Brad Keselowski, MWR Two Examples Of The “Unexpected” In 2012

The success of Michael Waltrip Racing in 2012 was a surprising development. Clint Bowyer (left) who joined team owner Waltrip in 2012, led the surge with a second-place championship finish.

As it has been for every NASCAR season, the 2012 Sprint Cup campaign had its share of the unexpected, unpredictable and unusual.

For example, we saw Jeff Gordon’s display of on-track, unsportsmanlike frustration, which we had never seen from a driver long known for his rational behavior.

There was Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s failure to win a championship when it was generally assumed he had his best opportunity ever in 2012.

Earnhardt Jr. wasn’t derailed by anything on the track. A concussion caused him to sit out for two races in the Chase – the right thing to do – which effectively wiped out his title hopes.

Kyle Busch has been touted as a title contender for a few years now. After all, he had won 104 races in NASCAR’s three national series coming into 2012.

But this year Busch won only one race. He lost his shot at the Chase in the season’s 26th race, despite the fact he four second-place finishes, four thirds and three fourths.

I don’t think anyone thought Busch, who had won 19 races in the four seasons leading to 2012, would win only once and fail to be a title contender.

I certainly don’t think he thought his year would be what it was.

There are several other examples of similar surprising events and I’m sure you can provide many of them.

To me, there are at least two developments in 2012 that are, perhaps, the most unexpected – and both center around achievement rather than failure.

Brian Vickers competed in eight races for MWR and contributed to the team’s overall success with five finishes among the top 10. He was finished three times among the top five.

One involves a brash, young driver who helped bring his long-suffering team owner a first Sprint Cup championship.

The other is the surprising surge to elite status by a team that once was considered mediocre at best and, at worst, inept.

Brad Keselowski won the Sprint Cup title in only his third season with team owner Roger Penske, who had campaigned in NASCAR for decades before he claimed the crown.

It’s hard to believe that Penske, whose cars have won 15 Indianapolis 500s and several championships across various series, needed over 20 years to reach the NASCAR pinnacle.

Prior to 2012, his best years came with driver Rusty Wallace, a man whom many thought would surely bring Penske a title.

Their union lasted from 1991-2005 and it was successful, as evidenced by 36 victories.

Through all those years Wallace finished out of the top 10 in points just three times. The best season was in 1993, when Wallace won a whopping 10 races and finished second in points to friend and rival Dale Earnhardt.

But as good as the Penske-Wallace association was it did not produce a championship.

I don’t believe many folks tagged Keselowski as a potential champ before the season started. Maybe we all should have seen it coming. In his first full season with Penske, Keselowski didn’t win, had just two finishes among the top five and three among the top 10. He was 25th in points.

For a young driver in his first season with a successful team, none of that was out of the ordinary.

But in 2011, Keselowski made his presence known – and then some. He won three times, had 10 finishes among the top five and 14 in the top 10. He was fifth in points.

In two years with Penske Keselowski rose to contender status.

Still, in 2012, he wasn’t widely recognized as such – passed over by the likes of Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards and Jimmie Johnson.

He fashioned his championship with five victories, 13 top-five finishes and 23 among the top 10.

The title was in doubt until the final two Chase races in which Johnson, bidding for a sixth career title, saw his hopes implode with a series of misfortunes.

“It feels really good,” Keselowski said at Homestead, where he finished 15th to seal the title.

“I can’t believe how everything just came together over the last – what’s it been, three years?  “Three years Paul (Wolfe, crew chief) and I have been together.

We’re two for three, Paul, I was just thinking about that.

Two for three.  That’s, what is that, a .666 average?  That’s pretty good.

“And you know what?  I feel like the best is yet to come.  I really do.”

As a colorful figure, Keselowski is likely to be a colorful champion.

He’s outgoing, outspoken, opinionated, animated and even controversial. He’s a far cry from “vanilla,” an often used, if unfair, description of Johnson.

Perhaps until his championship, Keselowski achieved his greatest notoriety as the driver who tweeted during a red-flag period in the Daytona 500.

It brought him 100,000 followers.

NASCAR said it didn’t mind at all – nor should it have.

But afterward it quietly told competitors that electronics were not longer permitted on board during races, and that included cell phones.

When Keselowski was nabbed with a cell phone in his car two weeks before the end of the Chase, NASCAR fined him $25,000.

Hey, if nothing else, Keselowski goes into NASCAR history as the first driver punished for using a cell phone.

In 2007, which marked MWR’s first attempt at a full Sprint Cup schedule, the team made headlines at the Daytona 500 – for all the wrong reasons.

NASCAR slapped it with heavy fines and suspensions after it discovered a fuel additive in a MWR Toyota. Some said it was some mysterious concoction while others were convinced the car was loaded with rocket fuel.

It didn’t matter. For MWR, the damage was severe. It was immediately put into a bad light, as was Toyota. Afterward, it’s fair to say few had high expectations for the organization.

In fact, many suggested the team was no more than a very expensive hobby for the effusive Waltrip, whom, it was said, attracted sponsors because he was the ideal pitchman for any company.

I agree with that and I admit I was among several to suggest MWR would not be among the contending teams.

I was wrong – but not about Waltrip as a pitchman, you understand.

For several years MWR dwelled in mediocrity. It got its first win in 2009 with David Reutimann on board. Reutimann also posted its best championship finish, 16th.

But 2012 was the team’s breakout season and established it as one with noteworthy credentials.

The season was the first with Clint Bowyer, who came over from Richard Childress Racing, as one of MWR’s drivers.

Bowyer proved to be an ideal fit. He won three races, finished 10 times among the top five and had 23 finishes among the top 10.

He wound up second in points after Homestead and, obviously, put up the best numbers in MWR’s history.

“We exceeded expectations in 2012 at MWR,” Waltrip said. “So, you know what you do then?

You reset your expectations. So, we’ll have to say we’ve got to win something next year – maybe the championship.”

It must be pointed out that Bowyer was not the lone contributor to MWR’s successful season.

Martin Truex Jr. had 19 finishes among the top 10 and made the Chase. He finished 11th in points.

Veteran Mark Martin ran a 24-race schedule and finished 10 times among the top 10. He also won four poles, which tied him with Johnson and Kasey Kahne for the most in 2012.

And Brian Vickers, whose career was somewhat

derailed by illness, competed in eight races for MWR.

Astonishingly, he finished among the top 10 in five of them – three times among the top five – which suggested to many that Vickers deserved a full-time Sprint Cup ride.

As said, 2012 had plenty of unanticipated developments, something it shares with every previous season.

Stick around. There will be more in 2013.

 

 

 

 

In The Holiday Season, NASCAR Folks Recognize Simple Joys – Part Two

For Kyle Busch, that the season is over and he can spend more time with his wife Samantha is his simple joy.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Today we continue with the simple joys of those who make NASCAR races possible. Enjoy!

Brian Z. France, CEO and Chairman of NASCAR:

“That’s a really good question. Family; I have four children. Spending Thanksgiving with my family, that’s my simple joy.”

