Bleacher Report's 2012 "Best of NASCAR" Awards
The 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup season has ended.
Brad Keselowski and his No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge team took home the NASCAR Sprint Cup title this year, ending Chevrolet's streak of Sprint Cup titles at seven.
Keselowski earned team owner Roger Penske his first-ever Sprint Cup championship with his feat, and after a remarkable run of 17 top 10 finishes in his last 20 races, the Polish Rocket was hands-down the best driver of 2012.
But before we can put the exclamation point on this NASCAR season--and boy, does it deserve an exclamation point--we have some more hardware to hand out in this year's Bleacher Report "Best of NASCAR" awards.
This year, we have 10 different categories ranging from serious to exciting, fun to outrageous and everything in between.
So sit back, relax, and reminisce about the season that was 2012.
Best Paint Scheme: Kurt Busch's "Ricky Bobby"
Low on luck and lower on funds, Kurt Busch and his Phoenix Racing team had to do something to catch a few eyes.
Something, they did.
Busch and his team went out of their way to re-create the ride of Ricky Bobby, Will Ferrell's beloved character from the 2006 film, "Talladega Nights".
Like Ferrell's Bobby, Busch was a driver accustomed to racing in top-notch equipment but was forced out of the cushier side of racing life after falling on hard luck--although Busch's was more self-inflicted than Bobby's.
Busch and his crew also attempted to re-create scenes from the movie by using silly quotes from the film over the radio.
The Phoenix Racing team was fun to watch on that April day, and Busch even had the car all the way up to second before getting wrecked out with just eight laps to go.
Best Finish: Watkins Glen
Of all the incredible finishes we had in 2012, none held a candle to that fateful Sunday afternoon in the Finger Lakes region of New York.
On that day's 90-lap event at the 2.45-mile road course, Kyle Busch dominated, leading a race-high 43 laps and needed only to win to essentially lock up a Chase berth for the third-consecutive year.
Yet, despite leading when the field took the white flag, Busch was unable to close the deal after, unbeknownst to fans, drivers and NASCAR, Bobby Labonte's No. 47 car leaked oil onto the track.
That set off a chain-of-events which saw Busch get dumped by Brad Keselowski, who dueled with Marcos Ambrose over the final two miles.
After swapping the lead three times on the final lap, Ambrose finally took the checkered flag for his only victory of the season.
Best Fight: Clint Bowyer vs. Jeff Gordon
In a year that saw a pair of ex-Indycar standouts get into a cat-fight, the resurrection of the Stewart v. Kenseth rivalry and a lashing out between Kurt Busch and Ryan Newman, nothing rivaled the fight that went down in this season's penultimate race.
In the closing laps in the second-to-last race at Phoenix, Clint Bowyer and Jeff Gordon rubbed fenders while battling for fifth.
Upset, Gordon attempted retaliation on Bowyer but missed, instead sliding his own No. 24 Dupont Chevrolet into the wall.
But Gordon would not be denied again, as he came back on Bowyer just five laps later, turning the No. 15 head-on into the wall right in front of championship leader Brad Keselowski with two laps to go, collecting Joey Logano and Aric Almirola in the process.
Afterwards, an all-out brawl broke out between the crews of Bowyer and Gordon, while the former deserted his disabled car on pit road in an attempt to join in on the action.
Though Gordon was fined, neither driver was penalized heavily and ironically the two finished first and second at Homestead, with Gordon taking the win.
Best Pre-Race Entrance: Denny Hamlin's "Dougie"
Teach me how to Dougie.
The good folks at Bristol Motor Speedway have a tradition of letting drivers pick which songs they would like to be played at driver introductions.
When asked this past Spring which song he would like to use for his intro at the half-mile bullring, Hamlin chose the hit song of that time, "Teach Me How to Dougie".
The oft-dry Hamlin did a fine job showing off his dance moves, getting fans everywhere on their feet for about six seconds or so before circling the track.
Best Interview: Brad Keselowski on "Sportscenter"
A common complaint about most NASCAR drivers, especially Brad Keselowski's closest contender for the Sprint Cup, five-time champ Jimmie Johnson, is that they are just too dry.
Well, folks, I don't think we'll have to worry about that with out newest champion. Literally.
