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.
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.