Race Rewind: 'Wild asphalt circus' won't create racing fans

Sunday, Nov. 11, 2012


• I guess all the success NASCAR has had in its 60-plus years is because of a fight in the 1979 Daytona 500. At least that's what many fans will lead you to believe. I tend to think that fight turned eyes to the sport, which people found interesting and entertaining. What transpired at Phoenix International Raceway on Sunday was not a sport, it was a circus. To borrow a phrase from Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage, it was a "wild asphalt circus." Teams fighting on pit road and drivers running through the garage with television cameras in tow to confront other drivers may draw a lot of eyes to YouTube this week, but I doubt it will lead anyone to actually watching the racing.

• NASCAR is getting closer and closer to returning to the days of simply allowing drivers to race back to the caution. It still claims it doesn't but it's continued unwillingness to throw a caution flag when wrecks occur simply to get a "good finish" has made the rule all but a sham. Forget the argument of whether Danica Patrick's car dumped oil on the track. The simple fact she twice hit the wall and ended up wrecking down the frontstretch at the same time the winner took the checkered flag is all the prove one needs.

• Brad Keselowski has taken a lot of hits on his road to NASCAR success and some were probably deserving. However, anyone who criticized Keselowski for "racing hard" at Texas in an incident in which there was no contact between cars, but contributed to the end of Sunday's melee owes Keselowski an apology.

How the Chase drivers fared:

No. 1 Brad Keselowski, 2,371 points

Keselowski finds himself on the verge of his first Cup series championship in just his fourth full season and can give team owner Roger Penske his first series title.

"Nothing is over until it's over," he said. "We just need to keep our heads down and focus on what lies ahead."

No. 2 Jimmie Johnson, -20

It was uncharacteristic performance by Johnson's No. 48 team, blowing a tire because brake heat had melted a bead in his right-front tire. The team has a history of not having set-up decisions adversely affect their race day.

Johnson entered the race with a seven-point lead over Keselowski. He leaves 20 points behind.

No. 3 Kasey Kahne, -50

The driver who started the year seriously wondering if he would keep his job suddenly finds himself third in points.

No. 4 Clint Bowyer, -52

Who knew Bowyer had such speed as he tried to run down Jeff Gordon through the garage to confront him. And kudos to the ESPN camera crew that was able to keep up with him. It must have been quite an adventure for those watching on TV.

No. 5 Denny Hamlin, -62

Between them, Hamlin and Kyle Busch led 126 of the first 132 laps but he lost a little something late in the race.

No. 6 Matt Kenseth, -74

It was an uneventful race for Kenseth, who finished 14th.

No. 7 Greg Biffle, -78

When the season started, Biffle appeared to be a serious contender for the championship. As the season draws to a close he has fallen completely out of the picture. He did manage to finish seventh Sunday when all the wrecking was done.

No. 8 Kevin Harvick, -86

Harvick's first win of the season was anything but assured. It looked like he took the white flag before the final caution came out, which would have cemented the win, but NASCAR said no.

He then had to sit for nearly 15 minutes as the race was stopped to clean the debris. And he was running short on fuel with at least two extra laps added to the race, but still managed to reach Victory Lane.

No. 9 Tony Stewart, -87

Stewart ran mid-pack most of the race and spun on Lap 281. He finished 19th.

No. 10 Jeff Gordon, -90

Gordon's intentional wreck of Bowyer in the final laps not only cost him a good finish and perhaps a NASCAR penalty, but also left Joey Logano and Aric Almirola - who both had strong runs going - with badly damaged cars.

No. 11 Martin Truex Jr., -111

Truex barely complete one lap before he developed engine problems and was forced to the garage and an early-exit.

No. 12 Dale Earnhardt Jr., -160

Earnhardt struggled the entire race, fell a lap down early then lost another lap when he had to pit under green on Lap 226 for what he thought was a loose wheel.

3 keys to victory

1 . During practice on Saturday, Harvick's team knew it needed some help, so crew chief Gil Martin decided to put in the set-up from the car of Richard Childress Racing teammate, Paul Menard. Both cars proved fast on Sunday.

2 . Harvick, running in the top five, ran down Kyle Busch (who led the most laps) and passed him for the lead with eight of the scheduled 312 laps remaining.

3. Harvick was nearly out of gas when the race went into the two-lap overtime. But his team evidently got in every single drop on his final pit stop.

Turning point

Harvick appeared to have the win in hand but NASCAR determined the caution lights came on before he took the white flag signifying the last lap. So after the wreck was cleaned up, he simply did it all over again.

Things would have been different if ...

NASCAR had thrown a caution for Danica Patrick's wreck. Yes, some drivers would have run out of gas and someone could have had a bad restart. But NASCAR should not be in the business of worrying about how its decision will play, only that the decision is the right one.

Next race

Ford 400

Where: Homestead-Miami Speedway, Homestead, Fla.

When: 3 p.m. Sunday


Radio: Motor Racing Network

Last year's winner: Tony Stewart