My favorite NASCAR stories of 2012
To mark the passing of another eventful year of championships, triumphs and memorable moments, SI.com's writers are remembering the stories they connected to most across the sports landscape in 2012.
In the spirit of giving, here's an updated version of the song "My Favorite Things'' for you as we reflect upon the 2012 NASCAR season and count the days to Daytona.
Three-abreast racing and close calls in turn four
Crackerjack crew chiefs and drivers who don't bore
Pit passes to make fans feel like they're kings
These are a few of my favorite things
Pre-race flyovers that lead to cars roaring
They are set free like a ship from its mooring
Chasing a championship all for a ring
These are a few of my favorite things
When the snow falls
When the time crawls
When NASCAR's away
I simply remember my favorite things
And I can't wait for race day
While we await Feb. 24 and the Daytona 500, here's a look back not to the most memorable or even most important moments of the past NASCAR season but my favorite moments.
Late in the season, late in the race, the top two contenders for the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship dueled for the win, bouncing off each other. It was a true one-on-one battle.
"The cool thing about it is we walked right up to that line, got right to the edge, and then it stopped,'' Jimmie Johnson said after beating Brad Keselowski for the win last month at Texas. For a moment, all the thrills of NASCAR were squeezed into a lap run among the sport's best drivers.
In the final laps of the Camping World Truck season, two of the sport's top young drivers raced for second place. Ty Dillon had it. Kyle Larson wanted it. Larson dived low in turn 3 but Dillon came down the track, a move Larson wasn't expecting. They wrecked.
This moment stands out not for the crash but for the hard-charging style of two drivers who represent the sport's future. While one can argue that Larson could have been more patient around Dillon, who was still in contention for the truck series title, the fact is it was two drivers going for the same spot. It's what fans want. It's what the sport needs. While the result of their battle proved unsatisfying, they showed just how youth could shake up NASCAR.
I'll never forget the anger, disappointment and frustration Elliott Sadler felt after NASCAR penalized him for jumping the final restart, which cost him the win in the inaugural Nationwide race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Any driver is going to be upset believing they had a race taken away from them, but Sadler was succinct. He and his team wanted to win this race since it was the first time the series had raced at the Brickyard.
Yes, some fans say Indy doesn't mean as much and note the empty seats as proof. While fans might not be as high on that track, it still remains important to drivers. Just look at Sadler's emotions that day.
Michael Waltrip didn't waste time to loosen his gold-patterned tie or remove his black jacket after completing his duties on Fox's broadcast at Bristol in March. He hurried to congratulate his three teams for finishing in the top five.
"A big day for us,'' Waltrip said.
The finish was the result of work done more than a year earlier when team executives knew they had to make dramatic changes. They began working more closely with Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing. A series of new hires followed bringing executive Scott Miller, drivers Mark Martin and Clint Bowyer and crew chief Brian Pattie to the organization, among others.
While no one could predict then that Bowyer would finish second in the points and Martin Truex Jr. also would make the Chase, that unseasonably warm spring day offered a clue as to what was to come.
Daytona's Truck Series race featured a surprise winner in John King, who was out of a ride by June because of lack of funding. The day after that race, James Buescher was running 11th on the final lap of the Nationwide race when the top 10 cars crashed in the last corner and he slipped by to score the improbable win.
Then after a rain delay pushed the Daytona 500 to prime-time on a Monday, Juan Pablo Montoya's crash into a jet dryer set off a fire that delayed the race for more than two hours, giving Brad Keselowski a chance to pull out his phone and tweet to fans. (Matt Kenseth would go on to win the race.) It was a Speedweeks that will be hard to top.
Hours after running out of fuel and finishing 16th in the opening Chase race, Denny Hamlin took to Twitter and posted this message: "This is 1 week of 10. We will win next week.''
Did he guarantee a win the following week at New Hampshire? Many people read it that way.
This makes my list because it, in essence was him calling his shot. I just don't like that he backpedaled a bit from the statement when he talked to the media that weekend. Who doesn't like to see someone brave enough to make a bold statement and then deliver? If only the sport saw more of that and then someone sticking to what they say.
Without a sponsor, Kurt Busch and his team made their car for Talladega look like Ricky Bobby's from the movie "Talladega Nights.'' Even better is the team called Kurt "Ricky'' on the radio and movie lines were tossed back and forth as they raced.
There's no doubt to how serious this sport can be, but it is refreshing to see some able to enjoy it even for a small amount of time. Hey, this is supposed to be fun.
Brad Keselowski had the dominant car at Charlotte in October when he was set to pit. He was told if the fuel pressure looked good to run another lap. It did, so he bypassed the pits. Just as he did he ran out of fuel. He made it back around to pit but his chances to win were over. He finished 11th.
What struck me about that was how there was no second-guessing publicly by Keselowski, crew chief Paul Wolfe or the team after that.
"We're not going to put the prevent defense out there,'' Keselowski said afterward. "We're going to go at you, we're going to try to sack the quarterback every time.''
A team committed to doing all it can to win the title and take the chances to do so. That was fun to watch.
Regardless what you think about either Busch brother, this was a favorite moment because it was a family winning together when Kurt drove Kyle's Nationwide car to victory at Richmond in the spring. It would be the only Nationwide win of the season for Kyle's team.
"This is an unbelievable experience,'' Kurt Busch said in Victory Lane.
It was a moment shared by the brothers before us all.
Brad Keselowski's speech at the banquet this month was eloquent and genuine. He didn't use notes, but spoke from the heart. Toward the end of his speech, Keselowski said, "As we look into '13, I hope that as a sport we can continue to find common ground to unify ... As a champion, I want to be your leader and I want to help you make it happen.''
We'll see if he can do for the sport what he helped Penske Racing achieve this season. That he said it was important. No doubt it's a commitment he'll fulfill and that could help make the sport better for fans. What's not to like if that's the case?
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