[media-credit id=40 align=”alignright” width=”300″][/media-credit]Phoenix brings back a lot of memories. It takes me back to 1992 when the championship was down to three drivers in many pundit’s opinions—Bill Elliott, Davey Allison, and Alan Kulwicki. All drove Fords, but Allison had the upper hand with a lead and with the Robert Yates Racing team’s stout engines. Elliott and Kulwicki were considered two drivers that would finish in second and third in no particular order. It was Davey Allison’s to win. And then came Phoenix. Many of you know the story. An unfortunate tangle with Ernie Irvan, and Allison was out of the championship picture. I thought about that as I watched Brad Keselowski take a pretty solid lead in the 2012 Chase for the Championship.
All it took was a right front tire failure for Jimmy Johnson. Most of us have watched the flawless execution of the No. 48 Chevy team for the last seven seasons. Even in defeat, they always have appeared to be invincible. Unfortunately, this was not the case this time. Just like Allison in 1992, it was not preparedness nor was it the car, it was dumb luck. For Allison it was being in the wrong place at the wrong time. For Jimmie Johnson it was the failure of a tire. The result was the same. Both drivers were put in a hole that would be difficult to escape from with only one race remaining.
In 1992, they finished at Atlanta. Kulwicki went on to win the championship despite Elliott winning the race. We may see the same scenario next week. I cannot imagine the Lowe’s team not being fired up and bringing their best piece to Homestead, but I also cannot see the Penske team bringing less than a car that could win the race. Gone are the days when drivers rode around hoping for 15th place to insure a championship—the place that Keselowski needs to clinch his first championship (like Elliott and Rusty Wallace did in their championship years). Anything can happen, but history tells us that Keselowski is in the driver’s seat. Whether he makes it or not will have to wait until November 18th, as it should be.
On this day, I am more concerned about the incident that happened near the end of the race. When accidents happen in the course of racing, I have no problem with it. I like rubbing during racing and one thing we haven’t seen enough of is drivers moving cars to get an advantage. That used to be a staple of what NASCAR was. With the advent of the Chase and so much attention being paid to the championship and not winning races, it’s almost disappeared. What Jeff Gordon did today was not what I had in mind.
It was a surprise. Gordon is a four-time champion, but things have been a little lean lately. He’s watched teammate Jimmie Johnson win five championships. He’s watched Dale Earnhardt, Jr. get more attention at Hendrick Motorsports. It has been more frustration than he can bear. We saw him push Matt Kenseth at Bristol with his helmet on, and walk down and push Jeff Burton when things didn’t go his way. Frustration is a horrible thing. Unfortunately, today was over the line. We’ve seen this behavior from Carl Edwards and we’ve seen it from Kyle Busch. Edwards stalked Keselowski after he punted Edwards at Talladega and Kyle Busch take out his frustration on Ron Hornaday in a truck race, Edwards was put on probation and Kyle Busch was parked for a race.
When Gordon’s car crashed, it was obvious from 2,500 miles away that debris from the crash was obvious. A yellow flag would have probably ended the result that we saw played out live. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. Gordon was allowed to slow down and wait for Bowyer and the end result was good television, but not good for racing. Sure, many have said that ticket sales will be brisk for Homestead, but what about the state of the sport?
When the crews took it into their own hands and television showed Bowyer sprinting to get in the fight of running up to the hauler of the No. 24, all I could think of was WWE. Sorry, but I did. To many that was a good thing, but to me it was not that at all. The other problem was that NASCAR didn’t throw the yellow when Danica Patrick spun. Although Robin Pemberton said they couldn’t see any oil, I was sitting in West Virginia, 2.500 miles away and saw the oil. I saw the cars having a hard time negotiating in the oil and the final wrecks were not s surprise. How could someone sitting maybe a football field away not see that? You be the judge.
Most drivers were upset on this day, and may say they lost respect for a four time champion. Whether that transfers to the final race at the Ford Championship weekend is not determined. We will soon know.