Sunday, November 18, 2012

Keselowski Outlasts Johnson, Wins 2012 Championship

Kyle Busch had the fastest car all day, but he didn't have enough fuel to make it to the end, and he had to pit before the end of the race.  That allowed Jeff Gordon to come back after last weekend's brawl with Clint Bowyer to beat Bowyer for his second win of the season.  Jimmie Johnson was a factor during the middle part of the race, but when his engine failed about 40 laps from the end, Brad Keselowski was able to cruise to his first career Sprint Cup Championship. 

Keselowski celebrates winning the Sprint Cup Championship (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Joey Logano won the pole award for the Ford EcoBoost 400, but after wrecking in practice with Greg Biffle and Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski and Marcos Ambrose moved up to the front row for the green flag.  Ambrose led the field to the green flag, and he jumped out to the lead over Keselowski.  Heading into Turn 3, Keselowski was passed by Carl Edwards for second.  Keselowski was then passed by Clint Bowyer, and fell to fourth.  On lap six, Kyle Busch got around Keselowski for fourth, dropping the No. 2 car back to fifth.  On lap 15, after moving his way up through the field, Busch passed Ambrose for the lead.  Edwards followed Busch past Ambrose for second.  On lap 22, Bowyer was able to get around Ambrose for third.

Martin Truex Jr. and Mark Martin hit pit road on lap 45 to kick off a round of green flag pit stops.  Jimmie Johnson hit pit road on lap 47 to make his pit stop, and was followed by his teammate Jeff Gordon.  Keselowski pitted on lap 48, and he wanted a double-adjustment to help make the car turn better.  Busch gave up the lead on lap 49 to make his stop.  When the stops cycled around, Busch was once again the leader.  Johnson was able to get ahead of Keselowski during the stops, and Johnson was seventh and Keselowski ninth after the set of stops.

On lap 58, Keselowski and Johnson began to race side-by-side for seventh position.  On lap 62, Keselowski was able to get around Johnson, and they both got around Ambrose, moving Keselowski up to sixth.  On lap 75, after running behind Keselowski trying to worry him into making a mistake, Johnson got around him for sixth place. 

The first caution came out on lap 78 for debris.  The field came in to make pit stops, and Busch beat everyone out.  Johnson came out in sixth, but Keselowski's team had trouble on the right rear, and came out in 13th.  The race restarted on lap 84, and Busch was able to get the lead heading into Turn 1.  Martin Truex Jr. made it three-wide on the restart, and was able to pass Edwards and Matt Kenseth for second. 

Busch leads Truex (Todd Warshaw/Getty Images)
On lap 118, after chasing him down since the restart, Truex finally passed Busch for the lead.  On lap 128, Mark Martin pitted to kick off a round of green flag stops.  Truex pitted on lap 129 with Busch, and Truex was able to retain the lead.  Before he made his pit stop, Johnson was able to lead a lap, getting that all-important bonus point towards the championship.  Keselowski was in on lap 131, and his team gave him a nice, solid stop.  After stops had cycled around, Busch was able to get up to speed faster than Truex, and he was able to retake the lead. 

On lap 142, the caution came out once again for debris.  The leaders came in to make pit stops, and Johnson got out of the pits first after taking two tires.  Keselowski took four tires, and he was scored 15th after the stops, the final spot where he could win the championship no matter where Johnson finished.

The race restarted on lap 149, and Johnson was able to get in front of Kenseth for the lead.  On lap 154, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who won the Nationwide Series Championship on Saturday, cut down a tire and hit the wall to bring out another caution.  Under the caution, Johnson and a handful of other cars came in to make pit stops, figuring for a fuel-mileage race.  Keselowski stayed out on the racetrack, and was scored seventh. 

Gordon races early in the race (John Harrelson/Getty Images)
Kasey Kahne led the field to the green flag on lap 162, and Johnson forced Keselowski to go three-wide through Turn 1, and Johnson was able to pick up multiple spots.  Busch was able to get past Kahne for the lead.  On lap 166, Kahne drove it down into Turn 3 to get ahead of Busch, but he fought back and took the lead back.  They raced side-by-side for a couple more laps, and Busch was able to pull ahead of Kahne to take the lead. 

With 67 laps to go, Busch gave up the lead to make his pit stop, and it handed over the lead to Johnson.  With 62 laps to go, Keselowski ran out of gas trying to stretch it to make his fuel window.  He was able to make it to pit road and get his car re-fired, but after his stop, he was 24th, one lap down, and he still had to make one more pit stop.  With 54 laps to go, Johnson pulled off to make his final pit stop of the race.  But the 48 team cracked under pressure; they had a missing lug nut, forcing them to come back in and make another stop.  Johnson got out in 25th, and he was scored 37 points behind Keselowski in the standings.

After Johnson's stop, Busch was once again the leader.  With 40 laps to go, Johnson pitted after complaining about smoke in the cockpit.  When he pitted, they found that he had lost his oil, and they pushed the car behind the garage.  With 39 laps to go, Brad Keselowski found out that he was going to be the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion. 

Johnson's team pushes his car to the garage (Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
With 19 laps to go, Keselowski pitted for the last time, and NASCAR officially announced that Keselowski was the Sprint Cup Champion.  With 17 laps to go, Denny Hamlin slowed on the track, as his engine had dropped a cylinder.  With 13 laps to go, Busch gave up the lead to pit for the final time, and Jeff Gordon took over the lead.  Gordon was able to save enough fuel to beat Clint Bowyer across the line for his second win of the season. 

Ryan Newman finished 3rd, and was followed by Kyle Busch, who led the most laps today.  Greg Biffle finished 5th, followed by Martin Truex Jr. and Aric Almirola.  Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. rounded out the Top 10.  Brad Keselowski finished 15th, which would have given him the Championship even if Johnson hadn't had problems.  Mark Martin finished 16th, and was followed by Tony Stewart in 17th and Matt Kenseth in 18th.  Kasey Kahne finished 21st.  Denny Hamlin finished 24th after losing a cylinder less than 20 laps from the end.  Jimmie Johnson finished 36th, after losing his engine to end his title run.

Jimmie Johnson was giving it his all, and was going to try to win the race to win the Championship, but a part failure cost him his shot at a sixth Sprint Cup Championship.  Not only did he not win, but he fell to third in points, allowing Clint Bowyer to finish second in the points.  Here are the unofficial points, courtesy of

The 2012 season is in the books, and it was one that we all will remember for years to come.  The season started with a bang (literally) at Daytona, when Juan Pablo Montoya hit a jet dryer, causing it to explode.  The season ended with one of the most exciting Championship hunts, and Brad Keselowski was able to outlast Jimmie Johnson to win his first Sprint Cup Championship.  As the longest season in professional sports ends, it is welcomed by drivers and fans alike.  But one can't help but think that the Daytona 500 is only 98 days away. 

2012 Champion: Brad Keselowski (Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

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