By Jason Schultz
Out of all seven seasons I have been a NASCAR fan, 2012 went the fastest. It seems like yesterday it was Daytona 500 weekend and the hype of the new season was at its highest. Well now the season has ended, we have a new champion and we can reflect on an incredible season. The 2012 season may not have been as exciting as the 2011 season but it was definitely incredible.
Let’s take a flashback to the beginning of the season; the smell of a new race season filled the air with endless possibilities. After a busy off-season everyone was excited to see the first race of the season and see all the drivers in their new cars. Once the first race day of the season finally arrived, it rained. A violent Florida rain storm hit right on the opening day for NASCAR. The day, we had been waiting months for, had to be moved to Monday. Did the race on Monday Night disappoint? No, but it would have been much better for the race to have been ran on Sunday.
The title of this article includes “jet dryers” and any NASCAR fan knows about the infamous incident with the jet dryer that kicked off the season. The race was half over and many fans were excited for the ending and the option of getting to bed early for a Tuesday work day the next morning. Then what happens? Well a jet dryer blows up after getting hit by a race car. Crazy right? Will your boss (or in my case teacher) take the excuse that a jet dryer blew up for you not showing up to work (or school) the next day? No. The clean up process of the jet fuel spill, courtesy of Juan Pablo Montoya slamming into the jet dryer in turn three, took two hours. Just when you thought you were going to get to bed early, your still up until 1 AM to see how the first race of the season plays out.
The clean-up crew got the track cleaned and cleared for the final shootout laps of the race. Matt Kenseth ended up taking the win and winning his second Daytona 500, both of which involved rain. The season was off to an interesting start.
Fast forward a few races to the Food City 500 at Bristol. Every race at Bristol always brings excitement right? Well this race brought yawns. The race started off eventful when a six-car pileup occurred in turn one, but after that, the race dragged on.Until Brad Keselowski took the checkered flag, it quickly became a snooze fest. That race brought changes to the track, thanks to Bruton Smith’s large, money filled pockets. The track got a face-lift and went back to the look of the “Old Bristol” which fans adored.
Another short-track race came up on the schedule quickly at Martinsville. Up until the final laps, the race brought boredom and a long anticipated, big day for Hendrick Motorsports, who had the chance to win their 200th race as an organization. Well the final restart of the race changed the whole outlook on the event as a whole. The green-white-checker finish started off with a bang, when Clint Bowyer went three wide into turn one (bad idea at Martinsville), and took out the dominant cars of the day, including, Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon. That incident changed the whole race, while Ryan Newman went on to win, Hendrick Motorsports didn’t get their 200th win, courtesy of Mr. Bowyer. Six races into the season and NASCAR is rock and rollin’.
Zoom forward to May at Talladega. Many people look forward to the ‘Dega race every year and the race didn’t disappoint. Talladega Superspeedway used the slogan “The Pack is Back” in reference to pack racing returning to the restrictor plate races. The slogan stayed true throughout the race – well, at least until the end. Once the final lap began, Brad Keselowski was the leader and was being pushed by Kyle Busch. Busch gave Keselowski a big shove in tandem draft style (which is what NASCAR was trying to get rid of and bring back pack racing). Somehow,Keselowski took advantage of the shove in turn three when he motored away from Busch all by himself, and well in the front of the field at Talladega. Keselowski made an incredible move and the move worked, because he crossed the finish line first. That day was filled with great racing and it was one of the best races of the season.
Revenge from Martinsville came one week after Talladega at Darlington. Hendrick Motorsports dominated the race at Martinsville only to be taken out of contention and without Hendrick Motorsports getting their 200th Sprint Cup Race victory in the final laps. Darlington brought a new opportunity to get their 200th win. Jimmie Johnson dominated the race and on the final lap he won the well earned 200th Hendrick Motorsports victory. Johnson pulled into victory lane and the entire Hendrick Motorsports team celebrated their 200th Sprint Cup Series win. It was only fitting that five-time champion Jimmie Johnson got the team their 200th win. A great day for Hendrick Motorsports only got better in weeks to come when Johnson won the All-Star Race, Kasey Kahne won the Coca Cola 600 and Johnson won the fourth consecutive race for Hendrick at Dover.
The day ‘Junior Nation’ would never forget, came on June 17th at the Michigan International Speedway. After a four year dry-spell, Dale Earnhardt Jr raced his way to victory lane. Junior fans across the nation celebrated and NASCAR got back a sense of normality with Junior back in victory lane.
The season was pronounced half over when NASCAR rolled back into Daytona in the heart of the summer in July. The news started swirlin’ before the race even started, when NASCAR announced that A.J Allmendinger was temporarily suspended for failing a drug test. NASCAR fans, teams and drivers were shocked at the news. A.J Allmendinger failing a drug test? No, he’s a clean cut guy that would never do anything involving drugs. In reality, Allmendinger did take a drug and he took more than NASCAR’s legal limit. Following the shocking news, the race must go on! And it did. A very exciting race came down to the last lap when Tony Stewart crossed the finish line first. The first half of the NASCAR season was over and it had gone by lightning quick.
As Pocono rolled around in early August, the wild card hunt was heating up and after a Jeff Gordon victory at Pocono, the race for the Chase got real – real fast.
The most amazing, shocking and fascinating final lap we have ever seen at a road course occurred at Watkins Glen. When Kyle Busch took the white flag with a decent sized lead, no one thought he would lose the race. Well, somehow, he managed to do just that, and it came from and unexpected source – some oil on the track. Bobby Labonte left some oil around the track after his motor let go. With two laps to go, and when the leaders started slipping in the oil, the last lap got exciting FAST!
