Sunday, November 18, 2012

Rating the Ford EcoBoost 400: 3 Stars ***

For the first time in eight years, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series has a first-time champion. Brad Keselowski won the championship, and Jeff Gordon won a race that had a lot of storylines, although few that made for a really exciting race. The final race of the 2012 season gets a 3 Star Rating.
Gordon won the race after Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. had to pit for fuel late in the race, and he beat his nemesis from Phoenix, Clint Bowyer. My how a week changes things. Last week those two were involved in garage fights and had torn up race cars; this week they had the two top finishes.
The best racing of the day came from Busch and Truex Jr. As he did in both the truck and Nationwide races this weekend, Busch led nearly all of the first 100 laps, but then a debris caution came out and bunched up the field.
At that point, Truex Jr. challenged for the lead and the two drivers ran next to each other the remainder of the race. They traded the lead a few times, and Truex Jr. hounded Busch’s bumper for much of the night.
It’s too bad the race couldn’t have come down to a battle between those two drivers. The finish likely wouldn’t have ended as close as Friday’s truck race between Busch and Cale Gale, but it would’ve been better than Gordon beating Bowyer by more than one second.
But the championship was the focus of the day anyway. Johnson put up a good fight throughout much of the race and had a shot to win the championship after pit strategies worked in his favor with a little more than 50 laps remaining.
Then his night quickly took a turn for the worse. His pit crew missed a lugnut on the left-rear tire on lap 213 and by lap 227 he was in the pits with a blown drivetrain that would end his night and hopes of a championship.
Johnson did make the title fight dramatic for a bit, though. After Keselowski chose to stay on track under caution after Ricky Stenhouse Jr. wrecked on lap 154, Johnson took the opportunity to get tires and set up his fuel strategy for the rest of the race.
Had Johnson been able to avoid his late-race problems, he just might have squeaked out his sixth championship.
It wasn’t meant to be, however, and Keselowski is the Sprint Cup Series champion in just his third full season in the series. And what a ride he has had to the top.
Keselowski won his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in April 2009 in the famous finish that sent Carl Edwards flying into the fence. That race he drove the James Finch-owned #09 car to its first victory.
Since then he’s won eight more races, made the Chase in two of his three years with Penske Racing and now has the championship. Oh yeah, he also won the Nationwide Series championship for owner Roger Penske in 2010. Both of his championships are Penske’s first championships in each series.
That is a remarkable run of success, and he has earned it. It has been fun to watch Keselowski enter the sport and go from a part-timer looking for a full ride to a brash kid who upset veteran drivers to a champion.
Whether or not he wins more championships in the future, Keselowski's career will be a success. Congratulations to him and the entire #2 team on winning the 2012 Sprint Cup Series championship.
Unfortunately, the end of the championship race also means the end of the season and no more Sunday afternoons filled by a NASCAR race. That is always a sad time and takes somewhat of an adjustment for many fans after they’ve had the same routine for eight months.
But as always, Daytona Speedweeks will open a new season in mid-February and NASCAR life will begin anew. Hopefully the days between now and then are filled with happiness and holiday celebrations with friends and family.
Thank you for following the Monday Morning Crew Chief ratings again this season. It’s been a fun year and expect more in 2013. Also, look for the rating of the 2012 Sprint Cup Series season, which will be posted following the champion’s celebration Nov. 30 in Las Vegas.
Have a great offseason, everybody.


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