Richard Petty, The “King,” NASCAR Hall of Famer:

“Solitude. I just want people to leave me alone!” And then Mr. Petty flashed me his famous smile and swatted me on the tushy!

Brent Brush, Business Manager, Justin Lofton Racing:

“Sarcastic answers: The phone not ringing, Saturday morning, a one-way ticket, a beer on a Mexican beach, laughing when someone trips! Real answers: Success to all parties, an honest day’s work, winning a race, kind people, a day at the race track.”

Regan Smith, 2012 winner of the Ecoboost 300 Nationwide race in the No. 5 of JR Motorsports

“Snowboard, video games, animals and family.”

Andy Delay, creator and host of “Burning Rubber Radio:”

“Spending time with my son “Buster” (Robert), playing guitar, iRacing, and sitting on a bench watching my little eclectic town (Dunedin, FL).”

Todd Bodine, driver of the No. 11 NCWTS truck for Red Horse Racing:

“Under an umbrella on a beach drinking beer, doing nothing, watching TV – anything funny – and go to a bowl game for Notre Dame, maybe the Rose Bowl!”

Darrell Gwynn, The Darrell Gwynn Foundation:

Snowboards and video games are parts of driver Regan Smith’s simple joys.

“Feeling healthy with no pain and family.”

The Homestead Police Department – Andres Vergara, Gunnar Pedersen, Enrique Merblonado:

“Family, driving on a nice day by myself with nowhere to be, racquetball, movies, and cars.”

Darrell Wallace Jr., NASCAR K&N Pro Series and development driver for Joe Gibbs Racing in the Nationwide Series:

“Photography at the races.”

Sergio Pena, NASCAR K&N East driver for Shigeaki Hattori:

“Basketball, outdoors, hunting, time at the cabin.”

Dakoda Armstrong, driver of the No. 98 ThorSport Racing truck:

“Watching football – the Colts – playing fantasy football and a week or time off with my family.”

Jack Baber, NASCAR official:

“Quiet Sunday at home with my wife reading the newspaper over breakfast and coffee.”

Johanna Long, driver of the No. 70 ML Motorsports car in the Nationwide Series:

“Spend time with my family and being at the track!”

Juan Carlos Blum, driver of the No. 41 Rick Ware Racing car in the Nationwide Series:

“Racing and playing golf.”

Rico Dominguez, intern, Media Relations:

“Motorcycle out on the road, wind bathing my skin, engine below me, going nowhere.”

Eddie Williams, marketing director, Homestead-Miami Speedway

“Escape schedule, deep introspective thought, on the beach, listen/be near the ocean, at one with my thoughts.”

Timmy Hill, driver for the No. 41 Rick Ware Racing car in the NNS

“Having a good time, best time racing, and iRacing!”

Marcos Ambrose, driver of the No. 9 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford:

“My two children.”

Paul Bergstrom, photographer:

“Red Bull in the morning, getting my photo on the front page of the sports section of a major U.S. city newspaper, and missing a class and not getting called out for it.”

Greg Minnick, premium services manager:

“Seeing my four-year-old daughter via Face2Face on my iPhone. Helping others for those who help themselves.”

Brendan Gaughan, driver of the No. 33 car in Nationwide Series and the No. 2 RCR truck:

“Watching your two-year-old do something new and peace and quiet!”

Chris Madigan, director of motorsports PR:

“Laughing. And that quote from “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once and a while, you could miss it.’”

Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 car for Joe Gibbs Racing:

“That this year is over! Yeah, that’s it. I guess I look forward to being back home with my wife unpacking boxes.”

Chris Buescher, 2012 ARCA Champion:

“Racing, bury my F250 in the mud, and motocross.”

Coach Wayne Deloriea, pit crew coach:

“Family.”

Chris Winchell, tire changer for the No. 38 Front Row Motorsports team:

“Life.”

George Winchell, Chris’ dad:

“Family.”

Getty Cavitt, jackman for the No. 55 MWR car:

“Family, my two lovely little girls.”

Jason Jones, mechanic for the No. 55 MWR car:

“My wife and our 18-month-old little boy. Vacationing at home.”

 

Leonard Wood of the legendary Wood Brothers and 2013 NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee:

“Family life and gatherings, racing, building engines that perform beyond expectations.”

Jack Roush, team owner Roush-Fenway Racing for No. 6, 16, 17, and 99 cars in the NSCS

“Sleeping, aviation, and helping young people realize their dreams like I did when I was young.”

Scott Wood, gasman for the No. 11 JGR car:

“Mountain biking.”

Andrew Nabb, second race simulation engineer for the No. 2 Penske Racing team:

“I love cars. I am working on a 442 fix up. I race go-karts. I enjoy power boating. I am a private pilot and have an ER Coup.”

Justin Reissmann, gasman for the No. 16 RFR team:

“Xbox, working out and time with family.”

David Green, 1994 Nationwide Series champion:

“Ten years ago I would have said, ‘Racing, racing, racing!’ Now I’ll tell you family.”

Stevie Reeves, spotter for the No. 27 RCR car:

“Family and scuba diving!”

Grant Hutchens, engineer for the No. 27 RCR car:

“Family and racing.”

Collin Pasi, tire carrier for the No. 17 RFR car:

“Friends and lake life.”

Brad Pickens, gasman for the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports car:

“Spending time with my three kids and my wife.”

Travis Gordon, back-up gasman for the No. 24 HMS car:

“Beach. Dogs.”

Bob Pockrass, NASCAR journalist for Sporting News:

“Sitting on the coach watching television – politics.”

Jeff Fender, jackman for the No. 18 JGR car:

“Week off, time with family and friends and good food!”

Rob Lohr, fire department/pit road supervisor from Daytona International Speedway:

“Riding my Harley and fishing.”

Roy Wilkie, fire department/driver/operator of Scooter-1 from Daytona:

“Traveling in a motorhome and going in a hot air balloon.”

Ed Watkins, gasman for the No. 42 Earnhardt Ganassi Racing car:

“Time with my kids, my daughter who is three and my son who is two.”

Greg Engle, NASCAR media, Fox News/Examiner.com:

“My simple joys come from knowing my friends and family are happy and my greatest joy comes from seeing a soldier return home safely and into the arms of those they love…”

Dale Inman, NASCAR Hall of Famer:

“Watching football, time with my family, and getting ready for Daytona!”

Claire B. Lang, NASCAR media, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

“Appreciating the time I spend with my family.”

NASCAR once again proves that family is the heart of the sport.

Wishing you all a very Blessed and Happy Thanksgiving and Simple Joys all along the way!

 

 

 

In The Holiday Season, NASCAR Folks Recognize Simple Joys – Part One

When it comes to life’s simple joys, team owner Richard Childress is quick to point out that his are his grandsons, Austin and Ty, who is shown here.

The 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion has been crowned at Miami-Homestead Speedway after the running of the Ford EcoBoost 400.

