The 2012 Advocare 500 may not go down as NASCAR's best race ever, but it will certainly be one of its most memorable. Kevin Harvick beat Kyle Busch for Harvick's first victory of the 2012 season. Harvick admitted the season didn't go as planned and how interesting of a weekend it has been for him and his team.
"It's been a struggle this season and it was an interesting weekend. Regardless of what happens from here on out, I am proud of these guys for sticking with us," said Harvick.
Harvick beat runner-up Denny Hamlin by over five car lengths. Kyle Busch finished third. Busch led 237 of the races' 319 laps but on the second to last restart Busch lost the lead to Harvick. Harvick was the leader when the final green-white-checkered restart of the day flew and Harvick powered his way to victory.
Finishing fourth was Kasey Kahne with Ryan Newman finishing fifth and Brad Keselowski finished sixth.
Keselowski started the race in the 14th position but worked his way through the pack and by lap 232 had taken the lead from Kyle Busch. Keselowski was leading with his closest points rival in sixth place, it looked like the championship would come down to the Homestead-Miami Speedway. That was until three laps later when Jimmie Johnson's Chevrolet blew a right front tire, slamming the outside wall coming off of turn four. Johnson's car was badly damaged and he would bring out the races' fourth caution. Johnson would lose 30 laps in the garage while his team made repairs.
Johnson would get back out and finish in the 32nd position. He admitted that his championship hopes were not over but it would be very difficult.
"It's way way way out of our control now with the problem we had today," Johnson said about the championship. "We're going to go to Homestead and race but it's not the position we wanted to be in leaving Phoenix. I feel terrible for my team." When asked about what happened with his wreck Johnson said "We had a top ten car, maybe a top five car but I felt a vibration and then the tire cut down and sent me into the wall."
That should have been the story of the day and many thought at the time the Advocare 500's script was written. It was far from it.
Keselowski stopped for two tires after the races' fifth caution of the day flew for a crash involving David Ragan on lap 233. Ragan's tire blew on his #34 Ford and he finished 33rd. The pit stop for Keselowski was huge because it dropped him to seventh with just 36 laps to go. Keselowski's car was better on the longer run and restarts really hurt the #2 Dodge. Keselowski fell to tenth as the race was winding down. On lap 283 Keselowski was ninth and he moved to seventh by lap 295. On lap 301, Sam Hornish Jr hit the wall causing the race's seventh caution.
The race would restart on lap 303 with Kyle Busch still out front, but Kevin Harvick close behind. Harvick would pass Busch on the restart, showing his muscle for the first time of the day. On lap 306, Clint Bowyer and Jeff Gordon made contact, sending Gordon's #24 Chevrolet into the outside wall. Gordon was running fifth at the time and Bowyer was sixth. Gordon's car fell off the pace and it seemed it was going to be the last we heard of Jeff Gordon.
On lap 309 Kevin Harvick was leading the field coming off of turn four when Jeff Gordon and Clint Bowyer made contact on the back straightaway. The wreck sent both Bowyer and Gordon to the outside wall and Joey Logano was caught up in the accident as well. Several replays showed that Gordon had slowed up to wait for the #15 Toyota to wreck him and when they got close contact was made between the two drivers.
Tempers would flare, Jeff Gordon drove his car to the garage area and his team and Clint Bowyer's team would get in a major fight. Fists flew, and then Bowyer got out of his car and ran over to Gordon's hauler in search for the four time NASCAR Cup Champion. It was shades of 1989 when Rusty Wallace and Darrell Waltrip's crews got into a fight at Charlotte for the race then known as the Winston. NASCAR personnel would break up the teams, but neither Gordon nor Bowyer would talk to the media. Both drivers cars, and Joey Logano's would be done for the day as the race was red flagged for a cleanup where the accident occurred. Aric Almirola's Ford would be involved in the accident as well. Bowyer would finish 28th, Logano 27th, Gordon 30th and Aric Almirola would finish 16th. Almirola's car had slight damage and was able to resume.
Meanwhile, on the racetrack car owner of the #29 Chevrolet Richard Childress claimed Harvick was past the start-finish line and he received the white flag before the caution was out. According to NASCAR rules, the race would have been over as the race can not restart once the leader has taken the white flag. NASCAR disagreed with Childress and several replays on ESPN showed that NASCAR was right with the call and Harvick was just before the line when the caution flew.
Whatever the case was there would be a green-white-checkered finish whether Harvick or Childress liked it or not. The question was for Harvick could he hold off Kyle Busch, who had the dominate car of the day. After that worry it was whether his car had enough gas to the finish.
When the race restarted for the first green white checkered Harvick shot to the lead pulling away from the pack, later on in the lap on the back straightaway Danica Patrick's car hit the outside wall and would spin after contact was made with Jeff Burton's Chevrolet. Patrick's car came to a rest but she would get her car going before the caution would fly as the leaders were coming to the start finish line for the finish.
Patrick's car was on the inside of the track past the start-finish line when the field came around to receive the checkered flag, but Patrick's badly damaged car caused a lot of smoke and several leaders, including Brad Keselowski would crash coming to the stripe. Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman, Mark Martin, Paul Menard and Greg Biffle all crashed coming to the stripe as well.
Keselowski would finish sixth, with Biffle coming home seventh, Kurt Busch finishing eighth, Paul Menard ninth and Mark Martin rounding out the top ten.
Other notables included, Carl Edwards in 11th, Juan Pablo Montoya in 12th, Jeff Burton in 13th, Matt Kenseth in 14th, Bobby Labonte in 15th, Danica Patrick in 17th, Tony Stewart in 20th and Dale Earnhardt Jr in 21st. Martin Truex Jr finished 42nd after an engine issue ended his day on lap seven. There were eight cautions for 38 laps.
Keselowski was excited about the championship possibilities but didn't want to get ahead of himself.
"We survived we had a great car and I felt very lucky to get through all the carnage." said Keselowski. "We could go to Homestead and have the same problem and Jimmie can take it back over. We are very proud to have the points lead."
Keselowski's points lead over Jimmie Johnson is now twenty points and Keselowski needs to finish 15th or better to clinch his first career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship. Third in the standings is Kasey Kahne, who is now mathematically eliminated from championship contention. Fourth is Clint Bowyer, with Denny Hamlin fifth, sixth is Matt Kenseth with Greg Biffle seventh, Kevin Harvick eighth, ninth is Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon is tenth. 11th in the standings is Kevin Harvick with Dale Earnhardt Jr in 12th.
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