Keselowski, Penske Championships Voted Best Moments of 2012

Dale
Earnhardt Jr.’s Winless Streak Tallies Close Second In Media
Poll

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla.
(Dec. 10, 2012)
– Score one more for
the underdog.

Brad Keselowski, no
one’s pre-season choice to win the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship,
stumped the experts. Media members, in turn, have voted Keselowski’s title run
for owner Roger Penske as NASCAR’s top story of the past season.

Keselowski’s first
championship prevailed in the voting over Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s drought-busting
victory in June at Michigan International Speedway.

Now that media
members have had their say, it’s the fans’ turn. Beginning at 5:30 p.m. ET this
evening, fans can vote for their favorite competition stories of 2012 on the
NASCAR Facebook page, www.facebook.com/NASCAR.

1.-Brad Keselowski’s
First Championship

Three races into the
season and two finishes worse than 30th, Keselowski appeared a dark horse even
to qualify for the postseason. But a second consecutive victory at Bristol Motor
Speedway helped turn around the fortunes of the No. 2 Penske Racing Dodge team
and by mid-September Keselowski was the No. 3 seed when the Chase for the NASCAR
Sprint Cup got underway. With two wins in the first three races, Keselowski went
from underdog to favorite. He lost the points lead when five-time champion
Jimmie Johnson won at Martinsville but refused to fade under pressure. A top-10
finish in the penultimate race at Phoenix coupled with Johnson’s accident and
mechanical failure in the finale clinched the title for Keselowski, Penske and
crew chief Paul Wolfe.

2.-Dale Earnhardt
Breaks 143-Race Winless Streak

Entering the 2012
season it had been nearly four years and more than 125 races since Earnhardt had
won a NASCAR Sprint Cup race. Even some among his legions of fans openly
wondered if Junior would ever grab another checkered flag. But this season the
Hendrick Motorsports driver brought his “A” game, posting two seconds and a pair
of thirds over the schedule’s first nine races. The breakthrough victory came at
Michigan International Speedway virtually to the day and at the site of
Earnhardt’s last win in June 2008. The 143-race drought was cleansed June 17 in
a race on a brand-new track surface over which Junior led 95 laps and beat
reigning champion Tony Stewart by more than five seconds.

3.-Matt Kenseth Wins
Explosive Daytona 500

No Daytona 500 is
ever quite like any other and this year’s Great American Race was no exception.
Rain postponed the race for the first time in history dating to the inaugural
race in 1959. And – again a first – the Daytona 500 became a Monday night
affair. Matt Kenseth proved to have the winning hand as his No. 17 Roush Fenway
Racing Ford led the most laps and held off Earnhardt in a green-white-checker
finish to record his second Daytona 500 victory in four years. What many will
most remember about 54th annual event was the Turn 3 fireball resulting from
Juan Pablo Montoya’s Chevrolet, which suffered a mechanical failure, slamming
into a jet dryer.

4.-Michael Waltrip
Racing Makes Chase In Style

Since becoming a
fulltime NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team in 2007, Michael Waltrip Racing had
experienced the joys of winning but never the fruits of a post-season run. David
Reutimann had come closest to qualifying for the Chase – 16th in 2009. Five
seasons of frustration ended in 2012 as not one but two of MWR’s drivers – Clint
Bowyer and Martin Truex Jr. – made the Chase. Bowyer, the organization’s
first-year driver, made the most of his opportunity winning twice including
Charlotte’s Chase race. Bowyer finished a career-high second in final standings.
Truex ranked 11th.

5.-Hendrick
Motorsports Records Milestone 200th Victory

Leave it to Jimmie
Johnson to register Hendrick Motorsports’ milestone 200th victory.
The organization’s driver with the most championships – five – ended a 16-race,
two-season count-down for win No. 200 on May 12 at Darlington Raceway. Johnson
had won No. 199 at Kansas Speedway in October 2011, drew blanks ever since.
Reaching the milestone seemingly ignited the fuse for HMS, which won three
consecutive races including Kasey Kahne’s Coca-Cola 600 victory at Charlotte
Motor Speedway. Each of Hendrick’s drivers – Johnson, Kahne, Earnhardt and
Gordon – won in 2012 as well as qualified for the Chase.

6.-Classic Rockingham
Raceway Returns To NASCAR In 2012

Rockingham Raceway,
in North Carolina’s sand hills, has provided many thrills during its five
decades as a part of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. The track’s run ended after
the 2004 season. Rockingham, under ownership of Andy Hillenburg, roared back to
life in 2012 when the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series debuted under sunny
skies and before full grandstands on April 15. Kasey Kahne, who finished second
to Matt Kenseth in the track’s final NASCAR Sprint Cup race, drove his Chevrolet
Silverado to Victory Circle posting the first series victory for Turner
Motorsports.

7.-Stenhouse Goes
Back To Back In The NASCAR Nationwide Series

Since the NASCAR
Nationwide Series was created in 1982 only five drivers had won consecutive
championships. In 2012, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. became the sixth member of the
series elite. Stenhouse battled Elliott Sadler – his chief rival in 2011 as well
– throughout the season. The points lead changed hands five times with Stenhouse
and his No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford forging ahead for the final time after a
fourth-place finish at Texas Motor Speedway in November. Stenhouse moves to
RFR’s No. 17 Ford for a NASCAR Sprint Cup rookie campaign in 2013.

8.-Patrick Makes
History With Top-10 Championship Finish

Danica Patrick became
a full-time NASCAR driver for the first time in 2012 and she made the most of
her opportunity with JR Motorsports. Patrick, who would become the
highest-finishing female driver (fourth) in a NASCAR national series a year ago,
made history again. Her 10th-place NASCAR Nationwide Series championship finish
set a new standard for female competitors erasing Sara Christian’s previous
record of 13th in 1949 NASCAR Sprint Cup standings. Patrick finished four times
in the top 10 and won the Coors Light Pole for the season opening race at
Daytona. She’ll move to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series fulltime in 2013 with
Stewart-Haas Racing.

9.-Ambrose Wins
Second At The Glen In Wild Finish

You couldn’t have
scripted a wilder finish than that of August’s Finger Lakes 366 at the Glen.
Take three hungry hounds – Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski and Marcos Ambrose – mix
in the drama of a final lap and stir with the possibility of making or missing
the Chase and you’ve got a recipe for one of the year’s wildest conclusions. The
final laps saw leader Busch and Keselowski collide and Keselowski on and off the
track and running side-by-side with Ambrose, who finally pulled out a
half-second victory off the final turn. Busch’s loss was the difference between
making the Chase as a Wild Card and being a spectator in the
postseason.

10.-Jeff Gordon
Claims Final Wild Card Spot At Richmond

Nail-biting intrigue
sits atop the menu whenever the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series rolls to race No. 26 –
the Chase cut-off race at Richmond International Raceway. And the 2012 edition
ranks among the best versions since its inception in 2004. For the first time
since 2009, a driver outside the Chase bubble raced his way in after the
400-lapper. That driver – four-time series champion Jeff Gordon, who
leap-frogged past Kyle Busch to earn the second Wild Card spot by three points.
Gordon finished second in the race. Busch, thanks in part to a lug nut problem
on pit road, finished 16th, missing the Chase for the first time since
2009.

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