Brad Keselowski gave his team owner something no other NASCAR driver heretofore could produce, a championship season. It is the top prize that the man known as “The Captain” has coveted for decades.

Only two seasons ago Keselowski earned Penske’s first NASCAR championship by winning the Nationwide Series title. The Sprint Cup must be all the sweeter.

Now, the off-season is upon us. It is a long wait until Daytona. As I roamed the garages, pit stalls and grounds at Homestead, I gathered responses to a question that wasn’t racing-related, which caused most to grin widely.

I asked NASCAR Hall of Famers, champions, drivers, team owners, crew chiefs, crewmen, track personnel, police officers, firemen, caterers, interns, journalists and more the same question:

“What are your simple joys?”

Responses were varied, in fact, they ran the gamut. Nobody rebuffed the question and most enjoyed answering.

As you settle in to take part in your Thanksgiving weekend, please enjoy reading about the simple joys of your favorite NASCAR personalities and people who work together to make races accessible to the fans.

Champion Keselowski, driver of the No. 2 Penske Racing Dodge:

“My phone!”

Champion team owner Penske:

NASCAR Hall of Fame member Rusty Wallace says he takes joy from aviation, boating and being with his family.

“Being with my grandchildren.”

Richard Childress, owner, Richard Childress Racing:

My grandsons!”

Austin Dillon, driver of the No. 3 RCR car in the Nationwide Series:

“Racing, hunting and fishing and being in the out of doors.”

Ty Dillon, driver of the No. 3 RCR truck in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.

“Racing, being outdoors and spending time with family.”

Brandon McReynolds, Turner Motorsports driver in Trucks/ARCA/KNN and son of Larry McReynolds

“Racing, faith, family, friends and racing. Notice I put racing on the list twice!”

 

Jessica Green, NCWTS driver Joey Coulter’s girlfriend and a driver in her own right:

“Family, Florida, ocean, beach, racing.”

Cole Whitt, driver of the No. 88 JR Motorsports car in the Nationwide Series:

“Fishing out on the water.”

Bruce Cook, crew chief for the No. 88 JR Motorsports Nationwide car:

“Golfing.”

Justin Lofton, driver of the No. 6 NCWTS team for Eddie Sharp Racing.

“Yelling at people! No, no, no, I’m just kidding! Mountain cycling, video games, basketball, J6 Ink Vinyl Co. I’m a visual person. Weekend Warriors Productions – country music, sports marketing, film industry with Brett.”

Brett Bortle, crewman and business partner of Justin Lofton, No. 6 NCWTS for ESR:

“Filmmaking and Chicago Bears football.”

Kerry Tharp, NASCAR Senior Director, Communications/Competition:

“Having a nice quiet dinner with my wife, a strong cup of coffee on the deck with the sports page, tailgating at a SC football game, and, in five weeks, holding my first grandchild. That will go up there with my wife.”

Kris Cook, cameraman for the Speed Channel:

“Seeing my daughter.”

John Luzzi, field producer for the Speed Channel:

“Getting paid to travel!”

Rusty Wallace, Class of 2013 NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee:

“Aviation, boating, and family. I really enjoyed that, thank you!”

Kenny Wallace, driver of the No. 99 Nationwide car for RAB Racing and on-air personality for Speed Channel:

“Running well in competition, any competition, even practice! Baseball, Bud Lite and a bag of peanuts.”

Mike Wallace, driver of the No. 01 Nationwide car for JD Motorsports

“Get on my Bobcat and, using different attachments, cleaning up the grounds and moving dirt around.”

Tomorrow, I’ll offer more of the simple joys from your favorite NASCAR people.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Johnson Falters, Again, And Keselowski Cruises To Championship

Brad Keselowski (right) accepts congratulations from NASCAR CEO Brain France at Homestead after Keselowski won his first career Sprint Cup championship.

It might not have been a dramatic, exciting finish to the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup season – hardly – and neither was the tussle for the championship.

What could have been, and for some a much anticipated, duel between Brad Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson evolved into virtual no-contest.

Johnson, who came into the Ford Ecoboost 400 at Homestead seeking his sixth career championship, saw his hopes go up in smoke, literally, when his Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet suffered a burnt rear end.

He sat out the final 34 laps of the race and finished 36th.

He was 20 points behind Keselowski when the race began, but when it was over, he dropped to third place in the standings, one position behind Clint Bowyer – who overtook Johnson with his runnerup finish at Homestead.

Keselowski avoided any such problems. Instead, he cruised to a 15th-place finish – which brought him the title regardless of what Johnson did – to win the first title of his career

He accomplished the feat in 125 Sprint Cup starts, second only to Jeff Gordon, who won his initial championship in 93 starts.

Speaking of Gordon, he made the race more palatable for Hendrick by taking his first victory at Homestead and the 87th of his career, third on NASCAR’s all-time list.

Keselowski, 28, claimed the championship in only his third full season in Cup competition, which ties him with Gordon, who won in 1995. Dale Earnhardt, in his second year in 1980, earned a championship faster than any other driver in NASCAR history.

If the Homestead race was relatively devoid of drama, it had more than its share of interesting, if not fascinating, story lines, along with some irony.

Jeff Gordon gets a kiss from wife Ingrid after he won the Ford Ecoboost 400 for his first win at Homestead and for the 87th time in his career.

For example, Keselowski brought veteran team owner Roger Penske, who has been part of NASCAR for 23 years, his first stock car championship.

It seems hard to believe, given that Penske has won 15 Indianapolis 500s and 23 championships in several forms of motorsports.

The title was the first for Penske and, perhaps, the last for Dodge. Ironically, the manufacturer announced earlier this season that it would end its NASCAR participation after the 2012 season.

Dodge, once a stalwart in competition, had not won a title since 1975 when Richard Petty, by far its marquee driver, won what was then known as the Winston Cup championship.

In a Dodge in ‘75, Petty won 13 races and had 21 top-five runs in 30 races. He won the title by a whopping 722 points ahead of Dave Marcis, who also drove a Dodge.

Interestingly, Penske was a NASCAR car owner in 1975, although his full-time participation wouldn’t begin until a few years afterward.

Penske fielded – of all things – an American Motors Matador, which Bobby Allison drove to three victories.

In 1975, Keselowski was nine years before being born. After a fledgling 17 Cup starts with four different team owners from 2008-2009 – Keselowski won with James Finch in ’09 – the driver from Rochester Hills, Mich., hooked up with Penske in 2010.

Keselowski won the Nationwide Series title that year which gave Penske his first NASCAR title of any kind.

And in 2011, Keselowski gave strong notice that his star was on the rise with three wins and a fifth place in the final point standings.

This year Keselowski made good on that notice. He won five races and was No. 1 in points for five of the eight weeks leading to Homestead.

He surged into the lead after uncharacteristic misfortunes struck Johnson.

After consecutive wins at Martinsville and Texas, Johnson crashed at Phoenix, which helped Keselowski enter Homestead with a double-digit points lead.

