lead.
The biggest story pertaining to the championship race Sunday in Phoenix was when Jimmie Johnson’s tire went flat and he wrecked with 78 laps to go. Johnson hit the wall on the exit of turn four very hard while he was running seventh. Johnson took his car behind the wall and his team made repairs so he could salvage some points.
Johnson lost the championship lead at the end of the day and will need more than an incredible race next week in Homestead-Miami if he wants to win his sixth championship. Even if Johnson wins and leads the most laps at Homestead-Miami, Keselowski will win the championship with a finish of 15th or better.
With 40 laps remaining in the race, David Ragan brought out another caution after he hit the turn four wall. Jimmie Johnson returned to the track under this caution and tried to gain as many points as he could in the remainder of the race.
The fifth yellow flag of the day flew with 32 laps to go for Tony Stewart who spun off of turn four after a little tap from Aric Almirola. Kyle Busch continued to lead the race until eight laps to go when Kevin Harvick took the lead.
The biggest story of the race, or even the Chase occurred under this next caution.
The seventh caution of the day came out with two laps to go for Jeff Gordon, Clint Bowyer, Joey Logano and Aric Almirola. The wreck started when Jeff Gordon slowed up on the track and was waiting to give pay back to Clint Bowyer who made contact with Gordon earlier in the race. Bowyer went below the No. 24 and Gordon made a hard left and turned Bowyer up into the wall. Bowyer went nose first into the wall and suffered a hard impact. Joey Logano then slid into the wreck and Aric Almirola eventually spun into the melee with all cars involved getting a lot of damage. Gordon was able to drive his car back to the garage, unlike Bowyer.
Both Chase team’s tempers were flaring after this incident and back in the garage by the No.24 team’s hauler, an altercation broke out between Bowyer’s and Gordon’s teams. Bowyer’s team approached Gordon’s wrecked car while team members of the No.24 team were around the car. Gordon’s crew members started exchanging words with members of Bowyer’s team and guys started throwing punches. It was unclear who was involved in the altercation and who threw the first few punches. Jeff Gordon was spotted in the middle of the altercation and a member of his team pinned Gordon up against a tool box to keep Gordon from interfering with the altercation and saving Gordon any more trouble.
Bowyer parked on pit road, exited his car and darted across the garage area with a final destination of Jeff Gordon’s hauler. Bowyer sprinted up to the hauler but was stopped by various people. Bowyer wanted to share his thoughts with Gordon, but NASCAR officials were not going to allow that to happen.
Gordon was called to the NASCAR hauler and once he was finished with their discussion, he was escorted back to his motor home. No word yet on whether any penalties will be handed out, but NASCAR will give their verdict regarding penalties within the next few days.
Gordon’s frustration is likely from the many occurrences he and Bowyer have shared this year. Gordon confirmed this thought on twitter, saying, “I’ll say the same thing I told @NASCAR & media. Reached my limit, tired of getting run into by 15. Sorry to the other guys involved.”
Most notably, in April at Martinsville Bowyer attempted to go three wide into turn one and wrecked himself along with Gordon and Jimmie Johnson. Gordon’s crew chief Alan Gustafson said in an interview with ESPN that this is “about the fifth time he (Bowyer) has ran us (Gordon) over.”
Bowyer’s crew chief Brian Pattie mentioned in an interview that if the No.15 has nothing to run for next week in Homestead-Miami, Gordon could endure some payback. A crazy incident for sure but we still had a race to finish.
The red flag was displayed after the incident for a major clean-up that was needed. Leader Kevin Harvick and the No.29 team – knowing fuel could be an issue for them – attempted to argue that Harvick had began the final lap before the caution was thrown which would end the race and put Harvick in victory lane; but they lost the argument. Video evidence showed Harvick was not across the line when the caution was thrown and the race resumed with two laps to go. Harvick cleared Kyle Busch before turn one and Harvick started to pull away.
Last time NASCAR didn’t throw a caution with two laps to go, with oil on the track, was in Watkins Glen. That race turned out to have a crazy ending as well.
Fans waited another lap before seeing another wild finish that was indeed ‘the story’ once again. The cars were all racing each other hard until they made their way to the frontstretch and about to take the checkered flag.
The first few cars made it through the oil on the track, left by Patrick, but the next set of cars, still racing, were not as fortunate.
The trouble started when Greg Biffle slipped in the oil and turned Ryan Newman into the wall. Then, the back end of Biffle’s car pushed Kurt Busch into the wall as well. Kurt Busch then came across the track and dented the side of championship contender, Brad Keselowski’s car, but Keselowski managed to cross the line in the sixth position. Paul Menard then slid in the same oil that Biffle slid into, and Menard got into Mark Martin, pushing Martin into the wall as well. All cars involved would then dart across the track while many other cars were trying to finish the race.
