35 races and it comes down to the final race this Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Baring any craziness on the track, it looks like Brad Keselowski will be the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champ.
Speaking of craziness, NASCAR fans definitely saw an interesting race on Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway. Kyle Busch dominated but didn’t win, Jimmie Johsnon crashed, more on this later, and two Chase drivers crews fought. In the end, it was another chase driver, Kevin Harvick who quietly went about the business of winning his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race in over a year. With the victory on Sunday, Harvick gained three spots in the Chase standings and is now in eighth place, just 86 points out of first.
“We want to win races, and we want to be competitive, and that’s what we’re going to do,” Harvick said.
In this weekly segment, Total Sports Blog, will rewind the race from the day before and let you know where all the Chase contenders finished and where they are in the point standings.
Denny Hamlin: Hamlin started the day in third and was strong from the get go. He led a total of 46 laps, second behind his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Kyle Busch. After the caution for Clint Bowyer and Jeff Gordon, Hamlin would restart fourth in the green-white-checkered finish. He would manage to steer clear of another wreck caused by Danica Patrick on the last lap and would finish the day in second place. Hamlin moved up two spots in the Chase standings, to fifth, and is now 62 points shy of first place.
Kasey Kahne: Kahne rolled off in fourth place on Sunday but had some issues with a loose-handling race car for some of the race. After the late caution for Bowyer/Gordon, Kahne restarted fifth for the green-white-checkered finish. He would cross the line fourth. Kahne moved up one place in the Chase standings, to third, and is 50 points behind Keselowski.
Brad Keselowski: Keselowski began Sunday’s race from the 14th position and dropped several spots by the third lap but quickly made his way to the front before the first caution flag of the day. He led 10 laps during the day and avoided a close call on lap 311 when Jeff Gordon wrecked Clint Bowyer just in front of the No. 2. Following a length red-flag period, one in which he decided to get on Twitter, the race resumed at lap 318. An ensuring green-white-checkered flag finish featured another multi-care incident in overtime, one that did result in some damage to the Miller Lite Dodge. However Keselowski was able to make his way through to finish in sixth place. Keselowski also was able to retain the top spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup standings and now leads Jimmie Johnson by 20 points coming into the last race.
Greg Biffle: Biffle started Sunday off in the 20th starting position. He was even the lucky dog at one point of the race. When the crash involving Bowyer and Gordon insued, Biffle was seventh on the board. Just before the white flag flew, however, Danica Patrick had an issue with her car that caused it to leak oil onto the track. As Biffle and the reminder of the frontrunners made it to the final lap, many of them fell victim to the slick surface, including Biffle. He made heavy contract with the wall, but managed to bring his mangled Ford home in seventh place. Biffle moved up three spots in the standings to seventh and is now 78 points out of first.
Matt Kenseth: Matt Kenseth and the No. 17 team fought a tight-handling car on Sunday at Phoenix but still managed to bring her home 14th after some damage from a late-race caution forced the team to pit before the green-white-checkered finish. Kenseth began Sunday’s event from 22nd in his No. 17 Ford EcoBoost Fusion. Kenseth lost one spot in the Chase standings and is now in sixth place, 74 points shy of first.
Tony Stewart: Stewart started Sunday’s AdvoCare 500 from the ninth starting spot and crossed the stripe in 19th place. It was an interesting day in the pits for the driver of the No. 14 Chevrolet. On lap 274, the crew was directed to put right-side tires on only but the crew made a slip and interested a rubber into the right-rear spring. On lap 282, Stewart spun off turn two, smacking the wall and required extensive time in the pits to repair the damage. Stewart lost a lap in the process but brought the banged up No. 14 home in 19th position. Stewart leaves Phoenix ninth in the standings, after losing a spot, 87 points behind new Chase leader Keselowski.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr: Earnhardt started the day in 23rd position and from the get go had a hateful car. It went from tight to lose very quickly, making it very difficult for NASCAR’s most popular driver to gain any track position. When Johnson encountered the crash late in the race, the members of the No. 88 team stepped up to help their teammate repair the right-front suspension. Earnhardt would cross the line in 21st place and ranks 12th in the championship standings.
Clint Bowyer: Bowyer started the day in 16th position and finished 28th. He was in fifth place when Jeff Gordon wrecked him destroying any chance for a good finish, and eliminating the No.1 5 from the Chase for the Sprint Cup this season. Bowyer could not return to the track. Following the wreck, crews from the No. 15 and No. 24 fought in the garage. Bowyer was not fined or placed on probation, but his crew chief, Brian Pattie, was fined $25,000 and placed on probation until December 31st. Bowyer dropped one spot in the Chase standings and is now fourth, 52 points behind Keselowski.
Jeff Gordon: Gordon started Sunday’s AdvoCare 500 from the 11th position and 100 laps in was running in sixth place. However, he led no laps on Sunday. Prior to his wreck with Clint Bowyer, Gordon stopped for fresh tires and fuel. While running fifth with seven laps to go, Gordon made contact with Bowyer, cut a tire, and then made contact with the wall. He was scored 30th as the final laps ticked off. On Monday, NASCAR announced that fines and probation was in order for Gordon. He was fined $100,000, docked 25 championship driver points and placed on probation until December 31st. His car owner, Rick Hendrick, also lost 25 championship owner points while his crew chief, Alan Gustafson was placed on probation until December 31st. Gordon dropped five spots in the standings, 115 points behind Keselowski.
Jimmie Johnson: Despite starting deep in the field on Sunday, Johnson had improved 10 spots by Lap 62 and ran as high as seventh place at one moment of the race. Misfortune struck Johnson on Lap 234, ending his hopes to capture a sixth championship. Johnson reported a lack of brakes after his Chevy made hard contact with the outside wall. He headed to the garage and lost 12 laps waiting for repairs of his Lowe’s Chevrolet. Johnson would finish the race in 32nd place. He now ranks second in the driver standings, 20 points behind Keselowski.
Martin Truex, Jr: Truex started the day in second, but immediately reported a problem under the hood on the second lap. Truex only completed 12 laps before issues got worse and driving the No 56 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota to the garage. The team diagnosed the problem as a valve train issue with the engine that would end Truex’s race. Truex lost one spot in the standings and is now in 10th, 111 out of first entering the series finale on Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway.