The Cup Championship Is Keselowski’s To Lose
By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
Brad Keselowski will head to South Florida for the final race of the 2012 Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship next weekend needing just to stay out of trouble to win his first NASCAR championship. That is, Keselowski will just need to do what Jimmie Johnson could not do during Sunday’s race at Phoenix International Raceway onSunday.
Johnson, the five-time Cup champion who started the race at PIR with a seven-point lead, slammed the wall coming out of Turn 4 on lap 235 of the 312-lap, penultimate event of the season.
The wreck – apparently caused by a blown right-front tire – caused major right-side damage to Johnson’s No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet and sent it to the garage for repairs.
He got back on the track with 35 laps left in the race but 38 laps off the pace. He had been running seventh when the crash occurred and he finished 32nd.
Keselowski, who had taken the race lead just moments before Johnson’s crash, capitalized on his good fortune. With crew chief Paul Wolfe telling him over the radio to mind the big picture, Keselowski finished sixth and will arrive at Homestead-Miami Speedway for the season finale with a 20-point lead over Johnson.
Keselowski will win the championship – which would be the first in Cup for team owner Roger Penske – with a finish of 15th or better next Sunday.
“There’s no guarantees,” Keselowski said when asked about his chances for a championship.
“Certainly if you have the choice, you always want to be in the lead of the points, especially in the closing races, so I’m thankful for that.
“But I also know that the troubles that they had are the same troubles that we could have next week, and so you try not to take anything for granted. You try to just focus on what lies ahead, and we’ve got to do the best job we can at Homestead. That’s where my focus is.”
Johnson said the championship is now “way, way out of our control”.
But, he said, “We still have to go to Homestead and race and anything can happen down there. But this is not the position we want to be in late in Phoenix. I feel terrible for my team and how hard these guys work; everybody at Hendrick Motorsports and Lowe’s and Kobalt Tools and Chevrolet. Across the board there has been a huge effort put in to try to get us a championship and I just hate for our day to turn out as it did today. But, that’s racing and we’ll go to Homestead and do all we can down there and see how things pan out.”
Kevin Harvick passed Kyle Busch, who led the most laps Sunday, for the lead with seven laps to go, held it through a green/white/checkered restart and got the victory – his first of the season.
Denny Hamlin finished second. Busch was third, Kasey Kahne fourth and Ryan Newman fifth.
The GWC finish was set up when Jeff Gordon deliberately wrecked Clint Bowyer, who was third in Chase points and headed for a top-10 finish.
After Gordon got to the pits after the wreck, a brawl broke out between Gordon and members of Bowyer’s crew. Once out of his car, Bowyer sprinted to Gordon’s hauler and had to be restrained by NASCAR officials at the hauler door.
“Things have gotten escalated over the year and I have just had it,” Gordon said. “Clint (Bowyer) has run into me numerous times, wrecked me and he got into me on the back straightaway, pretty much ruined our day. I have had it, was fed up with it and got him back.”
Michael Waltrip, Bowyer’s car owner, said, “I’ve never seen anything like what Jeff Gordon did to a guy racing for a championship. Cowardly, chicken move by someone that has raced for championships before, and knows how important every position is. They barely brushed on the back straightaway and he waits — he purposely waits and tells everybody he’s waiting and wrecks our car and our hopes for racing for a championship. I’m beside myself. I can’t believe that he would get involved in the championship battle.”
Right behind the wreck, which also took out Joey Logano, was Keselowski. He got through cleanly. The wreck brought out a red flag.
Keselowski did not get through a final, huge wreck which occurred as the field headed to the finish line on the final lap. Keselowski had his right-side fenders banged in that wreck but he kept the car pointed straight and made it to the end.
“That was borderline ridiculous,” Keselowski said of the racing at PIR.
On Monday afternoon, Waltrip issued the following statement: “The goal of Michael Waltrip Racing is to be a championship-level organization both on and off the track. The on-track incident which occurred during Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Phoenix International Raceway was extremely disappointing and brought raw emotions of a long and hard championship battle to the surface. Though we generally cannot control certain actions on the track, the unfortunate reactions off the track Sunday did not live up to the professional standards in which Michael Waltrip Racing expects all of its representatives to live by. We commit to our sponsors, our manufacturer, our fans and NASCAR that we will do so in the future.”