Certainly that helped his cause, but Keselowski felt supremely confident he could pull it off.

“I felt good about where we were coming into this race, but you never know,” Keselowski said. “Still I knew we could do it.

“I’ve got the best team in racing and I’m just so thrilled to be a part of it. From the top down, Roger, Paul Wolfe (crew chief), everybody else, the crew guys and my family, that means so much.

“I couldn’t do it without the support of everybody on the team. They are why I was so confident and they deserve the credit more than I do.”

Johnson, who held a seven-point lead over Keselowski until his crash at Phoenix cost him 13 points, could only wonder what might have been if a pit error (again, uncharacteristic for his team) and mechanical failure had not decided his fate.

As a result, Keselowski needed to finish only 15th to win the title, which, of course, he did.

“I said at the beginning of the week 15th isn’t a lay‑up, and I certainly had him in position,” said Johnson, who, near the end of the race, had positioned himself to take the lead by fuel mileage strategy. “He made it really interesting there at the end of this thing.

“If we could have not had the mistake on pit road and then the gear failure at the end . . . Didn’t really catch exactly what happened but I know there was oil under the back of the car.

“So again, disappointing, and we were right there in position and putting pressure on like we needed to.     “But I have a lot to be proud of this year and so does this race team, and I need to thank everybody at Hendrick Motorsports.”

Although the winner of a Homestead race often gets less notice than the new champion, Gordon received due attention for his victory because he won over Bowyer, whom he deliberately wrecked a week earlier in Phoenix.

That incident prompted a scuffle between the Bowyer and Gordon crews and resulted in fines, the loss of points and probation for Gordon.

“I knew we had a great race car going into the race,” Gordon said. “At times I didn’t think we had a winning car, but you know what, we played the strategy perfectly. This is a great way for us to end this season.

“Last week, the thing that I regret and the thing that I messed up on is that I allowed my anger and my emotions to put me in a position to make a bad choice.

“I felt like that Clint needed to be dealt with, but that wasn’t the right way to go about it, certainly not the right time. And what I hate most about it is that other guys were involved with it and it affected their day.”

Bowyer’s second-place run was his 10th among the top five, which also includes three wins in what has been a stellar first season with Michael Waltrip Racing.

Bowyer finished second in the championship race, 39 points behind Keselowski and one point – along with several thousand dollars – ahead of Johnson.

Many fans welcome Keselowski’s championship for several reasons: They were tired of Johnson’s championship dominance; they disliked his personality and, in some cases, disdained his team’s perceived propensity for bending the rules.

But there is also the feeling that Keselowski brings a breath of fresh air into NASCAR. He’s new, he’s outspoken and has clearly displayed racing talent. This could well be the first of many titles.

Keselowski likely prefers to take it all a step at a time, and for good reason.

“It’s that commitment that’s taken me from ground level to get up to here,” Keselowski said of his determination to succeed.  “I don’t know, maybe here is where I’ll top out or maybe I’ll fall down.

“I want to be the best and that’s what makes it so tough, but that’s what also makes it so great and such an accomplishment.  When you do have success you know all those other guys don’t want to see you be successful.

“To to some extent, to be the best is a validation of everything you’re doing and why participate in a sport.”

 

Rabid Jimmie Johnson Fans Turn Up In Most Unusual Place

Jimmie Johnson (right) and Brad Keselowski will go head-to-head for the championship at Homestead. Johnson will have some unlikely, loyal fans in his corner.

While waiting to board my flight at Newark Liberty International Airport, bound for Miami to cover the NASCAR championship races this weekend, I was drawn to a family of five.

I, too, have a family of five so that may have been enough to attract my attention. The children were adorable so that was reason enough to stay fixated on them. I am traveling alone so I had time to notice them.

But really what struck me was the dad and one of the sons each had on a No. 48 Lowe’s hat perched on their heads.

New Jersey is not known for being a bastion of NASCAR racing enthusiasts, so my curiosity was peaked. Before I could engage the dad in conversation the plane began boarding.

As luck would have it, the family was seated directly behind me on the plane. I inquired if the family was off to the championship races at Homestead-Miami and was shocked with the answer.

“No,” the pretty wife said as she attended to all three of her children simultaneously. “We are on our way to a vacation.”

“You’re kidding,” I mused, incredulous that such obviously devoted NASCAR fans were heading toward the venue of the last race of the season, with Jimmie Johnson in contention for his sixth NASCAR Sprint Cup title, and this family was going to miss it.

I had to get the story – the whole story – and, being direct like I’ve always been, asked the dad to write his name and family’s names down so I could include them in a story. I gave him a notepad and pen.

Keselowski holds a 20-point lead over Johnson going into the final race of the season. All Keselowski has to do is finish 15th to win his first title.

Half an hour later, the dad handed back to me my official NASCAR Sprint Cup notepad, I had gotten from my time in the media center during second Pocono this year, filled with a ton of information. I am compelled to share it with you.

Scott Nied and his wife Vanessa are the parents of Sydnie (8), Jake (7), and Jaxson (2). They are from Holmdel, NJ. Scott and his boys are avid NASCAR fans who root for Johnson and the rest of the Hendrick Motorsports stable.

Vanessa admits she is not a fan, yet she asks every Sunday how the No. 48 team did and has a strong plethora of NASCAR information floating around her head.

She has even designed racing-themed undergarments for her business – they do really well much to her surprise and delight.

Nied attends four or five races per year and takes his boys. He has met Johnson personally four times in the last 15 months. Scott beamed about this, something that warmed my heart.

Recently I had heard many fans complain that the drivers were largely inaccessible. Nied doesn’t feel that way at all about his favorite driver.

Nied let me know that he is a NASCAR fan who spends a lot of money at the NASCAR.com Superstore. In every picture he has on Facebook, Nied is wearing apparel featuring the No. 48 team colors and logos.

Nied’s son even has the six-foot tall Johnson “Fathead” in his room. Clearly this family loves their NASCAR.

Nied told me that Pocono and Daytona are his “home tracks.” He has, in fact, his 2013 tickets for Daytona for the Thursday through Sunday events. Nied explained he goes to every Pocono race and tries to attend the Dover races as well. He hopes to take his boys to Bristol or Martinsville next year.

Nied has high NASCAR aspirations for his oldest son.

“I am grooming my seven-year-old son to be a crew chief,” he said. “His mom doesn’t want him driving.”

Nied told me he watches every race from start to finish and begins his race days with the television coverage on Speed and ESPN. He also loves to Tweet such NASCAR media stars as Kyle Petty, Bob Pockrass, Jeff Gluck… and now, me.

Nied said that while on vacation this week, “We will be watching on Sunday from the pool in St. Kitts with my 48 gear on! We even brought our toy 48 hauler for good luck!”

When I asked Nied about the championship this year he replied, “I am dying right now thinking that the 48 may not win!”

Nied said, “I have been doing a prayer every night this week for the No. 2 (Brad Keselowski) to spin, blow a tire or wreck on Sunday. His bad luck is the only way for the No. 48 to make up 20 points.