Coming into turn two, Kyle Busch started slowing, to avoid slipping in the oil. As he was going up the famed esses, Busch was slightly tapped by Brad Keselowski and Busch spun around. Shocked would be an understatement to how fans, and especially Busch’s crew felt.
Brad Keselowski became the new leader, with road course expert Marcos Ambrose right on his back bumper. Both drivers made moves through the dirt going through the bus stop turn and Keselowski slipped slightly in the 180 degree turn following the bus stop. That gave Ambrose a quick window of opportunity and he took advantage, and the lead. Ambrose then held Keselowski off in the final turns, to win at Watkins Glen. Now everyone who was watching the race breathed, after not being able to breathe on the final lap. Following the race, many fans also thought this was one of the most exciting races of the season-to-date.
As the flashback through the 2012 season continues, we arrive at Bristol for the most anticipated Bristol race in years. Since the spring race back in March, Bristol got a makeover. The track returned to its “old” form, which was the pre-2006 surface. I was fortunate enough to attend the historic race and see what the new surface offered, first hand. The beating and banging definitely returned to Bristol and tempers flared throughout the race. First on a restart, Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth were running side-by-side, and by the time they crossed the start line, a lap following the restart, they were sliding across the apron and had taken each other out. At the New Old Bristol, hard racing action had returned. Tony Stewart followed up the wreck by tossing his helmet at Kenseth’s car as Kenseth exited pit road.
Another temper flaring incident occurred when Regan Smith got into the back of Danica Patrick and sent Patrick wrecking into the inside wall. Patrick was having a great run and she wasn’t pleased with Smith, so she wagged a finger at him as he drove by. The term “Bristol is back” was used after an action packed Bristol race and it was true, Bristol was back in a new, unique way.
The wild card race heated up going into the final race to get in the Chase at Richmond. Jeff Gordon and Kyle Busch were battling it out for the final wild card position. Busch was easily the favorite, to get the final Chase spot going into Richmond, because he has dominated the track in the past. But an upset unfolded, and Jeff Gordon got the final wild card spot. The Chase was now set to begin and Denny Hamlin was among the favorites to win the championship heading into the final ten races.
Fast forward, a few weeks, to the fourth race of the Chase at Talladega. The biggest wild card race of the Chase didn’t disappoint. The race remained somewhat calm through the first 187 laps but on the 188th and final lap, all hell broke loose. A massive 25 car pile-up unfolded in turn four, involving over half the Chasers. Matt Kenseth went on to win the race. After starting the melee, Tony Stewart was lucky enough to have his car land on its wheels (or whatever ones were left) after he tumbled across wrecked cars.
Entering the final five races of the season, I advise you to hold on because these races were incredibly exciting (no sarcasm intended).
The first race on the new Kansas surface brought carnage and excitement. A season record 14 cautions created excitement within themselves, and when points leader, Jimmie Johnson wrecked in turn four, everyone thought his championship hopes were trashed. But impressive work by his crew fixed Johnson’s #48 machine into a car capable of finishing the race. With recent announcements that Kenseth was leaving Roush Fenway Racing to move to Joe Gibbs Racing in 2013, he proved that his team was anything but lame duck, with all three of his wins this season involving exciting races with lots of carnage – LOTS of carnage.
Jimmie Johnson came off a dominant performance at Martinsville to beat and bang with Brad Keselowski a little bit at Texas, and Johnson still took the victory.
Next stop; Phoenix. Does Phoenix usually have the most drama in the Chase? No, but did the best drama in the Chase come out of this year’s Phoenix Race? Yes.
Clint Bowyer and Jeff Gordon have had a few run-ins throughout the season and the boiling point was reached at Phoenix. Gordon wasn’t pleased with Bowyer throughout the race and Gordon wrecked Bowyer in turn four coming to the closing laps. Both cars clashed in turn four and both teams’ crews clashed in the garage area. An altercation broke out between the teams in the garage and when Bowyer jumped out of his car on pit road and sprinted back to get a piece of Gordon, he was restrained. Harsh actions and words were shared between the two drivers’ teams, while the remaining drivers waited out the red flag and ultimately, one more green-white-checker finish to endure. Coming out of the final turn, cars started slipping everywhere due to oil left on the track by Danica Patrick’s wrecked race car and five cars were totaled, sitting on the frontstretch as the the race finally came to a finish.
Just before all that drama unfolded, points leader Jimmie Johnson, hit the wall hard off turn four, shattering his championship chances, with just one race remaining in the season. An action-packed Phoenix race led the way into the final race of the season at Homestead-Miami with the season officially coming to its end.
At this point, Brad Keselowski now has a twenty-point advantage heading into the championship race. If you’re reading this, you already know how the final race plays out.
Johnson creates a different strategy and he looks as though he has a shot at the championship, until he has an oil line problem and is forced behind the wall, officially ending his championship hopes.
Brad Keselowski finished the race and was crowned champion. A new style of champion in Brad Keselowski makes most of NASCAR happy and an adjective, some use, in referring to Keselowski is ‘crazy’ and that’s also how many will describe the 2012 season.
Our flashback throughout the whole season is now over, as we relived the exciting moments that made 2012 a season for the history books.
A new champion and a blown up jet dryer are just two examples of how this season was wilder than previous seasons. 2012 was such a great season and to see it end is bittersweet.
As the countdown for Daytona continues, reflect on a great 2012 season and look forward to an epic season that is expected for 2013. From jet dryers to a new champion, 2012 was an incredible season and it won’t soon be forgotten.