Roger Diez: Looking back on motorsports in 2012
With New Year’s Day only days away, let’s take a look back at some of the highlights of the 2012 racing season.Brad Keselowski snatched the NASCAR Sprint Cup title away from five-time winner Jimmie Johnson in the final two races. It was a bittersweet victory, the first in Cup for owner Roger Penske, and the last for Dodge, which will not compete in NASCAR in 2013. Michael Waltrip Racing had its strongest season ever, with Clint Bowyer taking second place in the championship by a single point over Johnson. NASCAR’s tweaking of the Chase format, combined with the new points system, finally produced the results the series had been looking for, with drama over who would be in the Chase and a two-driver duel at the end. The year also provided perhaps the weirdest race ever, the 72 hours of the Daytona 500, with rain delays and a flaming jet dryer crash. •••Ricky Stenhouse Jr. won the Nationwide series championship over the oft-snake bitten Elliot Sadler and the up and coming Austin Dillon. Stenhouse will move up to Cup for 2013, taking over the number 17 Roush-Fenway Ford being vacated by Matt Kenseth. It was another championship that went down to the last race, even though the Nationwide series does not use the Chase format. Danica Patrick finished 10th in the point standings and scored the highest ever race finish for a female driver in NASCAR, a fourth place at Las Vegas. •••The Camping World Truck series title also was settled in the final race of the season, with James Buescher nipping Timothy Peters by a mere six points. Austin Dillon’s younger brother Ty finished fourth in the standings in his rookie season, showing that talent (and really good equipment) run in the family. Both drivers are grandsons of Richard Childress. Former Formula One driver Nelson Piquet Jr. finally got the hang of stock car racing, winning two Camping World Truck races as well as the Road American Nationwide race.•••And three young K&N Pro Series drivers got a chance to show their stuff in the Truck and Nationwide series with some cameo appearances. Drive for Diversity driver Kyle Larson, 20, won the K&N East championship and Rookie of the year for Revolution Racing, then almost won in his fourth Truck series race. Nineteen-year-old Darrell Wallace Jr., a Drive for Diversity graduate, scored a pole and three top 10 finishes in four Nationwide starts. And Ryan Blaney, just 18, also acquitted himself well, making 13 Truck and Nationwide starts and winning the Truck race at Iowa Speedway. •••Formula One had the most competitive season in recent memory, with no repeat race winners in the first seven races. Sebastian Vettel and the Red Bull team won their third consecutive driver and constructor championships in a row, despite a strong challenge from Fernando Alonso, who performed near-miracles with a sub-par race car. Season’s end marked Michael Schumacher’s second and hopefully final retirement, and saw Lewis Hamilton leave McLaren to take over Schumacher’s seat at Mercedes. And F1 returned to the United States after a long absence, to race on the beautiful and challenging Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas.•••The IndyCar series started the season with a brand-new chassis and three engine manufacturers. The combination provided the most entertaining Indy 500 in years. Andretti Autosport driver Ryan Hunter-Reay became the first American champion in the series since Sam Hornish, relegating Penske’s Will Power to runner-up spot for the third year running. Unfortunately, Lotus dropped out of the engine supplier ranks after their engines proved uncompetitive, leaving Honda and Chevrolet to battle for race wins. There was also a new officiating team, with a much more consistent and even-handed approach to running the races. Sadly, Randy Bernard, who was the driving force in many of the positive changes to the series, was ousted at season’s end. Fortunately, most of his plans for 2013 appear to remain in force.•••And finally, 2012 saw the passing of two motorsports legends: Carroll Shelby, creator of the Cobra, and Chris Economaki, dean of motorsports journalism. Godspeed, gentlemen.