“I believe this will be the No. 48’s most epic victory of his soon-to-be six Cups!”

Nied is so passionate that even “the guys at work are following NASCAR now because I’ve been giving sporadic NASCAR lectures to a few.”

Curious as to Nied’s thoughts about the situation surrounding Clint Bowyer and Jeff Gordon he said, “Bowyer deserved it! ‘Mr. Jokester,’ No. 15, has been rubbing the No. 24 all year.”

Of course, Nied and his family are all HMS fans.

“The No. 48 is No. 1 in our house,” he said. “Nos. 5 (Kasey Kahne), 24 (Jeff Gordon) and 88 (Dale Earnhardt Jr., are all tied for second.”

These are, of course, the opinions of one NASCAR fan. What makes it a story to me is that I found this family of fans in the most unlikely of places – New Jersey.

When I assumed they would be at the races, I was wrong.

I loved Nied’s passion, his willingness to share the sport with his family and friends, his staunch views of the NASCAR world and his willingness to talk about it all with me.

There are no better fans in the world than NASCAR fans – and that certainly includes the ones from New Jersey!

JUNIOR JOHNSON: 1991 – Bodine, Marlin Unite With High Hopes

In 1991, Junior Johnson returned to a two-team operation when Sterling Marlin was brought on as second driver with Maxwell House Coffee as the sponsor.

At the end of 1990, after Geoff Bodine helped Junior Johnson & Associates have its best season since 1986, it was decided to give Bodine another season behind Johnson’s Fords.

But big changes happened for 1991.

In the highly competitive, and more expensive, world of NASCAR Winston Cup racing, teams were scrambling to find the type of sponsorship that would allow them to keep pace with advancing technology, among other things.

As others had done before him, Johnson decided to form a second team in order to curb expenses. He had done the same thing in the mid-‘80s with drivers Neil Bonnett and Darrell Waltrip.

Johnson found a sponsor for his second team. He knew which driver he wanted – the one that had refused him two years earlier.

Johnson sincerely believed that particular driver could achieve superstar status with Junior Johnson & Associates. So he made many handsome offers.

They didn’t work.

So for 1991, Johnson had to rely on his second choice, Sterling Marlin, and see just how well he and Bodine would perform.

Junior’s contributions to www.motorsportsunplugged.com will appear every other Friday throughout the season.

I’ve said more than once that, unlike my previous contractual practices, I signed Geoff Bodine to a one-year deal in 1990.

I had my reasons and, yes, Geoff’s reputation as headstrong and contrary had something to do with it.

But together we had been productive and in 1990. We won three races and finished third in the point standings. That was the best Junior Johnson & Associates had done since Darrell was with us in 1986, his last championship season.

So I decided to give Geoff another year.

But there would be big changes.

I was going to return to a two-car operation. I felt I had to do so.

After one season as Johnson’s only driver, Geoff Bodine was required to be one of two in 1991, a situation that he didn’t like at all.

I was having a problem with a few things. It had reached the point where a one-car team was difficult to finance. By that I mean it was difficult to do everything you had to do to keep up in racing.

You had to test extensively, you had to do research and development. You could not do that with one team.

There were just so many things you had to do, however, one car could not afford to do them.

I reasoned that with two cars expenses could be contained. One team could perform research and development work and report the results to the other, for example.

That would give both teams all the benefits at the cost of one.

It had to be the way to go. And I admit I had seen it work pretty well with Rick Hendrick’s teams.

Ironically, it was a Hendrick two-car arrangement that Geoff left to join me. I knew darn well that he wasn’t going to be happy.

At that time few drivers wanted to be a part of a two-car team. I know things have changed over the years but back then, it was strictly a no-no for a go-go.

Even with cost sharing a two-car team needs an additional sponsor. I had Budweiser but I had to have additional funding.

I got it when Maxwell House Coffee agreed to back a second Junior Johnson & Associates team.

Now I needed a driver.

I knew who I wanted. I had tried hard to get him just a year earlier.

Like so many others I remained intrigued by Alan Kulwicki.

When I offered him a ride before the 1990 season he refused because he wanted to continue to own, and drive, for his own team.

He wanted to keep up what he was doing and see it through to success. He said then that if he joined me it would make him feel like a quitter.

So Alan kept doing his thing and he did it quite well. In 1990 he won his first career race and finished ninth in the point standings.

I had seen him achieve success with an under-funded team. Given that, I knew he was a hard-working, determined young man.

You take that and give him a little time off from everything he had to do and, well, you’ve got a superstar.

I felt I had an excellent chance to bring Alan to Junior Johnson & Associates. At the end of 1990, he was struggling to find sponsorship and his team was going to be in trouble if the money for 1991 couldn’t be found.

I made several handsome offers to Alan. So many, in fact, it reached the point where I had to look at my sponsorship and figure how much money I could pay a driver.

There was a limit I could pay. So I had to reluctantly give up on Alan and I signed Sterling Marlin.

Ironically, one of the reasons Alan refused me was that he was certain he had a sponsor lined up for 1991, with which he could continue his independent ways.

When he told me that I had to be honest. “No, Alan,” I said, “you do not have that sponsor.”

Alan insisted he did.

I tried to persuade him that he didn’t. That sponsor, Maxwell House, had already signed with me. I had a contract with them. I’m not sure Alan ever believed me.

But I understood Alan’s position. He felt he had the money he needed and wanted to do his own thing – perfectly logical.

Alan did get a sponsor and continued to race in 1991.

With Geoff and Sterling on board I was hoping for good things in the ’91 season. Well, there were some good moments, but certainly the numbers indicated Junior Johnson & Associates had anything but a good year.

It can’t be a good season when my highlight was being accused by NASCAR, once again, for racing with an oversized engine at The Winston.

How could I have had an oversized engine when our Chevrolet finished 14th in a 20-car field?

NASCAR suspended crew chief Tim Brewer and me for four races.

It was a farce.

That, and the results of the 1991 season, made me feel that perhaps I was coming to the end of the line.

Productivity wasn’t as high as it had been. Costs were higher. Politics, to me, was rampant. And it wasn’t any fun.

But then I made some changes at the end of 1991 that allowed Junior Johnson & Associates to have a key role in what has gone down as one of the greatest, and most remarkable, seasons in NASCAR history.

Junior Johnson’s commentaries will return in 2013.

 

 

 

 

Win the Battle Lose the War – Fantasy Insight Miami

Jimmie Johnson

NASCAR will not get the showdown they had last year when Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart battled to a tie, but Jimmie Johnson will not go down without a fight.

Last week in Phoenix the No. 48 team had an uncharacteristic bump in their championship road. All weekend the team struggled to find the speed to run up front and only Johnson’s ability to hustle a car kept them in the top 10. But sometimes when you have to push the limits as a driver you see the tires unable to hold up to the extra strain.

