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. We 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. Harvick didn’t become a factor in the race until the end and his strategy propelled him to victory. We thought we saw the most excitement occur when point’s leader Jimmie Johnson wrecked but we were wrong. This race won’t be forgotten anytime soon.
Pole sitter Kyle Busch dominated most of the race and he looked 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 him. Early in the race, Brad Keselowski (who is second in the point’s standings) looked to have the better car than point’s leader Jimmie Johnson and Keselowski passed Johnson on lap 21. 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. Busch was passed for the lead by teammate Denny Hamlin on lap 118. The first half of the race concluded and Denny Hamlin led followed by Paul Menard, Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski and Jeff Gordon. 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 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 had his team make repairs so he could salvage some points.
Johnson lost the championship lead at the end of the day and he now will need an incredible race next week in Homestead-Miami if he wants to win his sixth championship. 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 he 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.
Likely 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 Gordon 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 wreck. All cars involved had a lot of damage. Gordon was able to drive his car back to the garage unlike Bowyer.
Both teams 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.
Once Bowyer exited his car which was parked on pit road, Bowyer darted across the garage area with a final destination of Jeff Gordon’s hauler. Bowyer sprinted up to the hauler but he was then stopped by various people. Bowyer wanted to share his thoughts with Gordon but NASCAR wasn’t going to allow that. Gordon was called to the NASCAR hauler and once he was finished in the hauler, he was escorted back to his motor home. No word yet on whether any penalties will be handed out but we should hear word regarding penalties within the next few days.
Gordon’s frustration is likely from the many occurrences he and Bowyer have shared this year. Most notably, in April at Martinsville Bowyer attempted to go three wide into turn one and he 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 were attempting 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. The race would resume with two laps to go. Harvick cleared Kyle Busch before turn one and Harvick started to pull away.
Danica Patrick wrecked in turn three on the second to last lap and no caution was thrown. Patrick had assistance from Jeff Burton and Patrick’s car was destroyed and leaking oil. 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. We would need to wait another lap before we could see if a wild finish was indeed the story 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 that was left by Patrick but cars that were still coming weren’t as fortunate. The trouble started when Greg Biffle slipped in the oil and turned Ryan Newman into the wall and 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 oil that Biffle had slid in 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 he was unsuccessful and he clobbered the back of Patrick’s car, lifting the rear wheels of the car into the air. While all that was going on, Kurt Busch had 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, we had 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 and he broke 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 and we still had a championship battle to sort out. Keselowski took the points lead after the misfortune’s of Jimmie Johnson. Keselowski came into the race seven points behind Johnson but he left twenty points ahead of Johnson. Johnson ended up finishing thirty-second, thirty eight laps down.
The championship standings took a major shake-up Sunday afternoon in Phoenix and Brad Keselowski is much closer to his first Sprint Cup Series championship. Keselowski will still likely need to place in the top twenty next weekend in Homestead-Miami if he wants to take home the championship trophy. After thirty-five long weekends in the 2012 season, we are about to begin the final one of the year. The 2012 Sprint Cup Series champion will be crowned next weekend and the race promises to be epic.
Results 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|