The NASCAR Sprint Cup season finale saw the crowning of a new champion for the first time in six seasons. The past season saw plenty of upheaval in the sport, and much of what we have to expect from 2013 was foreshadowed in the final performances of 2012.
Up: Brad Keselowski
For the first time since 2004, we have a first-time Cup Series champion. Keselowski won in just his third full-time Cup season, sending Dodge out in style in its final season in NASCAR (for now). It will be interesting to see how Penske performs next season under the Ford banner, because this young man has the look of a multi-time champion.
Down: Jimmie Johnson
A golden opportunity for grabbing a sixth title slipped from JJ’s grasp due to three happenings outside his control: first a blown tire at Phoenix, and then a dropped lug nut and sickly engine at Homestead. It was a better year than 2011 for Team 48, but anything less than a championship is a major disappointment for this group.
Up: Jeff Gordon and Clint Bowyer
I know, it’s weird to group these two together after their little run-in at Phoenix last week (remember that?), but they seemed none the worse for wear. Gordon won at HMS for the first time in his career, while Bowyer finished runner-up and finished a single point ahead of Jimmie Johnson in the standings to also finish runner-up in that department.
Down: Final-race drama
Sure, for a minute near the end there seemed to be a glimmer of hope for Jimmie Johnson to somehow pull a rabbit out of his…magic hat…but in reality, there was no way Brad Keselowski was losing the championship unless the bad luck that struck the No. 48 had alighted on the No. 2 camp instead. And any viewers who tuned in hoping to see Gordon vs. Bowyer round 2 were uniformly disappointed. Instead, the two raced each other hard but clean en route to sweeping the top two finishing positions.
Up: Kyle Busch
Rowdy ran all three races at Homestead and had arguably his best weekend of the season. No, he didn’t win any of the three races, but he led the most laps in each event while finishing runner-up twice and fourth in the Cup race. Scaling back on his lower-series participation in order to focus on winning the Cup didn’t work out too well as Busch missed the Chase entirely. Should he race more often at the Nationwide and trucks level next season? YES!
Down: Earnhardt Ganassi Racing
Jamie McMurray and Juan Pablo Montoya finished off their winless seasons by finishing 20th and 28th at Homestead, finishing 20th and 22nd in the final standings. Next year can only be better, right?
Up: Kurt Busch (and Aric Almirola and Regan Smith)
Busch ended 2012 on a run of strong finishes after switching to Furniture Row Racing from Phoenix Racing, with three top-10′s to close out the year. Aric Almirola also had a nice finish to the season, with two top-7 finishes in the last four races including a fourth-place run at Homestead. Meanwhile, Regan Smith may have lost his ride at FRR, but his new gig at JR Motorsports got off to a strong start with a win at Homestead in the Nationwide race.
Down: Joey Logano
Another driver who’s headed to another team in 2013 saw his weekend go from great (winning the pole) to not so great (crashing in practice) and eventually just mediocre (finishing 14th after starting in the back). It’s anyone’s guess as to how Logano will perform as Brad Keselowski’s teammate at Penske next season.
Photo courtesy of NASCARmedia.com
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