This weekend in Homestead-Miami you can count on the No. 48 team to bounce back in a big way. Look for it to be fast right off the truck to attempt to put the pressure on Brad Keselowski. This is as close as team owner Roger Penske has ever gotten to the NASCAR Sprint Cup title so you know they will be on the top of their game this weekend too. It should be an epic battle. Johnson is likely to win the battle but I think Keselowski will win the war and earn the NASCAR Sprint Cup title.

Good luck with your fantasy racing picks this week and don’t forget to send in your pick for “Whiteboard Fantasy Racing” this week for Miami.

Send in your pick to win this week’s Cup race to dennis@racetalkradio.com for a chance to win a copy of the National Speedway Directory from SpeedwaysOnline.com.

Whiteboard Fantasy Racing Winner Last Week

Jason W was the winner

Whiteboard Fantasy Standings After Phoenix

Rank

Player

Total

1

LAM

65

2

Grainger

57

3

Rick

55

4T

Mike N

54

4T

RA

54

4T

DMIC

54

7

Gertie

50

8

Carbon

47

9

Erik G

39

10T

Chris U

34

10T

Aaron C

34

Kevin Harvick

Weather Report

Partly sunny with a high near 78F

If you have a question about Fantasy Racing send it to dennis@racetalkradio.com and get it answered next week. 

NASCAR by the Numbers

Using a proprietary race analysis technique we take the fans inside the numbers every week. DMIC’s rating system has been in use since 2002 and has proven to pick the contenders from the pretenders!

Consistency is King (Last Five Races)

Driver

Last 5

B Keselowski

93

M Kenseth

93

Ky Busch

91

J Johnson

91

K Kahne

91

C Bowyer

91

G Biffle

88

C Edwards

87

D Hamlin

87

K Harvick

87

Horses for Courses (Track Rating)

Driver

Mia

C Edwards

95

D Hamlin

94

M Truex

94

M Kenseth

93

K Harvick

92

J Johnson

89

C Bowyer

89

K Kahne

88

J Burton

87

G Biffle

86

Type Casting (Track Type Factor)

Driver

Type

Ky Busch

94

G Biffle

93

D Hamlin

93

D Earnhardt Jr

92

M Kenseth

92

M Truex

91

J Gordon

91

K Harvick

91

J Johnson

91

B Keselowski

90

Power Rating (240 Minimum to Qualify as Contender)

Driver

Power

M Kenseth

278

D Hamlin

273

J Johnson

271

K Harvick

270

M Truex

269

C Edwards

268

G Biffle

268

C Bowyer

267

K Kahne

267

B Keselowski

265

Ky Busch

264

J Gordon

261

M Martin

254

T Stewart

253

D Earnhardt Jr

252

Ku Busch

251

R Newman

248

A Almirola

246

J Logano

244

J McMurray

244

P Menard

244

J Burton

244

S Hornish

240

R Smith

240

JP Montoya

232

C Mears

229

T Kvapil

227

B Labonte

224

L Cassill

223

M Ambrose

223

D Ragan

220

D Blaney

218

D Gilliland

217

Brad Keselowski

DMIC’s Fantasy Picks- Lubricated by TheOilMedics.com

Each week we will take you beyond the numbers to handicap the field from top to bottom to help your Fantasy Racing team succeed. You are also invited to join Lori Munro and I on “White Board Fantasy Racing” every Monday night on “Doin’ Donuts” at 8pm ET on RaceTalkRadio.com. Win fun prizes by picking just the race winners in our unique format. Send your picks to info@racetalkradio.com to enter.

Top Pick (Last Week 6th)

Jimmie Johnson- Team and driver will make a statement in the final race of the year

(5 to 1 Odds) 

Best Long Shot (Odds of 20-1 or More) (Last Week 5th)

Kevin Harvick- Back to back wins after being winless all year is possible

(20 to 1 Odds)              

Top Dogs (Group A in Yahoo) (Last Week 32nd)                

Matt Kenseth- Strong chance to go out a winner at Roush Racing

(8 to 1 Odds)

Second Class (Group B in Yahoo) (Last Week 21st)                     

Martin Truex Jr- Team should bounce back with strong run after issues last week

(10 to 1 Odds)

Middle Packer (Group C in Yahoo) (Last Week 31st)                    

Ricky Stenhouse Jr- Ready for Cup full time in 2013

Crazy 8s for Miami

Each week Lori Munro and Dennis Michelsen battle in the most unique racing game around! We pick one driver each from each 8 driver group using the current points’ standings. Our picks can help you round out your fantasy racing lineup!

Last Race at Phoenix: Dennis won the matchup 4-1

Season Record: Lori leads Dennis at 20-15

Group 1: Dennis picks Matt Kenseth and Lori picks Jimmie Johnson

Group 2: Lori picks Kyle Busch and Dennis picks Martin Truex

Group 3: Dennis picks Joey Logano and Lori picks Marcos Ambrose

Group 4: Lori picks Mark Martin and Dennis picks Kurt Busch

Group 5: Dennis picks Ricky Stenhouse Jr and Lori picks Trevor Bayne

Do you have what it takes to handicap the races? Join Lori and Dennis every week and play in the Whiteboard Fantasy Racing Series! Send your pick for the Cup race to info@racetalkradio.com to enter. Weekly prize given away! 

Agree Or Not, NASCAR Juggled Punishments To Fit The Crimes

Clint Bowyer’s crew chief Brian Pattie (right), was fined and put on probation by NASCAR likely because his crew members instigated the brawl in the pits at Phoenix.

I am certain not all fans will agree with the punishments handed out by NASCAR after the “rumble in the desert” that happened at Phoenix.

That’s an understatement, for sure.

The sanctioning body dispensed penalties that ranged from somewhat severe to mild, at least in my opinion. And I think it had reason to do so.

Which is, I think, reflected in a statement from Robin Pemberton, NASCAR’s vice president of competition.

Pemberton said: “There is no doubt that a unique set of circumstances combined with a championship on the line resulted in raw emotions coming into play.

“We consider all penalties appropriate and those involved understand our decision and we expect them to abide by them.”

What this means is that NASCAR understood the frustrations that can occur during any race intensify when there is a close championship battle at the very end of a season.

Competitors are on the edge. And if they think they are pushed over that edge, emotions sometimes explode and lead to inappropriate action.

It is the sanctioning body’s task it to determine which actions are more flagrant and severe than others – which leads to a variety of penalties.

Of course, the penalties will never please everyone.

Points leader Brian Keselowski was fined at Phoenix for having a cell phone in his car. He also had one in Daytona, for which he was not punished.

For purposely wrecking Clint Bowyer in the Advocare 500, NASCAR slapped Gordon with a $100,000 fine, the loss of 25 driver points and placed him on probation until Dec. 31.

Rick Hendrick was penalized with the loss of 25 car owner points.

Now I freely admit $100,000 is pocket change to Gordon. The loss of 25 points drops him to 11th in points.

What must be noted here is that action means Gordon will miss out on a wad of cash at the Awards Ceremony in Las Vegas, which indicates the fine is a bit harsher than it seems.

