NASCAR photo of Brad KeselowskiEnlarge Photo
Starting on the front row, Penske driver Brad Keselowski simply had to finish the race in 15th spot or better, assuming that he led no laps throughout the afternoon. Underdog Jimmie Johnson, on the other hand, needed a miracle in the form of a crash or mechanical failure for Keselowski if the Hendrick driver had a shot at the title.
Johnson didn’t get that miracle. Instead, he dealt with a pit-lane miscue that put him a lap down and suffered a mechanical failure of his own on lap 224, when something under the car (later identified as the differential) began pouring smoke.
Though Johnson’s crew worked hard to get him back on track, his day, as well as his 2012 championship hopes, were over.
That left Keselowski to finish the day in a somewhat conservative manner, crossing the finish line in the now-unimportant 15th spot. Keselowski’s victory gave Roger Penske his very first Sprint Cup Championship, and gave Dodge bragging rights in what may be its final season in the sport.
As for the race winner, that was Jeff Gordon, who embraced a fuel-saving strategy to take the checkered flag. Gordon was followed across the line by Clint Bowyer, and, unlike the race in Phoenix, the two managed to avoid contact throughout the day.
Ryan Newman edged out Kyle Busch for the final podium spot, though Busch looked like the man to beat for most of the day.
And so the curtain closes on a 2012 season that drew mixed reviews from fans and critics alike. Next year will see the regular shuffle among drivers, teams and crews, as well as a slightly new look for Sprint Cup cars. Will the changes be enough to put fans back in the seats?
We’ll find out next February.