After months of fans complaining that the racing was boring, that they were tired of long green-flag runs, that they were tired of “debris” cautions, they finally got what they wanted, but at what expense? Going into the second to last race of the 2012 season, for both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series, we knew Phoenix was going to give us some good racing. What we didn’t expect is for the championships in both series to take a drastic turn, for some of the best drivers in the sport to lose their cool, and others to almost lose everything. So the question is, with everything that happened this weekend, who is the real “Bad Luck Brian?”
Saturday started with Elliott Sadler hitting the wall during his qualifying lap and having to switch to a back-up car. Sadler, in contention for the Nationwide Championship, went into the race tied with defending series champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and starting from the rear of the field Sadler had fight his way up to the front. By lap 85 he had moved up to 6th place. At halfway, after bad restarts and a slow pit stop, Sadler had dropped back to 11th. Lap 186, Sadler got loose off of Turn 4 and managed to save it but lost a few spots. Bad luck didn’t stop there for Sadler, after fighting his way up into the top 10 with 2 laps to go, Sadler, Cole Whitt, and Brendan Gaughan crashed between Turns 3 and 4. The wreck totaled Whitt’s car and tore the front off of Sadler’s. The race was red flagged and the cars are parked on the track as the crews clean up. Danica Patrick, parked with a clear view of Sadler’s damaged car, talked to her spotter about how he was going to be able to continue. Bottom line, he could run without the nose, but his rear spoiler needed to be in a certain spot. Elliott finished the race P22 and is currently 20 points behind Stenhouse and only 5 points ahead of Austin Dillon. So the question is, did Sadler’s bad luck all but guarantee Stenhouse Jr a second championship?
Stenhouse Jr isn’t the only championship contender whose chances got a little better. Sprint Cup contender Brad Keselowski can also breathe a tad easier now that 5-time champion Jimmie Johnson is 20 points behind him. After a melted bead in Johnson’s Kobalt Tools Chevy caused him to slam into the outside wall, the 48 team had to make extensive repairs to the underside of the car. Coming into Sunday’s AdvoCare 500 with a 7 point lead over Brad Keselowski, Johnson did everything he could to stay ahead of the Blue Deuce, but fate had a different idea.
“All along I was just hoping to either come out of this race a few points ahead or a few points behind heading into Homestead,” Johnson said. “I thought we were on course to do that.”
After spending multiple laps behind the wall, Johnson’s seven point lead is all but a memory. After finishing 32nd and almost 40 laps down, he goes into Homestead twenty points behind Keselowski. Johnson can win the race and still not have enough points to take the championship away from Keselowski. Brad will have to finish 15th or worse without leading a lap in order to lose this Championship.
“I think we would have finished in the top five, maybe seventh or eighth, if I hadn’t had that happen and hit the wall,” Johnson said. “Unfortunately, as a result, we lost control of this championship. We can go down there and try to win the race and do all that we can, but we’re not in control of our own destiny now.”
Is 5-time going to have to wait another season in order to get his 6th Championship?
Clint Bowyer and Jeff Gordon; it’s hard to say which one had a worse day. Both drivers have been at each other’s throats all season long, blaming each other left and right for various hits on the track. Gordon finally had had enough of Bowyer.
After Bowyer had bumped Gordon, sending him up into the wall, Gordon deliberately slowed down on the track, waited for Bowyer, and wrecked him. Not only did he take him out, Joey Logano’s day was ended as well. This all went down with two laps to go, and the event led to a red flag. After he climbed out of his car, Gordon was all but jumped by Bowyer’s pit crew. NASCAR officials, media members, crew members and law enforcement all jumped in to stop the fight from getting even farther out of hand. Many individuals, including Gordon, were escorted to the NASCAR hauler. Bowyer parked his smoking 5 Hour Energy Toyota and sprinted toward Gordon’s hauler, being followed closely by a cameraman, who held the camera surprisingly still considering he was sprinting as well. Bowyer was stopped in front of Gordon’s trailer and also escorted to the NASCAR hauler.
”It’s pretty embarrassing,” Bowyer said. ”For a four-time champion, and what I consider one of the best this sport’s ever seen to act like this is pretty ridiculous.”
Gordon had also had enough of Bowyer. ”Things just got escalated over the year, and I’d just had it,” he said. ”Clint has run into me numerous times, wrecked me, and he got into me on the back straightaway and pretty much ruined our day. I’ve had it, fed up with it and I got him back.”
Both drivers and crews are awaiting possible penalties for their actions, which will be handed down later this week.
Last but not least, Danica Patrick. Danica started her final Sprint Cup race of the season 37th. After being lapped early in the race, Patrick spent the day picking off cars one by one and spent most of the day running in the mid-20s and eventually back on the lead lap. Throughout the entire race, Patrick’s Crew Chief Tony Gibson, formally with Ryan Newman, was relaying lap times of her car owner Tony Stewart and also the race leader Kyle Busch. Patrick’s lap times were equal to and even better than theirs throughout most of the race. Her spotter, Tab Boyd, as well as Gibson, guided her through this tough short track and, after a small tangle with Sam Hornish Jr., got her into the Top 20. At the restart for the Green-White-Checkers, Danica was 13th and well on her way to a Top 15, even a Top 10 finish, in her 10th Sprint Cup start. Coming around Turns 3 and 4 to the white flag, Jeff Burton came sliding up the track and into Patrick’s left rear, sending her sliding into the wall then into the middle of the track. With no caution, despite her neon green GoDaddy car leaking fluid, Patrick nursed it down to pit wall and across the finish line, one lap down. As Kevin Harvick led the leaders around to the checkered flag, mayhem corrupted behind him. Drivers slid in the large oil patch left behind by Patrick’s wounded car, sending cars spinning everywhere. Paul Menard, Ryan Newman, Kurt Busch, Mark Martin and others were all a part of the carnage. Patrick’s car served as the proverbial ping-pong ball and even got airborne after getting hit in the rear by Kurt Busch and Paul Menard, who had crashed behind her.
Patrick had this to say about the incident with Burton. “Clipped my left-rear, spun me around, and I just tried to limp back to the line. I didn’t know exactly how much damage I had or what it was, but just trying to limp to the line and get the finish on the lead lap, whatever that was. Still our best finish, but you always want more. I was 14th, I think, or something right around there and that would have been a really good finish for the Go Daddy Chevrolet.”
Danica finished the final race in her 10-race schedule in 17th, her best finish in the series yet.
Well, fans shouldn’t be complaining now. Phoenix brought us one hell of a race weekend in what should really be known as the “Festival of Twisted Sheet Metal” (credit to @pressdog). With Championship shake-ups in both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series, we head to Homestead not really knowing what to expect. Many prominent drivers had awful luck this weekend, possibly costing two of them the chance at a very shiny trophy. So I guess the final question is this, who really was the Bad Luck Brian? My vote goes to Sprint Cup race winner Kevin Harvick, whose end to a 44 race winless streak has been over-shadowed by all of this drama.
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