I have read and heard from some fans and pundits alike who said Gordon probably wouldn’t be punished at all, given that he is one of NASCAR’s “golden boys.”

Heck, NASCAR positively HAD to do something.  Gordon ADMITTED his misdeed, saying that he was fed up with Bowyer’s repeated sheet metal bashing and, at last, wanted him to pay for it.

So how could NASCAR let Gordon, or any other star driver under such circumstances, off the hook?

If it did, it would be like a man who goes to the FBI, admits he robbed a bank and a G-Man responds, “OK, that’s fine. Can we validate your parking for you?”

The punishment Gordon got was, in my opinion, not far removed from others given competitors who are not repeat offenders. A fine of $100,000 and the loss of 25 driver/owner points are routine – very routine.

Probation is somewhat humorous. Gordon has one race remaining, at Homestead this weekend, before the season is over.

If he’s a good boy there, well, don’t know how any probation until Dec. 31 can be enforced during the off-season.

Maybe if Gordon has a too much egg nog and calls Brian France a “fathead” on ESPN . . .

Gordon and Hendrick have accepted the punishments.

Some have wondered why Bowyer’s crew chief, Brian Pattie, sustained a $25,000 fine and probation until Dec. 31 where Gordon’s crew chief, Alan Gustafson, received only probation.

There is one big reason, I think. Bowyer’s crew instigated the pit road brawl. It was going after Gordon, who said he was not hit.

Gordon’s crew came to his rescue – as it should have. What kind of teammates would not do so when they see the threat of assault on their driver?

Pattie and Gustafson were both at fault for not exercising control over their crews.

But Pattie was fined because his guys instigated everything and that is something that cannot be tolerated.

For a group of guys to go after a single individual is reprehensible and, to be honest, I think that’s the way NASCAR looked at it.

Interestingly, Brad Keselowski, who is likely to win the championship at Homestead, was fined $25,000 and placed on probation for having a cell phone in his car during the race.

I’m sure you remember, as I do, that the same thing happened at Daytona in February and NASCAR essentially said it had no problem with Keselowski’s cell phone use during the 500. Consequently, he would not be punished.

Well, it is very clear that sentiment has changed dramatically.

Sections 12-1 and 20-6.7A of NASCAR’s rule book outlaw everything from onboard computers to recording devices to memory chips to almost any other manner of electronic device.

And, apparently, a cell phone is one of them.

If Keselowski was OK at Daytona, it suggests NASCAR created its new rule afterward.

If so, I’m not sure anyone knew anything about it. If it had been announced to the media I’m certain someone would have picked up on the fact that social media conscious Keselowski could no longer tweet during a race.

Again, I’m not positive if the rule was made public. It could have been. But it certainly appears Keselowski didn’t know about it.

There’s another way to look at all of this, a way that I think does not escape NASCAR.

While what happened at Phoenix may have been unsavory and the kind of thing not acceptable in sports, it is still newsworthy – very newsworthy.

Highlights of the Phoenix incidents were a staple on ESPN and several other sports outlets. They were on local and national networks. For example, Phoenix was a prime topic on ABC, with a full report led by Diane Sawyer.

Doesn’t matter if it was pleasant or not, NASCAR was on the airwaves with a far great presence than it has had virtually all year. It was right there in the TV headlines with the NFL.

Take that any way you wish but the fact remains NASCAR was put in the public’s attention at a much greater level.

There’s an old public relations adage that suggests it doesn’t matter if it’s for good or bad, as long as your name is out there, that’s always a good thing.

And I think NASCAR knows that – fully.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Controversial Phoenix Smacks Of What Many Think Missing From Today’s NASCAR

In a wild and controversial Phoenix race, Kevin Harvick emerged victorious for the first time this season. He also won for the first time in the last 44 races.

A couple of conclusions after the Advocare 500 at Phoenix:

Any hope of a dramatic, exciting conclusion to the 2012 NASCAR Chase For The Sprint Cup has been effectively eradicated – barring unforeseen circumstances, which, incidentally, happened at Phoenix.

We saw a taste of what NASCAR used to be; an example of the wild and wooly days of which many of us have never seen, yet about which we have heard so much.

And to be perfectly honest, it was the type of bare-knuckled racing many have missed. They add that its absence has made NASCAR far less appealing than it could be – and once was.

Before we go any further it should be noted that Kevin Harvick won the race after a controversial green-white-checkered restart.

It was Harvick’s first win of the season and his first in 44 races, dating back to Richmond in September of 2011.

It was his 19th career Sprint Cup victory and his third at Phoenix. He gave Richard Childress Racing its 101st win in Cup competition and its first since 2011, at Talladega, 38 races ago.

Indeed, it was an excellent achievement for Harvick, who led only the last 15 laps of the race.

But that he won will not be what is likely to be most remembered about this Phoenix race.

In a stunning series of developments Jimmie Johnson, who came into the race a mere seven points ahead of Brad Keselowski in the title fight, not only lost his lead but, apparently, has also lost any hope for a sixth career championship.

On lap 234 of 319, Johnson smacked the wall in the fourth turn after his Chevrolet’s right front tire suffered a melted tire bead from excessive heat.

A Jeff Gordon-Clint Bowyer incident on the track sparked tempers and more among members of both teams. A brief pit scuffle ensued but was quickly ended.

The incident was disastrous for Johnson. He spent 38 laps in the garage for repairs and when he returned to the race, the best he could accomplish was a 32nd-place finish.

Meanwhile, Keselowski, who led 10 laps but consistently ran among the top10, finished sixth, which could have been better had he not been involved in a controversial last-lap melee.

Still, the result is that Keselowski is all but assured of the championship. He is 20 points ahead of Johnson going into the final race of the season at Homestead.

Keselowski and Johnson are the only two drivers eligible for the title. All Keselowski needs to do is finish 15th at Homestead and he will earn his first championship, the first for team owner Roger Penske and the first since 1975 for Dodge – which, ironically, will depart NASCAR at season’s end.

However, Keselowski is not guaranteed anything. He benefitted from a 27-point swing at Phoenix and the same thing, or worse, could work against him at Homestead.

But it’s highly unlikely.

“I heard he (Johnson) blew a right-front tire and I was thinking what conspiracy theorists are going to come up with on this one and then you realize that the same thing could happen to you,” Keselowski said. “And so you try not to let that get into you too much and try to just focus on what you got and make sure you don’t have the same problem.

“Obviously there are no guarantees. We could go to Homestead and have the same problem and Jimmie, you know, takes the point lead back over.

“No guarantees but very proud to have that points lead heading into next week.”

A multicar crackup on lap 312 was caused when Jeff Gordon chose to extract his revenge on Clint Bowyer.

Gordon was limping around the track with a tire going down and was black-flagged by NASCAR, which wanted him to pit.

But, instead, Gordon waited on Bowyer, with whom he had made earlier contact that resulted in Gordon’s flat tire.

