Frequent heartburn sufferer and comedian, Larry the Cable Guy jokes with NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon at the Phoenix International Raceway before the race to promote new Prilosec OTC Wildberry and encourage fans to enter the Wild American Flavor Sweepstakes at www.WildberryFlavor.comon Sunday, Nov. 11, 2012, in Avondale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
*Editor’s Note: This Phoenix race review is brought to you by Prilosec OTC Wildberry.
By: Toby Christie – Follow on Twitter @Tobalical
35 races are now officially in the books for the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, and I don’t think any of them so far matched the excitement of Phoenix’s AdvoCare 500.
We saw Kyle Busch dominate yet again, only to come up short yet again. We saw Kevin Harvick dust off his old nickname “The Closer” as he took his first win in 44 races. We saw the points lead change hands for possibly the final time this year. And we also saw two of the best drivers in NASCAR in a heated exchange, where crew members threw down in fisticuffs.
And all they do in NASCAR is turn left right? — Wrong.
Brad Keselowski has a huge advantage heading into Homestead
Heading into Phoenix Brad Keselowski was staring uphill; he was stuck seven points behind five-time Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson for the points lead, and after two straight wins it appeared Johnson was ready to seal the deal for number six. However things came unraveled for Johnson on lap 236 when a bead melted on his tire, and it sent him slamming into the wall.
The damage was severe — and unlike in Kansas where the team was able to keep him on track to salvage a top-ten finish — Johnson had to go behind the wall for repairs. He would finish the day 39 laps off the pace in 32nd-place.
Brad Keselowski on the other hand raced well all day long, led ten laps and was in sixth place as the checkered flag flew on the day. Keselowski’s day was not without hiccups, but as has been the case all season long; Keselowski and crew chief Paul Wolfe kept digging. Keselowski now holds a comfortable 20 point lead on Johnson heading into the penultimate race in Homestead. But Keselowski vows to remain focused in the 36th and final race of the year.
“Well, 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,” said Keselowski — the new points leader, “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.”
Every other driver in the 12-man Chase for the championship (aside from Keselowski and Johnson) has been mathematically eliminated from championship contention. This simply means that if Keselowski finishes 15th or better he will take home his first Sprint Cup Series championship regardless of where Johnson finishes. If Keselowski leads a lap he can clinch the title by finishing 16th, and if he leads the most laps he can clinch the hardware with a 17th-place effort.
Just because there are clinch scenarios in place, don’t expect Jimmie Johnson to simply roll over.
“My focus is going down there and winning the race. We typically haven’t had to have that mentality going into this race, but we have shown we can race for the win. We did it in 2010 against Denny (Hamlin), finished second and won the championship. This 48 Lowe’s team can do it again. We have nothing to lose and can gamble and take chances. Brad (Keselowski) doesn’t have that luxury. This isn’t over. This team never gives up and we don’t intend to, now,” said Johnson.
The championship is officially Keselowski’s to lose.
Kyle Busch dominates again, but comes up short — again
The younger Busch brother — Kyle — has been on fire as of late. Since the Chase began he has led an impressive 637 laps, and he has recorded seven top-ten finishes in that nine-race span. His recent trend of dominance continued Sunday at Phoenix when he led a race-high 237 laps en-rout to a third-place finish. It’s the second-straight race that Busch shoulda probably won, but failed to seal the deal. Following this latest non-win Busch blamed himself for the loss.
“Yeah, great car. M&M’s guys gave me an awesome piece, and unfortunately there I gave the race away. You know, I hate it for my guys, and they worked so hard and they dug hard this weekend, and obviously having a car that’s the class of the field you expect to win and you’re supposed to win, but I guess I just didn’t know how to win it today,” said Busch.
The third place effort did mark Busch’s third top-three finish in the last three Sprint Cup Series races. For a guy who couldn’t make the Chase this season, he sure is building some momentum. If Busch can win in Homestead, it will be the first time he has won a Sprint Cup Series race during the Chase since 2005. If he fails to win in Homestead, keep an eye on him in 2013.
