The 2012 NASACR Sprint Cup Series season was full of great races and memorable moments but one stood out above the rest. That was the November 11th race at Phoenix International Raceway. It was the second to last race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup and three drivers entered the AdvoCare 500 still in title contention. When the race ended Brad Keselowski looked to be all but crowned the 2012 Champion.
The events that led to Keselowski leaving Phoenix with a 20 point lead over Jimmie Johnson and Clint Bowyer out of contention for the title were jaw dropping. With 80 laps to go in the event Keselowski passed Kyle Busch for the race lead while Johnson was running back in seventh place. At that moment Keselowski jumped ahead of Johnson by three points in the championship race. Then, all-of-the-sudden, with 78 laps to go Johnson slammed the outside wall when he blew a right front tire due to melting a bead. It was a mistake by the No. 48 team that race fans have not seen that team make in the Chase in history. The accident relegated Johnson to a 32nd place finish.
The drama did not stop there. Keselowski needed to just get to the finish without having a problem to enter the season finale with a big points lead. With 13 laps to go Danica Patrick and Sam Hornish Jr. continued their mini feud when they made contact which then cut Hornish’s left front tire forcing a caution flag.
That set up a restart with eight laps to go where Clint Bowyer and Jeff Gordon would make contact battling for a spot in the top five. It was not the first run-in these two have had this season but it was the one that put Gordon over the edge of frustration. The contact had cut one of Gordon’s tires and NASCAR had shown him the black flag as he was not maintaining minimum speed. But instead of pulling to pit road Gordon took revenge on Bowyer. In Turn 4 with two laps left Gordon slammed into an on-rushing Bowyer and also collected an innocent Joey Logano and Aric Almirola. All four cars were heavily damaged but Keselowski slid just underneath the mess of cars, avoiding disaster.
As Gordon climbed from his beaten No. 24 car the crowd at Phoenix roared as members of Bowyer’s team started a scuffle with Gordon and his team. Then the camera cut to Bowyer sprinting through the garage area to the melee only to be held back from getting to Gordon by a NASCAR official. It was a certain “holy cow” moment and a moment that left me speechless as I was watching it unfold. Bowyer ended up in 28th and lost about 23 points due to the crash. Gordon had effectively made it so Bowyer’s championship chances were gone.
The action was not done yet though. The caution which flew just before Kevin Harvick took the white flag set up a green-white-checkered finish. Harvick again outran Kyle Busch on the restart as Keselowski slipped back from sixth to ninth. Before Harvick could reach the white flag though Danica Patrick spun off the front bumper of Jeff Burton and pancaked the outside wall but this time NASCAR did not throw the caution.
Patrick limped her No. 10 car back around while laying oil on the track coming off of Turn 4. As Harvick and the other leaders came off of Turn 4 to take the checkered flag Patrick was slow just past the start-finish line. Harvick slipped in the oil but made it through to score a win to break a long winless streak. Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Kasey also made it without incident to finish second, third and fourth. Then Greg Biffle and Ryan Newman slipped and wrecked hard into the outside wall off of Turn 4. Kurt Busch and Paul Menard slammed into a spinning Newman and then Mark Martin slammed Newman as well. Busch and Menard crashed hard into the back of Patrick who was still on the inside just past the finish line. Meanwhile, Keselowski, barely squeaked by once again to finish sixth and preserve a 20 point lead over Johnson entering Homestead-Miami.
The last 80 laps of the AdvoCare 500 were as wild as they can come in a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race. It had it all, from championship deciding moments, to a feud boiling over leading to an all-out melee in the garage, to NASCAR making a poor choice that created more controversy and a big crash at the checkered flag. It was the moment of the year.
Clayton Caldwell – AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway Took the Cake
While Phoenix was great, it all comes down to racing. That's why I pick the AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway over the Phoenix Chase race as the best moment of the 2012 season. The Phoenix Chase race did create a lot of drama and did have some great moments but as far as racing in the 2012 season, the finish to both Watkins Glen and Texas really stood out for me.
The thing that made both of those so great was the racing and an exciting finish. At Watkins Glen it was between Marcos Ambrose and Brad Keselowski. The race probably should've been under caution because of oil on the track but at the same time it made for some great racing. The AAA Texas 500 finish was a really great one that stood out above the rest.
There were just three races to go in the 2012 season coming into Texas and Jimmie Johnson had gained some momentum and points on the #2 team and as fate would have it it was both Johnson and Keselowski running at the end when the race was winding down. Keselowski seemed to have the race in the bag, after a gutsy two tire pit stop put the Michigan native in the lead and Keselowski started driving away from the field after a restart with 19 laps to go. That all changed when Mark Martin spun in the infield grass causing a caution with six laps to go. Johnson had battled his way past Kyle Busch for second and fans knew on the following restart that both championship contenders would be fighting with each other for the win at Texas. Fans were on the edge of their seats as the race restarted with just three laps to go.
Keselowski chose the inside lane, while Johnson was on the outside. Keselowski was going to try and use the quicker way around to pass the five time champion, while Johnson tried any way he could to get past Keselowski. Going into turn one both drivers were leaning on each other as they led the field on the backstretch. Johnson cleared Keselowski coming off turn two and shot to the lead and sped away to victory.
It was Johnson's second consecutive victory and it put Johnson seven points ahead of Keselowski in the championship fight. It was two of the best in the business battling each other for a victory that meant so much to the championship.
Obviously we all know how it turned out. Keselowski would win the championship, largely in part to what happened at Phoenix. However, the exciting run at Texas Motor Speedway was one of the best racing moments in the 2012 season.
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