HOMESTEAD, Fla. – Jeff Gordon used fuel mileage to visit victory lane Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway in the season finale for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
While Gordon celebrated in victory lane, Brad Keselowski was crowned the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion.
The triumph was a far cry from the way Gordon finished last Sunday’s race at Phoenix Int’l Raceway, which saw Gordon crash Clint Bowyer in retaliation for what he believed was a season full of incidents. The crash sparked a shoving match in the garage area between both crews and ended with NASCAR handing out fines and penalties on both sides.
Coincidentally, it was Bowyer who finished second to Gordon Sunday afternoon in Florida.
“That thing is going to work itself someway through racing. I feel terrible about how I went about it and I still regret the way I went about it. I can’t take it back, but what we can do is look forward and race guys as hard and as clean as we can,” Gordon said from victory lane.
The race was dominated by Kyle Busch, who led a race-high 191 laps after starting eighth. However, a pair of caution flags on laps 142 and 154 suddenly turned the race into a fuel mileage affair. Busch, betting on more cautions, stayed out during the second caution while others like Jimmie Johnson and Gordon pitted for fuel.
Johnson, who was trying to win his sixth NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship, looked to be in the catbirds seat as the first driver on track who didn’t have to stop for fuel a second time.
However, a missed lugnut on what would have been Johnson’s final pit stop eliminated him from the equation. A few laps later Johnson suddenly slowed after a rear-gear in his No. 48 Chevrolet failed, completely eliminating him the race and the championship battle.
(Brad Keselowski Wins 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship, Click Here For More)
“Pretty heartbreaking. We were doing what we needed to do,” Johnson said. “We were certainly in position to put a lot of pressure on the No. 2 car. Its racing, stuff happens. It was out of my control, certainly.”
With Johnson out of the race, Gordon moved into position to inherit the lead. On lap 254 Busch pitted from the lead, giving the lead to Gordon. Bowyer closed on him in the final laps of the race, but he too had to save fuel in order to finish the race and couldn’t challenge Gordon as he would have liked in the final laps.
In the end, Gordon scored his second victory of the 2012 season and the 87th of his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career.
“I knew we had a great race car going into the race,” Gordon said. “At times I didn’t think we had a winning car, but you know what, we played the strategy perfectly and we had a really good car.”
It wasn’t all bad for Bowyer, whose second-place finish allowed him to overtake Johnson for second in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship standings. Ryan Newman, Busch and Greg Biffle completed the top five in Sunday’s finale.
Brad Keselowski finished 15th Sunday to earn the Sprint Cup crown, a first for himself and veteran team owner Roger Penske.
“He (Johnson) is the best. He proved it today. He was going to win this damn race and I know that,” Keselowski said of Johnson post-race. “We were not as fast as we wanted to be, I’ll be the first to admit that. My guys never gave up. We kept working and at the end there we were capable of getting back up enough to where it wouldn’t have mattered if he won.
“My guys just did a great job all year long, especially in this Chase, and I’m lucky to have them,” Keselowski said.