Moments after claiming his first Sprint Cup title, Keselowski reaped the rewards of having an alcoholic beverage as his sponsor and then was sat down in front of a camera for a four-minute interview with ESPN's "Sportscenter".
The result was great, but the reviews were mixed. Some believed that Keselowski looked like a fool representing the sport like that on national television, while others admired Brad's candidness.
Either way, it got more hits than any of Johnson's interviews ever could.
Best Dig at NASCAR: Tony Stewart's "Figure Eight" Comments
Tony Stewart doesn't like racing at Talladega.
Then again, neither does anybody else. But after getting caught up in two wrecks during April's Aaron's 499 at Talladega, Stewart—in typical "Smoke" fashion—devised a way to craftily express his displeasure.
"I'm sorry we didn't crash more cars today. We didn't fill the quota for today for Talladega and NASCAR."
Stewart continued by satirically offering a couple of alternatives:
I think if we could make it a figure-eight, it would be perfect...and/or we can stop at halfway, take a break, turn around and go backwards the rest of the way. Then, with 10 [laps] to go we can split the field and half of them can go the regular direction and half of them can go backwards.
Stewart did not receive any fines or reprimands by NASCAR that we know of, but chances are he probably gained a few additional supporters with his polarizing take.
Best Moment We Won't Forget: Montoya Hits the Jet Dryer
This one doesn't need much explanation.
After waiting over 30 hours for 2012's version of the Great American Race to get started, the stars of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series took the green flag for the Daytona 500 on Monday night for the first time in the race's storied history.
The evening was plagued by a number of unusual circumstances, including a five-car wreck on Lap 2 that took out defending winner Trevor Bayne, five-time champ Jimmie Johnson and rookie Danica Patrick. But nothing compared to what happened with just under 50 laps to go.
Shortly after getting his car checked out for a vibration, Juan Pablo Montoya was attempting to catch up to the rest of the field under caution when a trailing arm broke, sending his No. 42 car careening into the track jet dryers and sparking an explosion.
The race was red-flagged for a couple of hours. Fortunately, everybody was ok. Matt Kenseth would claim the checkered flag just after 1 o'clock local time on Tuesday morning in a race that nobody will soon forget.
Best Feel-Good Moment: Dale Jr. Wins Again
Even Dale Earnhardt Jr's loudest critics had to be at least a little happy for the guy when he finally broke through back in June.
Four years after claiming his last victory, Earnhardt took the checkered flag at the same venue where his career-long 143-race winless streak began: Michigan International Speedway.
And wouldn't you know, it happened on Fathers' Day.
Junior would go on to have his best season in recent memory, posting 10 top fives and 20 top 10s while earning back-to-back Chase berths for the first time in his career.
Unfortunately, a concussion sustained in a wreck at Talladega would force him to miss two races and his final standing suffered, but don't sleep on the No. 88 in 2013.
Best Ride: Tony Stewart's Blowover at Talladega
But let's face it, nothing took our breath away more than Tony Stewart's blow over during the 25-car pileup on the final lap of October's race at Talladega.
In what was also the biggest crash of the year, Stewart threw a block on Michael Waltrip, while trying to defend his lead on the final lap of the Amp Energy 500.
What ensued was chaos, as Stewart flew on top of the cars of Kasey Kahne and Clint Bowyer, before landing on all four wheels.
Everybody, including Stewart, walked away from the carnage, although Dale Earnhardt Jr. would be diagnosed with a concussion and miss two races.
Best Silly Season Move: Joey Logano to Penske
Don't get me wrong. Matt Kenseth's move to Joe Gibbs Racing is one that will likely raise him to a slightly higher status in NASCAR circles and could just as easily have been substituted for this one.
But Joey Logano partnering up with the sport's most recent champ? That could be a defining move for the 22-year-old's career.
It wasn't planned this way. When Logano agreed to join Roger Penske's team and drive his team's second car, his future teammate Brad Keselowski wasn't a champion yet. Then again, neither were Denny Hamlin or Kyle Busch.
Now, Logano has a champion for a teammate and instead of being the third wheel for a perennial Chase organization, the NASCAR Nationwide Series' winningest driver from 2012 moves to a great team with room to grow and a mature driver to mentor him.
We'll see if that translates into a Chase berth in 2013.