[media-credit name=”David Yeazell” align=”alignright” width=”300″][/media-credit]In a weekend full of champion-crowning, here is what was surprising and not surprising from the NASCAR Sprint Cup season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Surprising: For a driver known, as ‘bad’, brash and cocky, there were some surprisingly humble moments from the 28 year old driver who brought Penske Racing its first ever NASCAR championship.
“It means the world, it really does,” Bradley Aaron Keselowski, driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge and Sprint Cup Champion, said after finishing 15th and securing the ultimate prize. “I’ve got the best team in racing and I’m just so thrilled to be a part of it.”
“From the top down, Roger Penske, Paul Wolfe, everybody else, the crew guys and my family, that means so much,” Keselowski continued. “You can’t do this sport by yourself no matter how good you are.”
“My family made incredible sacrifices and I’m just so fortunate to have them around me,” Keselowski said. “Without them, none of this is possible and they deserve way more credit than I do.”
Keselowski’s parents, who gave up their lives to their son’s racing career, were equally proud and humble in Victory Lane.
“How many people get to realize this dream?” Bob Keselowski, Brad’s dad and a racer in his own right, said. “There’s a million short track racers out there.”
“I’m just so blown away.”
“He has reached the pinnacle of success and I’m so unbelievably proud of my son,” Brad mom’s Kay said. “I’m ecstatic, just ecstatic.”
“I was holding my breath all race long and praying to God that it would all come together.”
Not Surprising: Of course, once the Miller Lite started to flow in celebration of his championship, Keselowski, sporting a good-sized beer glass, returned to his usual self, tweeting from the media center and wise-cracking in fun with all.
“I’ve got a little bit of a buzz going on right now,” Keselowski said after his victory on the show LIVE on ESPN. “I’ve been drinking for a little bit.”
After checking his phone and adding about 6,000 new followers on his Twitter account, Keselowski, with 5 wins, 13 top-five and 23 top-ten finishes, discussed how he will now approach being the NASCAR champion.
“Expect the unexpected,” Keselowski said, with his trademark grin. “That’s my MO, right?”
And on how being the NASCAR champ might change his life, Keselowski replied, “I’ve always wanted to date a celebrity….but not a Kardashian.”
And finally, Keselowski revealed his surprising powers of prediction, especially as it related to the points needed to secure the Sprint Cup.
“I predicted that the champion would need 2400 points to win,” Keselowski said. And that was the exact number of points, 2400 total, that the second driver in history to win the Cup and Nationwide championships had when the checkered flag flew.
“I feel like the best is yet to come,” Keselowski said as he wrapped up his media availability for the final time of the 2012 season.
Surprising: While not surprising to see team owner Rick Hendrick in Victory Lane, it was surprising that he was not there to see his driver Jimmie Johnson crowned six time champion.
Hendrick instead celebrated his team’s first ever win and the first ever win at Homestead-Miami Speedway for driver Jeff Gordon, commemorating his 20 year partnership with sponsor Dupont in the HMS No. 24 Chevrolet.
“Yeah, it’s disappointing,” Mr. H. said. “If you let that destroy you, you’ll never be able to win again.”
“It’s racing,” Hendrick continued. “I’m celebrating Jeff’s win and letting the other deal go.”
Driver and four-time champion Jeff Gordon might have been surprised to even be in the race, let alone Victory Lane, after his fracas the week before with competitor Clint Bowyer. The four-time champ was able to put the drama behind him, however, to score his 87th career victory and his second win of the 2012 season.
“This is just huge,” Gordon said. “It’s been an emotional week and a hard one; one of the hardest ones I’ve ever gone through just looking back on my decision.”
“So to come here and focus on the car with this silver commemorative paint scheme for 20 years of Dupont and to be able to end in Victory Lane, it was just an awesome team effort.”
Not Surprising: Even though starting the race behind the leader in the point standings, five-time champion Jimmie Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus seemed on target to parlay some pit strategy into that coveted six pack.
But an uncharacteristic lug nut issue and an even more unusual oil leak that proved fatal closed the door on the championship hopes for the driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet. And Johnson, not surprisingly, found it a bitter pill to swallow.