Gordon spun Bowyer out and in the process collected Joey Logano and Aric Almirola. This brought out the eighth, and final, caution period.

After Gordon got out of his car crewmen from his Hendrick Motorsports team and others from Bowyer’s Michael Waltrip Racing got into a sizable scuffle in the pits.

Then Bowyer ran from his car to Gordon’s hauler in an effort to spur a confrontation, which did not happen.

All of this was caught on television. It will be part of every highlight reel on ESPN – or anywhere else, for that matter.

“All I was doing is riding around biding my time,” Bowyer said. “I mean, I barely touched him and then I feel him get into turn three and try to turn me and he missed.

“The next thing I know I’m told on the radio that he’s waiting on me.  It’s pretty embarrassing for a four-time champion – and whom I consider one of the best this sport’s ever seen – to act like that is just completely ridiculous.”

The incident forced Bowyer into 28th place and from third to fourth in points, 52 behind. He is eliminated from championship contention.

“I literally barely rubbed him and then all the sudden I feel him trying to retaliate,” Bowyer said. “He missed or something and hit the wall and made himself look like a fool.”

Will Bowyer retaliate at Homestead?

 “We just have to wait and see,” he said.

Said Gordon: “Things have gotten escalated over the year and I have just had it. Clint has run into me numerous times, wrecked me and he got into me on the back straightaway, pretty much ruined our day.

“I have had it, was fed up with it and got him back.”

The fireworks were not over.

The incident set up a green-white-checkered restart and Harvick, the leader at the time, easily held his ground.

As the white flag flew, Danica Patrick and Jeff Burton made contact. Patrick was able to limp onward but it was assumed there was fluid on the track.

NASCAR, which said later it couldn’t detect anything on the track and that Patrick was well out of the way, did not call for a caution.

On the last lap several cars spun. Among them were those of Ryan Newman, Kurt Busch, Paul Menard and Mark Martin. Keselowski was hit but manage to plow through to the finish.

That there was retaliation on the track; that there was a rumble in the pits and that one driver sped to angrily confront another are things that are not prevalent in NASCAR – despite the fact some claim stock car racing is not far removed from professional racing (an incredibly ludicrous opinion).

But they do happen.

That there was a last-lap multicar accident that, in the opinion of many, myself included, that could have been avoided if NASCAR had thrown the yellow flag, is also rare.

But track paybacks, fights, confrontations and second-guessing NASCAR have always been a part of the sport.

In the final analysis what happened at Phoenix smacks of what many say is missing in NASCAR – which is hard, confrontational, and emotional racing that leads to controversy.

Keselowski colorfully said that what is retaliation today is ridiculous.

He’s entitled to his opinion but, with all due respect, he hasn’t been around long enough to know what retaliation was, and how often it happened, in NASCAR.

Opinions will vary, but the type of racing at Phoenix was dramatic, exciting and memorable.

I think fans would love to see more.

And would NASCAR, which will stand by its decisions and likely issue no penalties whatsoever.

Frankly, after Phoenix, I think NASCAR has to be delighted – silently, of course.

Rivalries Are Part Of NASCAR And Remain With Us Today, Very Much So

There have been many rivalries in NASCAR over the years but few have been as prominent as the wars among (from left), Richard Petty, Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip, who scrapped in the ’70s and early ’80s.

As the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers descend on Phoenix International Raceway for Chase race No. 9 of 10, I am drawn to the rivalry between five-time champion Jimmie Johnson and determined Brad Keselowski, who is anxious to earn his first title.

As a fan of tennis I am reminded of a time when American Andy Roddick was playing against champion Roger Federer in the Wimbledon finals.

The TV correspondent questioned Roddick on the rivalry between the two – who had met in several finals in those years.

Roddick said, “First of all, we can’t call it a rivalry until I win one.”

Keselowski has certainly won races, especially during this season. He has doggedly gone after the championship, has won during the Chase and positioned himself well. He’s kept the pressure on Johnson.

Johnson, on the other hand, still seems to be the leader of the juggernaut that is Hendrick Motorsports. He, too, has been winning races – the last two in a row, in fact – and currently holds the points lead over Keselowski heading into the penultimate race of the 2012 season.

Throughout NASCAR’s storied history great rivalries have been produced since the first moonshiner strapped on his makeshift helmet and hit the dirt in competition.

“Big” Bill France, Lloyd Seay, Roy Hall and Bob, Fonty and Tim Flock were all rivals in the early days of stock car racing. France credited Seay as “The greatest stock car driver who ever lived.”

The Flock brothers also contended for wins against World War II hero Red Byron who was, like Seay and Hall before him, funded by the deep pockets of businessman Raymond Parks and wrenched by the renowned Red Vogt.

When he drove Junior Johnson’s No. 11 cars in the mid-’70s to three straight titles, Cale Yarborough was a key rival for Petty, Allison and, in particular, Waltrip, whom he called “Jaws.”

Curtis Turner and Lee Petty were often in close competition along with the ever-present Flock brothers and Herb Thomas.

Later, Junior Johnson found himself in direct competition with drivers like Ned Jarrett, “Fireball” Roberts and Richard Petty.

Richard Petty was in contests with David Pearson, Bobby Allison – whom many consider his greatest rivals – and a mouthy Darrell Waltrip. Petty was the target of Waltrip’s many tirades when he spoke of “dethroning” the undisputed “King” of NASCAR.

Allison carried a chip on his shoulder and he called it “Richard Petty.” He also had a huge rivalry with Cale Yarbrough and Waltrip.

Allison could create a rivalry with anyone on the track. He certainly had it out for any driver who drove for Junior Johnson after he did in 1972. From Yarborough to Waltrip, Allison made it his business to do battle.

Via the press, Yarbrough’s bouts with Waltrip were legendary and precipitated Waltrip’s forever nickname “Jaws.”

Waltrip, along with the aforementioned Petty, Allison, and Yarbrough, was in many battles with Dale Earnhardt.

In the years he raced, Earnhardt found rivals in the form of Waltrip, Rusty Wallace, Terry Labonte, Tim Richmond and Mark Martin – among dozens of others.

When Earnhardt was on the track everybody was his rival.

Jeff Gordon has had contentions with the likes of Earnhardt, Martin and Jeff Burton. His years of domination also led to myriad rivalries.

And then there are rivalries that have taken place between Matt Kenseth and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Although Earnhardt Jr. has the edge on championship wins in the Nationwide Series with two, Kenseth has the Cup title that eludes Earnhardt Jr.

Throughout their careers they have been pitted against one another. But their rivalry has never been for a Sprint Cup championship.

Jimmie Johnson has had rivals that have included Gordon, Martin, Denny Hamlin, Kurt and Kyle Busch. As Johnson is still in the limelight of his career, the list continues to grow, with Keselowski at the top this season

When there is more than one person in competition, a rivalry exists. NASCAR’s history proves that to be true.

What rivalries from NASCAR’s past do you remember and relish? Be sure to leave your recollections below.

 

 

 

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