On November 11, a sold out crowd at Phoenix International Raceway showed up to celebrate Veteran’s Day with the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, and they were treated to one of the most exciting events of 2012. It featured numerous lead changes, especially near the end of the event, as well as both on and off track action that was featured on the morning news, as well as a topic of discussion in workplaces across the country.
With the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season rapidly coming to a close, Phoenix offered an opportunity to continue finishing the year in strong fashion. Kevin Harvick, who snapped a 44 race losing streak, and showed that his level of competitiveness at what will soon be his former team is as high, won. If you’ve been following all the news reports, you may not be aware of that fact!
The festivities began with a strong showing by Casey Mears, who started the weekend by ending up 26th on the speed chart in the series’ first practice session on Friday. He would then move on to qualifying where he toured the newly paved and configured one-mile oval in 26.625-seconds, a strong lap considering the bright sunshine that blanketed the racetrack. Mere moments after the #13 GEICO Ford Fusion departed the racing surface, clouds rolled in and the temperature cooled, allowing subsequent drivers to break track-qualifying records. Mears would start from the 25th position, just one spot to the rear of close friend, Jimmie Johnson. Johnson battled from the back of the pack most of the day, only to finish the race in 32nd place after a late race accident left his car battered, and his championship hopes nearly dashed.
Mears and the #13 GEICO Fusion rolled off from the 25th position when the green flag turned the field loose for 312 laps of racing on Sunday afternoon. Immediately faced with a handling issue, Mears radioed in on lap three to crew chief, Bootie Barker, “I’m totally sideways, I have no side grip.” Barker assured him they would rectify the problem once he was able to visit pit road for a scheduled green flag stop. They received the opportunity sooner than later, as the event’s first caution flag flew on lap 16.
Mears would ultimately re-enter the top 25 and depart only briefly during a late-race strategy move that sent the #13 GEICO Fusion down pit road under green on lap 247. Mears’ car continued to get better throughout the race and as the insanity began in Phoenix, he managed to keep his GEICO Fusion clean in the closing laps.
The race was red flagged with just two laps to go while a melee ensued in the garage between the teams of Hendrick Motorsports and Michael Waltrip Racing after a case of road rage prevailed between drivers Jeff Gordon and Clint Bowyer.
When the event went back to green flag conditions, Mears hustled to a 22nd place finish while also avoiding a last lap crash that collected a handful of his Sprint Cup Series counterparts. When he took the checkered flag, Mears also achieved the team’s 18th top 25 finish of the 2012 season.
Following the race, both Gordon and Bowyer, as well as their respective crew chiefs and team owners were summoned to the NASCAR hauler, so that the sanctioning body could try and figure out what the real situation was, and how they planned on dealing with it. Opinions about the penalties that should have been handed down raged across the airwaves, as well as between race fans, both casual and hard-core. Late Monday, November 12, the big wigs in Daytona made their decision known.
“Following a thorough analysis of the actions that took place during Sunday’s race at Phoenix International Raceway, we have issued penalties based upon our review. The decisions announced today cover NASCAR’s full assessment of penalties for the incidents that occurred,” stated Robin Pemberton, NASCAR’s Vice President of Competition. “There’s no doubt that a unique set of circumstances combined with a championship battle on the line resulted in raw emotions coming into play. We consider the penalties appropriate and those involved understand our decision and we expect them to abide by them.”
Jeff Gordon, driver of the No. 24 car, was found to be in violation of Sections 12-1 (actions detrimental to stock car racing) – altercation with another competitor on the race track during the race – and has been fined $100,000, docked 25 championship driver points and put on NASCAR probation until December 31. Rick Hendrick, owner of the No. 24 car, has also been penalized with the loss of 25 championship owner points. Alan Gustafson, crew chief of the No. 24 car, also was found to be in violation of Section 9-4A (at all events, crew chief assumes responsibility of his driver, car owner and team members) and has been placed on NASCAR probation until December 31.
Brian Pattie, crew chief of the No. 15 car, violated Sections 12-1 and 9-4A and has been fined $25,000 and placed on NASCAR probation until December 31.
Apparently, NASCAR doesn’t fully understand the power of publicity, as well as the need for drivers to interact with their fan base at all times. During the red flag delay, it was shown that Brad Keselowski was actively tweeting on his phone, as he had in Daytona in July. At that point, NASCAR looked the other way, and the commentators even made a point to commend Keselowski on his twitter prowess. For whatever reason, the same didn’t hold true in Phoenix!
Brad Keselowski, driver of the No. 2 car, has been fined $25,000 and placed on probation until December 31 for violating Sections 12-1 and 20-6.7A (cars and drivers will not be permitted to carry onboard computers, automated electronic recording devices, electronically actuated devices, power distribution modules, power conditioners, micro-processors, recording devices, electronic digital memory chips, traction control devices, digital readout gauges and the like, even if inoperable or incomplete) – driver had a cell phone in his possession onboard the race car.
“It was definitely an interesting day, especially there at the end when things got a little crazy. I’m proud of our GEICO crew because we took a day that could have otherwise turned out as a challenge and made it a solid effort,” Mears said. “These guys kept working hard to make the GEICO Fusion better and the car ultimately came around, allowing me to make up ground. We’re looking forward to having a productive weekend in Homestead as we end the 2012 season.”
Next weekend, Casey Mears and the Germain Racing team will find themselves in South Florida where they will wrap up the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season. Brad Keselowski leads five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson by 20 points going into Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Keselowski clinches his first NASCAR Sprint Cup championship with a finish of 15th or better; or 16th and at least one lap led; or 17th and the most laps led, even if Johnson wins and leads the most laps. All other drivers have been eliminated from championship consideration.
Mears and the #13 GEICO Ford Fusion will hit the track at Homestead-Miami Speedway for the opening practice session on Friday, November 16th, at 1:30 p.m. (EST). Qualifying will follow at 6:10 p.m. (EST).
The West Palm Beach Motorsports Examiner will be covering the action from the track, and will bring you exclusive interviews with some of the stars of NASCAR next week.
The Ford EcoBoost 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race is on Sunday, November 18th, and it will be televised live on ESPN beginning at 2:00 p.m. (EST). The Motor Racing Network (MRN) will carry the live radio broadcast.
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