NASCAR Sprint Cup: The 10 Biggest Crashes of the 2012 Season

Christopher LeoneSenior Analyst INovember 23, 2012

NASCAR Sprint Cup: The 10 Biggest Crashes of the 2012 Season

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    In a Sprint Cup season that saw many long periods of caution-free racing and the suggestion of bunching up the fields with artificial yellows, some folks might be happy to know that yes, there were still a few legitimate accidents this year.

    However, as the old adage goes, "cautions breed cautions." In fact, many of the most significant wrecks of the year came in the same races as one another, and that doesn't just mean the typical Daytona and Talladega pileups.

    Among this year's accidents, we saw a legendary Dover backstretch pileup, a checkers-and-wreckers scenario in Phoenix and the traditional Bristol fanfare. Not only that, thanks to one Juan Montoya, even the safety vehicles got a piece of the action.

    In chronological order (for the most part), let's take an odyssey through this year's top 10 Sprint Cup accidents.

Wasting No Time at Daytona

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    It only took about one lap in this year's Daytona 500 before we saw our first wreck of the year, and it eliminated multiple high-profile drivers right off the bat. We'll never get to know just how close Trevor Bayne would've been to defending his 2011 Daytona 500 win, or how fast Danica Patrick could have been in her Sprint Cup debut.

    But the most prominent casualty of the wreck may have been Jimmie Johnson, as Elliott Sadler turned him head-on into the wall and ended his race before it really even started. Johnson would finish a disappointing 42nd, not a great start to his quest for a sixth Sprint Cup title.

Late-Race Accident Eliminates Former Daytona 500 Winner

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    This wreck late in the Daytona 500 resulted in the only DNF of the season for eventual champion Brad Keselowski. He suffered terminal damage when a loose Jamie McMurray spun into him, and the wreck also collected top drivers like Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards and Kasey Kahne.

    McMurray and Keselowski finished 31st and 32nd, respectively, while the other drivers attempted to soldier on. Edwards would rebound to finish eighth, but no other driver involved would post a top-15 finish.

Kahne Causes Multi-Car Accident at Bristol

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    Even in its progressive banking phase, Bristol still had the potential to ruin the day of a lot of great cars at any given time. That was the case for Kasey Kahne, Marcos Ambrose, Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards in March when this accident—caused by Kahne coming high too late on Regan Smith—took them all out of contention for top-10 finishes (Kevin Harvick would rebound to finish 11th).

    The wreck was especially significant for Kahne, whose No. 5 team fell to 32nd in owners' points with only one race before the top-35 qualifying rule would come into effect. He would rebound in the coming weeks, but Bristol put his team's backs up against the wall.

Financial Disaster for Start-and-Parkers in Dover

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    The single goal of a start-and-park race team is to stay out of trouble in your few laps on the track, so as to collect a paycheck with minimal repair costs. However, contact between Landon Cassill and Tony Stewart early in the June Dover race made this an expensive weekend for the majority of the sport's little guys.

    Joe Nemechek, Michael McDowell and Scott Speed all called it a day immediately, while Stephen Leicht and Dave Blaney limped around a few laps longer. Meanwhile, Cassill, David Gilliland and Casey Mears also pulled into the garage with terminal damage after this wreck.

Stewart Takes Checkers, Others Need Wreckers in Daytona

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    It seems like you can't have a restrictor-plate race these days without there being a climactic wreck at the finish, with only a few surviving cars able to cross the finish line unhindered. In this year's Coke Zero 400 at Daytona, there were two; the first saw Denny Hamlin, Marcos Ambrose and Clint Bowyer among the 14 drivers involved, while this one collected 15 drivers, including Kevin Harvick, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Greg Biffle.

Tony Stewart Presents the Bristol Helmet Toss

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    The night race at Bristol is well known for its fireworks, and past champions Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth were more than happy to set them off this August. While racing hard for the lead just over halfway through the event, Stewart and Kenseth made contact that sent them hard into the inside wall.

    Both drivers would continue, but not before a visibly frustrated Stewart responded by throwing his helmet at Kenseth's car, striking the Ford Fusion directly in the grill. While this wreck wasn't big in terms of impact, it was huge in its points implications: Stewart dropped to 10th in points, only 16 out of a wild-card spot that would have caused him to forfeit all of his bonus points from wins in the Chase.

Last-Lap Carnage at Talladega

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    For someone who's been so vocally critical of the accidents at Talladega in the past, Tony Stewart didn't do anybody any favors with his last-lap move on the two-car freight train of Michael Waltrip and Casey Mears. When Stewart and Waltrip made contact in front of most of the pack, few drivers had anywhere to go, leading to a colossal 25-car pileup.

    Matt Kenseth escaped cleanly to take the victory, but sorting out most finishing positions beyond that was a mess. Fifth-place finisher Regan Smith walked out of Talladega with his best finish of the season, but sent Furniture Row Racing home with a mangled car.

"A Real Act of a Champion"

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    In a clear-cut favorite for the "Dirtiest Wreck of the Year" award, Jeff Gordon decided to retaliate against numerous perceived slights from Clint Bowyer by wrecking the No. 15 car with two laps to go at Phoenix. Ignoring a black flag, Gordon slowed in the racing line, then turned Bowyer up into the wall as he tried to duck underneath. In response, both crews fought in the pits, while Bowyer, his championship hopes now toast, attempted to chase Gordon down in the garage.

    The incident also took out Joey Logano, however, leading many to call for a suspension for recklessness. NASCAR let Gordon off with only a $100,000 fine, however, and he made the most of the pardon by winning the next week's race at Homestead.

Checkers and Wreckers for Patrick, Others at Phoenix

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    Why NASCAR didn't throw a caution for the disabled car of Danica Patrick at Phoenix, we may never know. After making contact with Jeff Burton on the first lap of a green-white-checkered finish, she hit the wall and spun in the middle of the track before refiring her disabled car and attempting to bring it back to the finish line.

    But the decision to let drivers continue racing resulted in a major pileup at the checkered flag that destroyed the cars of many top-10 finishers, including Ryan Newman (fifth), Kurt Busch (eighth), Paul Menard (ninth) and Mark Martin (tenth). Even Brad Keselowski (sixth) got some major dents in the right side of his car, barely sneaking through.

The Biggest Wreck of the Year

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    Finally, this wreck deserves a special mention at the end of this list, because its situation was uniquely different than just about anything any fan had ever seen. Under caution in the season opener at Daytona, Juan Montoya sped around the track to catch up to the field. Unfortunately, he spun when a part in the back of his car broke and slammed into the back of a jet dryer.

    The collision created a massive explosion, fuel leak and lingering fire. It took track officials two hours and lots of Tide to clean up the track long enough to resume the race; otherwise, Dave Blaney would have been your Daytona 500 champion.

    For more from Christopher Leone, follow @christopherlion on Twitter.