As the cars slid closer to the finish line, Kurt Busch got into Paul Menard’s car and Menard slid into the inside wall. Menard then tried to slow up to avoid the stopped car of Danica Patrick, but was unsuccessful, and his No. 27 car clobbered the back of Patrick’s car, lifting the rear wheels of the No. 10 car into the air. While all that was going on, Kurt Busch slid back up the track and got into the front end of Ryan Newman, and then Newman tagged Mark Martin and Martin took a hard hit to the inside wall. Once the smoke in the air was settled, there was a pile of sheet metal scattered across the track and multiple wrecked cars.
Kevin Harvick crossed the finish line successfully and took home his first win of 2012, breaking his 44-race winless streak. Harvick has had a rough year, but this win will be one of the good parts of his 2012 season.
The craziest final two laps of any race, this season, occurred in Phoenix with a championship battle to still sort out.
Keselowski took the points lead after the misfortune’s of Jimmie Johnson. Keselowski came into the race seven points behind Johnson but left twenty points ahead of Johnson. Johnson ended the race finishing thirty-second, and thirty-eight laps down.
The championship standings took a major shake-up Sunday afternoon in Phoenix, with Clint Bowyer dropping to fourth-place, with a 51-point deficit and Kasey Kahne now in third, and 50-points behind Brad Keselowski, back in the top-spot.
Brad Keselowski is much closer to his first Sprint Cup Series championship. Even if Johnson wins and leads the most laps, Keselowski will need to place 15th or better, next weekend in Homestead-Miami, to take home his first Sprint Cup championship trophy.
After thirty-five long weekends in the 2012 season, the final race of the year, is about to begin at Homestead-Miami. The 2012 Sprint Cup Series champion will be crowned next weekend and the race promises to be epic.
Results and Point Standings via Nascar.com
|2||3||11||Denny Hamlin||Toyota||FedEx Ground||43/1||319||Running|
|4||4||5||Kasey Kahne||Chevrolet||Farmers Insurance||40/0||319||Running|
|5||12||39||Ryan Newman||Chevrolet||Quicken Loans||40/1||319||Running|
|6||14||2||Brad Keselowski||Dodge||Miller Lite||39/1||319||Running|
|8||6||78||Kurt Busch||Chevrolet||Furniture Row||36/0||319||Running|
|9||7||27||Paul Menard||Chevrolet||Menards / Rheem||35/0||319||Running|
|10||10||55||Mark Martin||Toyota||Aaron’s Dream Machine||35/1||319||Running|
|14||22||17||Matt Kenseth||Ford||Ford EcoBoost||30/0||319||Running|
|15||30||47||Bobby Labonte||Toyota||Vektor Vodka||29/0||319||Running|
|18||17||9||Marcos Ambrose||Ford||Black & Decker||26/0||319||Running|
|19||9||14||Tony Stewart||Chevrolet||Mobil 1 / Office Depot||25/0||319||Running|
|20||39||93||Travis Kvapil||Toyota||Burger King||25/1||319||Running|
|21||23||88||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||Chevrolet||Diet Mountain Dew / National Guard||23/0||317||Running|
|23||18||1||Jamie McMurray||Chevrolet||Bass Pro Shops / Allstate||21/0||317||Running|
|24||8||51||Regan Smith||Chevrolet||Phoenix Construction||20/0||316||Running|
|25||27||83||Landon Cassill||Toyota||Burger King||19/0||316||Running|
|26||42||36||Dave Blaney||Chevrolet||Accell Construction||18/0||316||Running|
|27||15||20||Joey Logano||Toyota||Dollar General||17/0||312||Accident|
|28||16||15||Clint Bowyer||Toyota||5-hour Energy||16/0||312||Accident|
|29||41||32||Timmy Hill||Ford||U.S. Chrome / TMone||0||312||Running|
|31||26||22||Sam Hornish Jr.||Dodge||Shell / Pennzoil||0||299||Accident|
|32||24||48||Jimmie Johnson||Chevrolet||Lowe’s / Kobalt Tools||12/0||281||Running|
|33||29||34||David Ragan||Ford||CertainTeed / 31-W Insulation||11/0||280||Accident|
|34||32||30||David Stremme||Toyota||Inception Motorsports||10/0||86||Brakes|
|35||35||33||Stephen Leicht *||Chevrolet||Little Joes A
|36||31||38||David Gilliland||Ford||Loan Mart||8/0||50||Accident|
|37||38||26||Josh Wise *||Ford||MDS Transport||7/0||50||Brakes|
|38||28||98||Michael McDowell||Ford||Phil Parsons Racing||6/0||36||Brakes|
|39||43||87||Joe Nemechek||Toyota||AM-FM Energy Wood & Pellet Stoves / aloft hotel tempe||0||30||Brakes|
|40||34||144||David Reutimann||Ford||No Label Watcher||4/0||28||Vibration|
|41||36||119||Mike Bliss||Toyota||Plinker Tactical / Value Place||0||15||Accident|
|42||40||191||Jason Leffler||Toyota||Plinker Tactical / Value Place||0||10||Brakes|
|43||2||56||Martin Truex Jr.||Toyota||NAPA Auto Parts||1/0||10||Engine|