“You know, to be close, it just sucks to be close and not get it,” Johnson said. “Pretty heartbreaking.”
“We were doing what we needed to and certainly in position to put a lot of pressure on the No. 2 car.”
“Stuff happens,” Johnson continued. “It’s racing.”
“I just have to reflect back on an amazing year.”
Surprising: Probably the most surprised driver coming out of the Ford EcoBoost 400 was none other than Clint Bowyer. Not only did he finish second in the race to nemesis of the week before Jeff Gordon, but he also scored second place in the point standings in his first season with Michael Waltrip Racing.
“To be honest, I didn’t even think I could reach second,” the driver of the No. 15 5-Hour Energy Toyota said of his runner up spot in the points. “That was the goal I’d set.”
“And I just wanted to catch the 24,” Bowyer said of his runner up race finish. “That was the only what-if that went through my mind at the end.”
“Probably went through your mind too.”
“Now I’m going to do whatever I want to do next week.”
Not Surprising: As with every end to the season, there were plenty of farewells to be said. Ryan Newman, who finished third in the season finale, bade farewell to the US Army as his sponsor.
“The US Army Chevrolet, four years strong,” Newman said. “We’re proud to represent them and proud of their support and we wanted to finish on a great note.”
Another farewell was said by Matt Kenseth, leaving the only race team home that he has ever known with Roush Fenway Racing and moving on to Joe Gibbs Racing.
“The team really proved that they gave me all they’ve got this season regardless of my plans for the future,” Kenseth said.
Joey Logano, who leaves Joe Gibbs Racing to partner with new champ Keselowski at Penske Racing, had some interesting words to mark the end of his tenure in the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota.
“And that’s the way the cookie crumbles,” Logano tweeted. “Thanks to all of @JoeGibbsRacing for 7 great years.”
The final farewell was most poignant, however, as Dodge won the championship and bid adieu to the sport of NASCAR.
“It’s been a long run,” Ralph Gilles, President and CEO of the SRT Brand and Senior Vice President of Design at Chrysler Group, said. “I’m still pinching myself.”
“It’s not bittersweet,” Gilles continued. “If anything, it’s an exclamation point on an effort that’s 11 years in the making.”
Surprising: Another Hendrick Chase driver was surprisingly upbeat, particularly since his teammate lost the championship to Keselowski.
And in spite of missing two races due to a concussion, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was also upbeat about finishing the season with a top-10 in his No. 88 National Guard/Diet Mountain Dew Chevrolet.
“I want to congratulate Brad on his championship,” Junior said. “He’s a buddy of mine and he did everything he had to do to win this thing.”
“This has been a really good season for me personally,” Dale Junior continued. “I’ve had a blast.”
“I can’t wait to test the new car and get to Daytona,” Junior said. “It will be a whole new ball game.”
Not Surprising: Yet again, Kyle Busch led the most laps in the race and failed to find Victory Lane, instead coming in fourth. In fact, this was the ninth race in a row where the driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota led the most laps and did not win.
“I think I’ve said it the last five weeks – that’s our year,” Busch said. “It’s just a shame that we were not able to come out here and put it in Victory Lane like we should.”
“We’ll have to see what we look forward to next year.”
Surprising: The driver of the No. 78 Furniture Row Chevrolet not only finished ninth but had a surprisingly record-setting day in the process. Kurt Busch scored his third straight top-10 finish, the first time ever that Furniture Row Racing has had three consecutive top-10 finishes.
“Finishing the season with three straight top-10s and four straight top-15s – you just can’t ask for much more in a short period of time together,” Busch said. “We’ve made a tremendous amount of progress in the last six weeks and that gives us all plenty of confidence heading into the off season.”
Not Surprising: The young driver of the infamous No. 43 for Richard Petty Motorsports continued his great streak of race runs, finishing seventh in the season finale.
“We had a strong car all day,” Almirola said. “That was a great way to go out.”
“I’m excited about next year,” Almirola continued. “These guys give me great race cars so we’re gonna win races.”
As the 2012 season comes to a close, here’s to a Happy Thanksgiving, a blessed Christmas and a truly amazing New Year! See you at Daytona in 2013!