Jeff Gordon took the checkered flag and the race win Sunday in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season finale Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway after a fuel strategy that eliminated the need for a late-race splash for gas.
“I knew we had a great race car to begin the weekend,” Gordon said in victory lane. “At times, I didn’t think we had a winning car, but we played the strategy perfectly.”
Brad Keselowski, meanwhile, celebrated a 15th-place race finish — a 15th-place finish that garnered himself and his No. 2 Penske Racing team the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title. The championship is the first for Keselowsk, crew chief Paul Wolfe and car owner Roger Penske.
“We were not as fast as we wanted to be. I’ll be the first to admit that,” Keselowski said. “But this team never gave up.”
Keselowski headed into the race with a 20-point cushion on second-place Jimmie Johnson. A 15th or better finish would guarantee the championship for the No. 2 team, even if Johnson led the most laps and won the race. Johnson led a few laps here and there, but his day began to go south during a green flag pit cycle that began with about 70 laps to go in the 267-lap race. A lug nut was left off on Johnson’s stop, so he had to make an extra trip down pit road.
Things did look like they were going to work themselves out for Johnson and his No. 48 team when it was determined that Johnson waited long enough in the cycle to pit that he’d be able to go the remaining distance with just one stop. Many others, including Keselowski, were going to have to make two.
But Johnson’s race went from bad to worse when he fell off the pace with 41 laps remaining. He headed down pit road and then to the garage to fix a rear end issue.
“Pretty heartbreaking, you know,” Johnson said. “We were doing what we needed to do. That’s racing; it happens.”
Johnson not only missed out on a sixth championship, he also gave up the second spot in points to Clint Bowyer, who finished the race in second.
Kyle Busch dominated much of the event, and in the late going, Martin Truex looked to be his strongest competition for the win, but both drivers had to make a late-race stop for fuel in the final laps, handing the top-two spots over to Gordon and Bowyer.
Ryan Newman finished third, Busch was fourth, and Greg Biffle finished fifth. Truex wound up sixth, Aric Almirola was seventh, Kevin Harvick eighth, Kurt Busch ninth and Dale Earnhardt Jr. rounded out the top-10.
– Photo courtesy of Getty Images
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