Avondale, Ariz. — It was a cluster of chaos and controversy in the final laps of the AdvoCare 500 at Phoenix International Raceway as Kevin Harvick took the checkered flag ahead of Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch in overtime following a red flag period to sort through it all.
Jimmie Johnson was the first victim of the wild Sunday in the desert, hitting the wall as the result of a blown right front tire. Johnson went to the garage and did return to the track just in time for the next round that found Clint Bowyer and Jeff Gordon at the center of the biggest melee in recent history when both drivers’ teams were involved in fisticuffs following incidents between the two drivers with seven laps to go that led to the final contact between the two with two laps to go that also involved Joey Logano and Aric Almirola.
After the red flag more chaos ensued after Danica Patrick hit the wall, but no yellow flag was displayed. NASCAR Vice-President of Competition, Robin Pemberton said officials did not detect any oil. Competitors coming to the checkers said it was oil on the track that caused calamity and carnage as the checkered flag dropped.
“She came all the way around and she was out of harm’s way we (NASCAR officials) didn’t see any fluid or anything as she rode around on the apron,” said Pemberton. “When she pulled up on the racetrack there was smoke, it looked like tire smoke, it’s easy to look back on it and wish that you did something different, but at the time it didn’t appear like there was any fluid coming out of the car.”
Brad Keselowski pulled to the front of the Sprint Cup points standings as the series will move to Homestead Miami Speedway where a 2012 Sprint Cup champion will be crowned. All drivers, with the exception of Keselowski and Johnson, were mathematically eliminated from the championship.
Keselowski finished sixth and took a 20 point lead in the points standings, but the Penske Racing driver was vocal following the chaos that overtook headlines. One week ago Keselowski races hard, but clean, against Johnson as the two raced for a win. This week, Keselowski says there is an obvious double standard.
“I spent a whole week being bashed by a half a dozen drivers about racing hard at Texas and how I’m out of control and have a death wish, and then I see (expletive) like that,” said Keselowski. “That’s (expletive).”
“It’s just (expletive) ridiculous, and they should be ashamed,” Keselowski added. “It’s embarrassing.”
Keselowski added that retaliation is not was the sport needs, and that behavior like that displayed was not good for anybody.
“It needs hard racing, it needs people that go for broke, try to win races and put it all out there on the line, not a bunch of people that have anger issues,” Keselowski said. “That’s not good for anybody, and it really hurt my feelings to be a part of a Chase race for the championship and have that jeopardized from people that can’t keep control of their emotions.”
Jimmie Johnson (-20)
Johnson had control of his emotions after a day that could have easily pushed the five-time Sprint Cup champion over the edge. Johnson had a right front tire issue that sent the No. 48 hard into the wall on lap 235. Johnson did return to the track, but settled for a 32nd place finish and is now 20 points behind Keselowski going into the season finale.
“We still have to go to Homestead and race and anything can happen down there, but it’s not the position we wanted to be in leaving Phoenix,” Johnson said. “I feel terrible for my team and how hard everybody has worked,”
“It’s been a huge effort put into this to get us a championship and I hate that it turned out like it did, but it’s racing,” added Johnson. “We’ll go to Homestead and do everything we can down there and see how things pan out.”
Kasey Kahne (-50)
Kahne finished fourth.
Clint Bowyer (-52)
Bowyer was in a heap on pit road finishing 28th. Bowyer exited the car after stopping on pit road and proceeded to sprint to the No. 24 hauler before being held back. Bowyer concedes there was contact, and said “you’re down there racing, the track’s extremely slick, we’re all on tires — I didn’t even need to pass him.”
“All I was doing is riding around biding my time,” Bowyer added. “The only thing I had to do is keep the 5 car (Kasey Kahne) within reach.”
Bowyer said the contact was minimal and that he did feel Gordon get into him in Turn 3.
“He tried to turn me and he missed and then the next thing I know Brett’s (Griffin, spotter) telling me on the radio that he’s trying to—he’s waiting on me,” Bowyer said. “It’s pretty embarrassing for a four-time champion—and what I consider one of the best this sport’s ever seen—to act like that is just completely ridiculous.”
