After months of fans complaining that the racing was boring, that they were tired of long green-flag runs, that they were tired of “debris” cautions, they finally got what they wanted, but at what expense? Going into the second to last race of the 2012 season, for both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series, we knew Phoenix was going to give us some good racing. What we didn’t expect is for the championships in both series to take a drastic turn, for some of the best drivers in the sport to lose their cool, and others to almost lose everything. So the question is, with everything that happened this weekend, who is the real “Bad Luck Brian?”
Saturday started with Elliott Sadler hitting the wall during his qualifying lap and having to switch to a back-up car. Sadler, in contention for the Nationwide Championship, went into the race tied with defending series champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and starting from the rear of the field Sadler had fight his way up to the front. By lap 85 he had moved up to 6th place. At halfway, after bad restarts and a slow pit stop, Sadler had dropped back to 11th. Lap 186, Sadler got loose off of Turn 4 and managed to save it but lost a few spots. Bad luck didn’t stop there for Sadler, after fighting his way up into the top 10 with 2 laps to go, Sadler, Cole Whitt, and Brendan Gaughan crashed between Turns 3 and 4. The wreck totaled Whitt’s car and tore the front off of Sadler’s. The race was red flagged and the cars are parked on the track as the crews clean up. Danica Patrick, parked with a clear view of Sadler’s damaged car, talked to her spotter about how he was going to be able to continue. Bottom line, he could run without the nose, but his rear spoiler needed to be in a certain spot. Elliott finished the race P22 and is currently 20 points behind Stenhouse and only 5 points ahead of Austin Dillon. So the question is, did Sadler’s bad luck all but guarantee Stenhouse Jr a second championship?
Stenhouse Jr isn’t the only championship contender whose chances got a little better. Sprint Cup contender Brad Keselowski can also breathe a tad easier now that 5-time champion Jimmie Johnson is 20 points behind him. After a melted bead in Johnson’s Kobalt Tools Chevy caused him to slam into the outside wall, the 48 team had to make extensive repairs to the underside of the car. Coming into Sunday’s AdvoCare 500 with a 7 point lead over Brad Keselowski, Johnson did everything he could to stay ahead of the Blue Deuce, but fate had a different idea.
“All along I was just hoping to either come out of this race a few points ahead or a few points behind heading into Homestead,” Johnson said. “I thought we were on course to do that.”
After spending multiple laps behind the wall, Johnson’s seven point lead is all but a memory. After finishing 32nd and almost 40 laps down, he goes into Homestead twenty points behind Keselowski. Johnson can win the race and still not have enough points to take the championship away from Keselowski. Brad will have to finish 15th or worse without leading a lap in order to lose this Championship.
“I think we would have finished in the top five, maybe seventh or eighth, if I hadn’t had that happen and hit the wall,” Johnson said. “Unfortunately, as a result, we lost control of this championship. We can go down there and try to win the race and do all that we can, but we’re not in control of our own destiny now.”
Is 5-time going to have to wait another season in order to get his 6th Championship?
Clint Bowyer and Jeff Gordon; it’s hard to say which one had a worse day. Both drivers have been at each other’s throats all season long, blaming each other left and right for various hits on the track. Gordon finally had had enough of Bowyer.
After Bowyer had bumped Gordon, sending him up into the wall, Gordon deliberately slowed down on the track, waited for Bowyer, and wrecked him. Not only did he take him out, Joey Logano’s day was ended as well. This all went down with two laps to go, and the event led to a red flag. After he climbed out of his car, Gordon was all but jumped by Bowyer’s pit crew. NASCAR officials, media members, crew members and law enforcement all jumped in to stop the fight from getting even farther out of hand. Many individuals, including Gordon, were escorted to the NASCAR hauler. Bowyer parked his smoking 5 Hour Energy Toyota and sprinted toward Gordon’s hauler, being followed closely by a cameraman, who held the camera surprisingly still considering he was sprinting as well. Bowyer was stopped in front of Gordon’s trailer and also escorted to the NASCAR hauler.