Continued: 2012 NASCAR season in review
Anderson: It's hard to argue against Paul Wolfe, who sat atop Keselowski's pit box. All season long Wolfe gambled on pit calls (choosing two tires instead of four; staying out during a caution and stretching fuel mileage when everyone else came to pit road) and his risks usually worked out. Wolfe and Keselowski have a close relationship, and this duo should contend for several more championships in the coming years.
Estes: Paul Wolfe. Keselowski and Wolfe have all the makings of being the next Johnson-Knaus combo. Numerous times throughout the season they demonstrated the crucial ability to clearly communicate with each other about what was going on with the car and how to make it better. Plus, Wolfe's fuel mileage decisions were nearly flawless. There is no reason this pairing can't win another championship together (and maybe more than that).
Long: So many to choose. Brian Pattie led Clint Bowyer to three wins and a runner-up finish in the points in their first year together, Chad Knaus had Jimmie Johnson back in the title hunt, Rodney Childers had the No. 55 car running well all season with three different drivers in the car, Steve Letarte returned Dale Earnhardt Jr. to Victory Lane and instilled his driver with added confidence, but I'll go with Paul Wolfe for helping Brad Keselowski win the championship. Wolfe's strategy calls often played a key role in numerous races.
Tuttle: Paul Wolfe. He led a team that put together fast and reliable cars in the garage and made daring and sometimes unorthodox decisions on top of the pit box to get track positions for Keselowski, who capitalized on them to win a championship. It was Wolfe's second season as a Sprint Cup crew chief. Keselowski won three races and finished fifth in the points in Wolfe's rookie year in 2011. Keselowski was 25th in points in 2010. Was Wolfe the only difference? No, but he was the major change.
Anderson: The fall race at Phoenix. Anytime a brawl erupts between pit crews, it creates excitement. This is what happened after Jeff Gordon intentionally wrecked Clint Bowyer late in the race. Look for Bowyer to exact revenge on Gordon in Daytona in February.
Estes: The August race at Bristol. Track owner Bruton Smith insisted that changes made to the track during the spring and summer would produce a more exciting race than the snooze-fest that was on display there in March, and he was correct. There was plenty of action as drivers bumped and banged their way around the tight, high-banked short track. Of course, this produced plenty of anger as well, highlighted by one of the most memorable images of the 2012 season: Tony Stewart flinging his helmet at Matt Kenseth's windshield. Good times.
Long: There were exciting finishes -- the last lap at Watkins Glen was the most entertaining all season followed by the late-race duel at Texas in November between Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski -- but I'm not sure there was a race that was exciting from start to finish. The Chicago race was exciting for its subtleties and how crew chief Paul Wolfe and Brad Keselowski used strategy to win that race, but I'm not sure how many people would classify that an "exciting" race.
Tuttle: Texas in the Chase. Keselowski and Johnson side-by-side on the front row for a green-white-checkered and the winner takes the points lead with two races to go to Phoenix? NASCAR couldn't have drawn it up better than it happened. Johnson, on the outside, pinned Keselowski to the apron on the restart, and gained the line he needed to pass and take a seven-point lead to Phoenix. If Johnson had won the championship, that would be remembered as the move that did it.
Anderson: Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s wreck at Talladega. Earnhardt sat out two races with a concussion and he told reporters -- very frankly -- that he had been able to hide concussions in the past. Could these repeated concussions shorten the career of NASCAR's most popular driver? It's certainly a possibility. Now every time Earnhardt is involved in a big crash, he'll be examined closely for another concussion.
Estes: It was one that most people didn't see: the accident by Dale Earnhardt Jr. during a tire-test session at Kansas. Earnhardt later admitted that he began feeling concussion symptoms following that wreck, which eventually led to him sitting out two races in the middle of the Chase. That ended any chance Earnhardt had of competing for the championship, yet another blow to NASCAR in its struggle to improve television ratings and attendance at the track.
Long: Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s accident in a tire test in late August at Kansas Speedway is the most significant for what it eventually stirred -- debate at NASCAR's policy on concussions. That accident only gained attention after Earnhardt suffered a second concussion at Talladega weeks later and admitted he suffered a concussion at Kansas.
Tuttle: Jimmie Johnson's Chevrolet hit the wall from a flat right-front tire in the Phoenix Chase race. A 32nd-place finish combined with Keselowski's sixth-place dropped Johnson from seven points in the lead to 20 points behind going to the season finale at Homestead-Miami. It was the crash that most altered the championship picture.
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