19 November 2012
Keselowski seals maiden Cup championship
With neither Johnson nor Keselowski involved in the battle for the actual race win, there was a vacancy at the top. It looked to be back in the hands of long-time leader Kyle Busch, but he was one of those cars who still had one more stop to make in order to get to the finish line, whereas Johnson's Hendrick Motorsports team mate Jeff Gordon had been following the #48's fuel conservation strategy and was good to run to the end.
Busch was finally in with 13 laps to go, and Gordon duly picked up the lead when he did. It would likely have been a sobering moment for the Penske crew to realise that if not for the lugnut and drive line issues, the same strategy would almost certainly have put Johnson into that position. Not bad, especially considering that Hendrick Motorsports had never managed to put a driver into victory lane at Homestead before this weekend.
Gordon went on to maintain the lead to the chequered flag, redeeming the four-time Cup champion a week on after his controversial run-in with Clint Bowyer at Phoenix. And who was running in second place to Gordon this week at Homestead? Why yes, it was Bowyer. Surely they weren't going to resume hostilities and wipe each other out in the final laps in a continuation of their feud?
In fact Gordon had a decent margin of over two seconds over Bowyer, who did what he could to close the gap and managed to halve it before his momentum finally stalled and the laps ran out: Gordon took the win, Bowyer came home in second, and Ryan Newman pipped Kyle Busch for third place ahead of Greg Biffle and Bowyer's Michael Waltrip Racing team mate Martin Truex who survived a late brush with the wall.
"What an unbelievable week," said Gordon as he climbed out of the #24 in victory lane just seven days after the Phoenix fracas. "There were so many ups and downs this week, and to be able to end in Victory Lane with just an awesome team effort was just awesome
"This is the way you want to win a race, by just going to battle with them and having a good race car and playing it all out really smart," he said. "I knew we had a great race car going into the race. At times I didn't think we had a winning car, but you know what, we played the strategy perfectly, and we had a really good car. It is just unbelievable to experience this. After last week, then to come here and battle like this and end up in Victory Lane, just unreal."
Gordon reiterated the comments he'd made on Friday expressing regret about last weekend's clash with Bowyer, which had also wrecked the cars of Joey Logano and Aric Almirola. "Can you believe that? There was one restart where I had Joey and maybe Aric and Clint right there surrounding me," he said, shaking his head.
"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," he admitted. "That thing is going to work itself out some way through racing. I felt terrible how I went about it, and I still regret the way I went about it. But, I can't take it back. But what we can do is look forward and race guys as hard and clean as we possibly can. This is a great way to get some positive things going."
Bowyer on the other hand was still not entirely over last week's events. Asked how he felt after finishing second, he replied: "Frustrated and bummed out. I would've loved to have won that race, especially to beat him."
But second place in the race, added to Johnson's retirement, did mean that Bowyer unexpectedly slipped into the runners-up position in the championship standings - no small achievement for Bowyer in his first year with Michael Waltrip Racing.
Martin Truex Jr.
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