1. (19) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 319, $244886.
2. (3) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 319, $198051.
3. (1) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 319, $199118.
4. (4) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 319, $123660.
5. (12) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 319, $147918.
6. (14) Brad Keselowski, Dodge, 319, $130255.
7. (20) Greg Biffle, Ford, 319, $99360.
8. (6) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 319, $112493.
9. (7) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 319, $93485.
10. (10) Mark Martin, Toyota, 319, $84660.
11. (13) Carl Edwards, Ford, 319, $124101.
12. (21) Juan Pablo Montoya, Chevrolet, 319, $110201.
13. (33) Jeff Burton, Chevrolet, 319, $121560.
14. (22) Matt Kenseth, Ford, 319, $121796.
15. (30) Bobby Labonte, Toyota, 319, $101718.
16. (5) Aric Almirola, Ford, 319, $112346.
17. (37) Danica Patrick(i), Chevrolet, 318, $75010.
18. (17) Marcos Ambrose, Ford, 318, $102568.
19. (9) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, 318, $123785.
20. (39) Travis Kvapil, Toyota, 318, $97568.
21. (23) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, 317, $81985.
22. (25) Casey Mears, Ford, 317, $85368.
23. (18) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 317, $104518.
24. (8) Regan Smith, Chevrolet, 316, $90782.
25. (27) Landon Cassill, Toyota, 316, $99880.
26. (42) Dave Blaney, Chevrolet, 316, $72785.
27. (15) Joey Logano, Toyota, Accident, 312, $80660.
28. (16) Clint Bowyer, Toyota, Accident, 312, $99224.
29. (41) Timmy Hill(i), Ford, 312, $77385.
30. (11) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, Accident, 309, $117696.
31. (26) Sam Hornish Jr.(i), Dodge, Accident, 299, $114710.
32. (24) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 281, $115896.
33. (29) David Ragan, Ford, Accident, 280, $68835.
34. (32) David Stremme, Toyota, Brakes, 86, $68710.
35. (35) Stephen Leicht #, Chevrolet, Rear Gear, 74, $78085.
36. (31) David Gilliland, Ford, Accident, 50, $68435.
37. (38) Josh Wise #, Ford, Brakes, 50, $68305.
38. (28) Michael McDowell, Ford, Brakes, 36, $68153.
39. (43) Joe Nemechek(i), Toyota, Brakes, 30, $65325.
40. (34) David Reutimann, Ford, Vibration, 28, $65175.
41. (36) Mike Bliss(i), Toyota, Accident, 15, $65020.
42. (40) Jason Leffler(i), Chevrolet, Brakes, 10, $64895.
43. (2) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, Engine, 10, $92988.
Average Speed of Race Winner: 111.182 mph.
Time of Race: 2 Hrs, 52 Mins, 09 Secs. Margin of Victory: 0.580 Seconds.
Caution Flags: 8 for 38 laps.
Lead Changes: 11 among 7 drivers.
Lap Leaders: Kyle Busch 1-53; T. Kvapil 54-57; M. Martin 58-59; Kyle Busch 60-117; D. Hamlin 118-128; B. Keselowski 129-133; D. Hamlin 134-168; R. Newman 169-173; Kyle Busch 174-232; B. Keselowski 233-237; Kyle Busch 238-304; K. Harvick 305-319.
Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): Kyle Busch 4 times for 237 laps; D. Hamlin 2 times for 46 laps; K. Harvick 1 time for 15 laps; B. Keselowski 2 times for 10 laps; R. Newman 1 time for 5 laps; T. Kvapil 1 time for 4 laps; M. Martin 1 time for 2 laps.
Top 12 in Points: B. Keselowski – 2,371; J. Johnson – 2,351; K. Kahne – 2,321; C. Bowyer – 2,319; D. Hamlin – 2,309; M. Kenseth – 2,297; G. Biffle – 2,293; K. Harvick – 2,285; T. Stewart – 2,284; J. Gordon – 2,281; M. Truex Jr. – 2,260; D. Earnhardt Jr. – 2,211.
(This story will be updated shortly)One Comment