Michael Waltrip, owner, said, “we’re just trying to keep everybody calm.”
“There’s just a lot of emotion,” Waltrip added.
Denny Hamlin (-62)
Hamlin finished second and said the track was “extremely treacherous.”
“With these hard tires, you just can’t get a grip on the racetrack,” said Hamlin. “I did a tire test with Goodyear here not too long ago on the 2013 car, and I think they’ve got some ideas that’s going to make it a little bit better.”
“But right now, holy cow, it’s a mess,” added Hamlin. “What happens now is everyone is just sliding around and sliding into each other, and of course it makes for excitement on TV, but obviously it also makes for championship implications, as well.”
Matt Kenseth (-74)
Kenseth finished 14th.
Greg Biffle (-78)
Biffle was one of the drivers caught up in the final crash as the checkered flag waved. Biffle said the entire day was an uphill battle, but to get into position for a seventh place finish was remarkable.
“I took a pretty hard hit right there at the end, but, other than that, it was actually a hard fought day,” said Biffle. “We came back from not having a very good car to being really good.”
Kevin Harvick (-86)
Harvick was able to outlast the chaos and take the checkered flag in overtime for team’s first win of 2012.
“Obviously we didn’t want to see the red flag, we were about—best I’ve heard is about five feet,” said Harvick of the situation that set up overtime. Harvick and Childress officials argued that the race should have been completed, but NASCAR determined that Harvick had not crossed the start-finish line before the white flag and that the caution was displayed setting up the green-white-checker finish.
Harvick said sitting through a red flag allowed time to think about all that could go wrong, much like the 2012 season—especially the chance of running out of fuel.
“Once I got those thoughts out of my head, I just wanted to get a good restart and be able to get into Turn 1 and not have any mistakes and knew if we could get through there without any mistakes that we could at least have a fighting chance of taking control of the bottom of the racetrack in Turn 3 and 4.”
Owner, Richard Childress, expressed his disappointment in how the race was called and the lack of caution coming to the final lap when Patrick scuffed the wall and had engine issues.
“I asked them — Kevin almost wrecked coming off of 4,” said Childress. “We take the white flag, she’s coming across down here, everybody seen what was happening.”
“I just knew the caution was going to come out, and he races back around and almost wrecks and we lose a car and could have hurt a driver, so I’m just still a little upset about that last not being a caution,” Childress added.
Harvick said the oil from the No. 10 of Patrick was there.
“There was more oil than there was asphalt, I can guarantee you that, and it was very visible,” Harvick said.
Tony Stewart (-88)
Stewart finished 19th.
Jeff Gordon (-90)
Four police officers guarded the NASCAR hauler as Jeff Gordon and crew chief Alan Gustafson had a chat with officials following a major melee on the track that carried over into the garage area involving Jeff Gordon, the No. 24 team, and the No. 15 team of Clint Bowyer.
Gordon said, “things have gotten escalated over the year and I have just had it. Clint (Bowyer) has run into me numerous times, wrecked me and he got into me on the back straightaway, pretty much ruined our day.”
“I have had it, was fed up with it and got him back,” said Gordon, who added that NASCAR “had to do what they have to do, just like I had to,” in regards to any repercussions following the events of the day.
Crew chief Alan Gustafson said he stood by his driver 100 percent, and said the issues were between drivers—not the crews.
“My instructions to the guys was just don’t let anybody get to Jeff,” Gustafson said. “And that’s what that’s about.”
“We’re going to protect him and stand behind him at all costs,” added Gustafson. “Those guys obviously have tempers running high as are ours, and that’s what happens.”
Owner, Rick Hendrick, said emotions were raw.
“I think the best thing for me to do is not say anything right now because you know everybody’s emotions are pretty raw,” said Hendrick. “I like Clint (Bowyer) a lot he is a good guy. I like all those guys.”
Martin Truex, Jr. (-111)
Truex had engine issues just seven laps into the race. Truex finished 43rd.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (-160)
Earnhardt finished 21st.