NASCAR crowned two new champions in 2012, saw the full-time NASCAR debut of one of the most talked-about cross-over drivers, and saw some high-intensity action on and off the track. Here are a few of my picks for the top stories from NASCAR in 2012.
Brad Keselowski wins the Sprint Cup title – Keselowski avoided the head games and focused on his goal – then let loose and celebrated with his sponsor, Miller Lite, in the winner’s circle after claiming the championship. As much of a story from the final Sprint Cup race of the year at Homestead-Miami: the demise of Jimmie Johnson and the #48 Lowes crew, making a costly mistake in the pits and suffering mechanical problems just a handful of laps later.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. claims second-straight Nationwide Series title – Stenhouse Jr. defeated Elliott Sadler for the second year in a row to become the first back-to-back champ since Martin Truex Jr. (2004 and 2005). Stenhouse Jr. won six times on his way to the championship, and also ran four Sprint Cup Series races in preparation for his move up to NASCAR’s top level in 2013.
James Buescher wins first Truck Series title – Buescher won a wild championship in the Camping World Truck Series, which saw the top five drivers separated by just 30 points at season’s end. Buescher won the first Truck Series race of his career at Kansas in April, nearly two months after winning the first Nationwide Series race of his career in Daytona in February.
Danica Patrick commits to NASCAR – Patrick got off to a strong start in her first full-time season in Nationwide Series competition, winning the pole for the season opener at Daytona. The end result for the 2012 season: the first top 10 points finish by a woman in NASCAR history, finishing 10th with 19 top 15 finishes. Next season, Patrick makes the move to the Sprint Cup Series with Stewart-Haas Racing.
Wreck of the year: JPM and the jet-drier – Juan Pablo Montoya earned the most airtime of the season when he ran into the back of a jet-drier truck during a caution in the Daytona 500 – which was moved to Monday night after being rained out on Sunday. Keselowski, who had his phone in his car at the time, tweeted during the ensuing red flag and gained thousands of followers; later in the season, this same action cost him $25,000.
Run of the year: Clint Bowyer – He didn’t get to Jeff Gordon at Phoenix after Gordon put him in the wall and eliminated him from Chase contention, but Bowyer did show the world how 5-Hour Energy worked.
Last lap of the year: Watkins Glen – road racing in NASCAR has never been this exciting.
Paula is a long-time NASCAR fan who also covers the sport at Examiner.com and Skirts & Scuffs.