NASCAR's winners and whiners of 2012

jutter@charlotteobserver.comDecember 28, 2012 

It’s time to call the 2012 Sprint Cup season for what it was.

Who was the best driver? What was the best race? Who said it best? And – of course – who tweeted it best?

Here’s our take:

DRIVER OF THE YEAR: Brad Keselowski became only the third driver in 40 years to win a Sprint Cup title within his first three seasons, joining NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Jeff Gordon. Keselowski earned two wins and eight top-10 finishes in the 10-race Chase. His worst finish was 15th in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway – the exact finish he needed to guarantee the championship had Jimmie Johnson won the race.

RACE OF THE YEAR: To go along with the new theme that “road courses are the new short tracks,” the Finger Lakes 225 at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International provided some of the best racing of the 2012 season. According to NASCAR’s Loop Data, Marcos Ambrose and Keselowski traded the lead four times on the final lap before Ambrose came away with the win. The victory – like several this season – was marred by controversy over whether NASCAR should have thrown a caution on the last lap for oil on the track.

SECOND-BEST RACE: All of NASCAR, from its executives to its fans, celebrated Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s victory in the June race at Michigan International Speedway, which ended his career-worst four-year winless streak.

BEST QUOTE: “I think if we could make it a figure-eight, it would be perfect ... and/or we can stop at halfway, take a break, turn around and go backwards the rest of the way. Then, with 10 to go we can split the field and half of them can go the regular direction and half of them can go backwards.” – Tony Stewart in a satirical rant offering suggestions to change the racing at Talladega, Ala.

SECOND-BEST QUOTE: “When we do stupid stuff like that, we don’t go back out.” – Then-crew chief Tony Eury Jr., when asked by members of his team whether they would fix driver Danica Patrick’s car after she wrecked Reed Sorenson in the Nationwide race at Indianapolis.

BEST TWEET: “When I was young I thought @ jeffgordonweb was the best driver. Now I’ve lost a lot of respect for him. #verydumb” – Joey Logano after Jeff Gordon intentionally wrecked Clint Bowyer at Phoenix during the Chase.

STORY MOST BLOWN OUT OF PROPORTION: Driver A.J. Allmendinger’s indefinite suspension for failing a NASCAR drug test and the ridiculous amount of media coverage his excuses received. Apparently in NASCAR, crewmen in the Sprint Cup Series can be suspended regularly with nary a word from the media and fans, but tag a driver and a vast conspiracy must exist.

MOST IMPROVED: This was close as Joey Logano deserves consideration for winning nine Nationwide races and earning his second career Cup win (and first in a race not cut short by rain). However, Clint Bowyer’s performance in his first season with Michael Waltrip Racing – three wins and a runner-up finish in the championship – gets the nod.

BIGGEST FALL: This time a year ago, many were still marveling at Carl Edwards’ performance in what was virtually a one-on-one battle with Tony Stewart for the 2011 championship and already calling Edwards a shoo-in for the 2012 title. Not only did he not win a race in 2012, he didn’t even qualify for the Chase.

BIGGEST OMG MOMENT: Even now, 10 months later, it’s still hard to fathom how Juan Pablo Montoya hit a jet dryer under caution in the Daytona 500 and caused it and 200 gallons of jet fuel to ignite into a ball of flame and delay the race for more than two hours.

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