“The Closer” is back; Harvick breaks through
What a wild couple of weeks it has been for Kevin Harvick. Two weeks ago in Texas his car was being repaired before the race started after a skydiver slammed into the side of his car. All week heading into Phoenix the talk around the garage area was about the rumor that Harvick would be leaving Richard Childress Racing in 2014 and heading to Stewart-Haas Racing.
However on Sunday Harvick shut up the rumormill (Temporarily) by snapping a 44-race winless skid, and in the process he finally found a silver lining in a season that wasn’t quite what he was expecting. In 2010 and 2011 Harvick was a legitimate championship contender before settling for third in the standings both seasons. He had tallied a total of seven wins in the two years, and the thought was he’d be atop the NASCAR world in 2012.
35 races later Harvick had already been mathematically eliminated from championship contention before his first win of the season, but the fruits of victory still tasted quite sweet.
“…it was an interesting day to say the least, but Gil (Martin) did a great job of keeping us in the track position game and made our car better all day, and the further we got towards the front, the better the car handled. They made good adjustments, and there at the end we had a couple restarts and Kyle chose the bottom and we were able to drive around the topside of him and then get control of the race really,” an ecstatic Harvick stated following his first win in over a year.
Jeff Gordon/Clint Bowyer Feud Ignites
The feud between Jeff Gordon and Clint Bowyer dates back to Martinsville in the Spring. On a late restart in that race Jeff Gordon was battling Jimmie Johnson for the win, when all of a sudden Clint Bowyer took things three-wide at the paperclip. What ensued was a synchronized spin of Gordon, Johnson and Bowyer himself. When all the smoke cleared Ryan Newman was your winner.
Fast forward to Sunday in Phoenix. Jeff Gordon and Bowyer had a bit of a fight for real estate brewing on the track, when Bowyer made contact with Gordon. The contact was just hard enough to slice Gordon’s tire, which eventually sent him into the wall and out of contention for the win. On lap 312 Gordon got his revenge.
As Bowyer attempted passing the battered No. 24 car, Gordon cut hard left which sent Bowyer, Gordon and the innocent Joey Logano into the wall. Their cars resembled a wadded up paper ball. And all of their days were done. Bowyer’s season ended just as fast, as his hopes for his first Sprint Cup Series championship were officially over.
Following the crash, tensions were high and Bowyer’s team eventually boiled over. The No. 15 Five Hour Energy crew ascended on the No. 24 hauler and a brawl broke out.
To his credit, Gordon didn’t sugar coat the retaliation when questioned after the race.
“Things just got escalated over the year, and I’d just had it. 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,” Gordon explained.
For his actions Jeff Gordon was docked 25 driver points, and fined $100,000. He is also on probation for the final race of the year, so expect a more mellow Gordon in Homestead.
What Lies Ahead?
All we have left now is Homestead-Miami Speedway. What lies ahead? Most likely a Brad Keselowski championship celebration, but as Phoenix showed us; you never really know what’s going to happen in a NASCAR race, but one thing is for sure… It’s going to be hard to top the excitement of the race in Phoenix.
– Toby Christie is the lead Motorsports writer for Sicknissified.com, and he is also the co-host of The Final Lap Weekly. Toby can be reached via twitter or email. Tweet him @Tobalical or email him at email@example.com. You can also follow Sicknissified.com on facebook and twitter.
-On Sunday, frequent heartburn sufferer and comedian Larry the Cable Guy raced into the Phoenix International Raceway as part of a wild adventure to help introduce the first flavor-coated 24-hour frequent heartburn pill, new Prilosec OTC Wildberry. NASCAR driver Austin Dillon also stopped by to join in the fun.
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Visit WildberryFlavor.com for the chance to be the envy of all your friends and win three trips to experience the nation’s most flavorful cities that also host the most incredible sporting events, courtesy of new Prilosec OTC Wildberry.