In a stunning turn of events, Brad Keselowski is poised to win the Sprint Cup championship after frontrunner Jimmie Johnson crashed during the AdvoCare 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on Sunday afternoon. (Brian Blanco/Reuters)
AVONDALE, ARIZ. - It is not official — there is still 400 miles of racing left next week at Homestead Miami Speedway — but it says here the 2012 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship is done. Over. See you later.
The moment five-time champion Jimmie Johnson crashed his No. 48 Chevrolet hard into the Turn 4 wall with 79 laps left in the AdvoCare 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on Sunday afternoon, he handed the hardware to upstart Brad Keselowski and the No. 2 Penske Racing Dodge team.
Keselowski will clinch the first championship for himself and team owner Roger Penske by finishing 15th or better at Homestead, regardless of where Johnson and the No. 48 team finishes.
Going into the race at Phoenix, Johnson had a seven-point lead in the Chase and looked almost home and cooled after back-to-back victories at Martinsville and Texas.
He left Phoenix 20 points behind Keselowski.
In the aftermath of the carnage that marred the end of the race, Keselowski was adamant that this was not the way he wanted to take the lead in the Chase with the finale on the horizon.
“I thought we had a car good enough to win and I wanted to take the points lead by winning the race not by what happened (to Johnson),” he said. “But sometimes that is just how the sport works.
“I didn’t know he had wrecked until I drove by and saw the black car on pit lane and saw the right side all tore up.
My next thought was that could just as easily be me.”
Keselowski said he just missed wrecking himself on the final lap when Danica Patrick sparked a multi-car pile up as the checkered flag flew
“I thought I was going to wreck before we got to the finish line, I just hit the gas and got through it,” he said.
He said that in spite of his overwhelming points advantage is not ready to claim the Cup just yet.
“We just have to do the best job we can at Homestead,” he said.
OK, so there was a NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Phoenix International Raceway and a hockey fight broke out with one lap to go.
If there was this much excitement at the Jobing.com Arena a few miles away in Glendale, the NHL would have no problem selling the failing Coyotes.
It all started when Jeff Gordon’s No. 24 Chevrolet turned into Clint Bowyer’s No. 15 Toyota going into Turn 3 and it resulted in both cars being wrecked, along with the No. 20 Toyota of Joey Logano.
It was, apparently, in retaliation for Bowyer cutting Gordon’s left-front tire earlier in the race.
The real action, however, was going on in the garage area where the crews from both the No. 24 and No. 15 teams started throwing haymakers.
It was an old-fashioned Pier Six brawl that would have made the 1970s Broad Street Bullies of Philadelphia proud.
It was topped off with Bowyer sprinting from pit lane to join his teammates but he was never able to throw a punch.
As for Gordon, he was quickly surrounding by track security and area sheriff’s deputies and escorted to the NASCAR hauler.
It is expected that Gordon and the Hendrick Motorsports team will face big fines when NASCAR bosses finish their investigation into the melee.
And Keselowski was even more furious that his moment in the sun was dimmed by the actions of Gordon and Bowyer.
In a post-race epithet- laden tirade, Keselowski slammed both drivers for casting the sport in such a bad light, especially after he was hammered the week before for racing Johnson hard for the win at Texas.
“I am just disappointed in the quality of racing we saw out there today. I thought it was absolutely ridiculous and I was ashamed to be a part of it.
“What offends me is he double standard where I spent the whole week being bashed by half a dozen drivers about racing hard at Texas and how I am out of control and how I have a death wish.
“And then I saw (B.S.) like that (between Gordon and Bowyer. That is f----- bull---t.
“These guys just tried to kill each other. I race hard and I get called an a------.
“It just pisses me off.”
NASCAR SPRINT CUP
After a week where Kevin Harvick was rumoured to be leaving Richard Childress Racing after the 2013 season, he won the fight- and crash-filled AdvoCare 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on Sunday.
It was the first win for the No. Chevrolet team this season and the first since Richmond in 2011.
The race ended with the teams of No. 24 Jeff Gordon and No. 15 of Clint Bowyer brawling the garage area after Gordon dumped Bowyer, wrecking both of their cars on what was to be the final lap.
Gordon claimed afterward that it was in retaliation for Bowyer for an earlier incident in which he cut Gordon’s left-front tire.
It happened just as Harvick was taking the white flag, but NASCAR stopped the race, forcing a green-white-checker finish.
Harvick kept the lead on the restart and held it for the final two laps.
It was a race that Kyle Busch had simply dominated in the No. 18 Toyota, leading 170 of 312 laps.
He ended up third behind second-place finisher Denny Hamlin.
Kasey Kahne finished fourth, with Ryan Newman fifth and Brad Keselowski, who extended his lead over Johnson to 20 points with one race left in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, sixth.
Keselowski’s lead came as a result of Johnson crashing on lap 234, virtually ending a streak of good luck that has followed the No. 48 team through its five championships.
Johnson ended up finishing 32nd.