Tom Pennington

NASCAR at Phoenix 2012: Brawl mars finish of Chase race

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21 Total Updates since November 9, 2012
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  • Updates 15
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Bomani & Jones: NASCAR does fighting right

This weekend is the close of NASCAR's Chase for the Sprint Cup. When did I learn this? When I was looking up the fight between Jeff Gordon and Clint Bowyer's posse.

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Gordon called 'cowardly' after Bowyer crash

Jeff Gordon said he was fed up with how Clint Bowyer has treated him this year, so he did something about it – intentionally crashed Bowyer and ended his championship hopes during Sunday's NASCAR race at Phoenix, setting off a melee in the garage.

"Thing just got escalated over the year, and I'd just had it," Gordon said. "Clint has run into me numerous times, wrecked me and he got into me on the back straightaway and pretty much ruined our day. I've had it...and I got him back."

Gordon said NASCAR has "got to do what they've got to do" in regard to punishing him for the retaliation, but he didn't sound remorseful immediately after the race.

Crew chief Alan Gustafson defended his driver and said he stood behind him "100 percent."

"It's about the fifth time that he's run over us and after awhile you get really frustrated with that," Gustafson said. "... If you're going to play that way, if you're going to race that way, then you shouldn't be upset when you get it back."

But Bowyer's team owner, Michael Waltrip, was less than impressed with Gordon's actions. He said he'd "never seen anything like what Jeff Gordon did to a guy racing for a championship."

"Cowardly, chicken move by someone that has raced for championships before and knows how important every position is," Waltrip said. "They barely brushed on the back straightaway and he waits – he purposely waits – and tells everybody he's waiting and wrecks our car and our hopes for racing for a championship.

"I'm beside myself. I can't believe that he would get involved in the championship battle."

Bowyer's crew chief, Brian Pattie, said NASCAR should take strong action against Gordon.

"If they're consistent, they'll park him (for Homestead)," Pattie said. "They parked (Kyle Busch) when they retaliated (in the Truck race last season). We'll see what happens. I like to be consistent. I try to be as fair as I can, so hopefully they are, too."

On Twitter, several of Gordon's peers also condemned the move.

Also, Brad Keselowski went off about Gordon's move in his post-race press conference and said it was embarrassing and shameful.

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Johnson's championship hopes take a massive hit

For the first half of Sunday's NASCAR race at Phoenix, everything seemed to be going according to the same script as last year's Chase.

Just as Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart battled in an ultra-close race where every point counted, Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski appeared to be headed in the same direction. Surely, the championship would not be decided until the final lap at Homestead.

Keselowski was running in the top five and Johnson had cracked the top 10, meaning they were tied in points or just several points apart in the "as they run" standings.

And then? Johnson shockingly hit the wall after he melted a bead due to excessive brake heat and blew a right-front tire.

It was absolutely stunning to see such a fate befall the five-time NASCAR champion, because he always seems to overcome any setbacks – even at Kansas last month, when he backed into the wall.

This time, though, Johnson had to go to the garage. He lost 38 laps in the process of repairs and finished 32nd, dropping him 20 points out of the Chase lead with just one race remaining.

Even if Johnson wins next week's race at Homestead and leads the most laps, Brad Keselowski can win the series title with a finish of 15th or better.

"It's unfortunate to have the day end like this," Johnson said, "and potentially end our season and hopes for a championship this way."

Johnson was going after his sixth title, which would have made the 2013 season all about whether the Hendrick Motorsports driver could tie Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt Sr. for most championships ever. And Johnson said just this weekend that his goal was to win eight career titles so he could be considered the best stock car driver in history.

But that will have to wait – at least it appears that way – after his Phoenix troubles.

"We'll always rally and regroup and do all we can," he said. "Unfortunately, we lost a lot of control – or all control – in the championship. We can go down there and win the race and do everything on our behalf and it still won't net us a championship.

"So we'll just go down and do our part and see how things unfold. Today was proof that anything can happen in this sport."

Before Johnson hit the wall, he said there was a "slight vibration" but he didn't think enough of it to consider there was a tire going down. Unfortunately for him, the tire went flat heading into the corner and he went straight for the wall; another 30 or 40 feet, he said, and it just would have been a flat tire with no wall contact.

"I just hate for our day to turn out as it did today, but that's racing," Johnson said. "We will go to Homestead and do all we can down there and see how things pan out."

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NASCAR explains why no caution for Danica wreck

Even after all the chaos of the Jeff Gordon/Clint Bowyer crash and ensuing crew fight on Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway, there was still more madness to come.

On the white flag lap of a green-white-checkered finish, Jeff Burton dumped Danica Patrick into the wall – which would have been a caution about 99.9 percent of the time if it occurred during the middle portion of the race.

But NASCAR likes to try and let the finish play out if possible, so officials swallowed their whistles – or caution flags, in this case – and let the race stay green as Kevin Harvick circled the track on the final lap.

There was just one problem: Patrick had put down oil all over the place and NASCAR didn't realize it. A bunch of cars drove right through it and then crashed coming out of Turn 4 in a big way – with Patrick's rear tires being completely lifted off the ground.

So why didn't NASCAR throw the caution? NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton said officials thought the smoke was from Patrick's tires, not her engine (which would indicate the presence of oil).

"At the time, she came all the way around (to the frontstretch) and was out of harm's way," Pemberton said. "We didn't see any fluid or anything. She rode around on the apron and when she pulled up on the racetrack, there was smoke (but) it looked like tire smoke."

Pemberton came close to acknowledging NASCAR made a mistake by not throwing the caution, which is a rarity for officials. At Watkins Glen, for example, NASCAR continued to insist there was no oil on the track even though drivers said there was.

"It's easy to look back on it, obviously, and wish that you did something different," Pemberton said. "But at the time, it didn't appear like there was any fluid that was coming out of the car."

Will Jeff Gordon get suspended?

Per standard NASCAR procedure, Pemberton said officials won't make any decisions until likely Monday or Tuesday as to whether or not Jeff Gordon will face punishment for intentionally wrecking Clint Bowyer.

NASCAR's decision could be swayed by the fact Bowyer was a championship contender up until that point and Gordon ended his Chase hopes.

"We remind the drivers to be as fair and square as you can about those things," Pemberton said. "It looks like the tempers got away with the best of them out there today."

Why did the race keep going after the first white flag?

NASCAR rules state once the leader takes the white flag, there are no more chances for a green-white-checkered finish. But the flagman displayed the white flag to Harvick right before the Gordon/Bowyer incident and the race still continued.

So what gives?

Pemberton said Harvick never actually crossed the start/finish line before the caution came out, so it didn't count.

"The leader did not take the white flag at the line, so if you look at the replays, the caution was thrown before the leader...got to the start/finish line," he said. "You display the white, but it's not official until you cross the line."

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Keselowski furious over Gordon/Bowyer incident

Brad Keselowski was criticized by some fans – and even a high-profile driver (Tony Stewart said he had a "death wish") – after some hard racing for the lead at Texas Motor Speedway last week.

But Keselowski battling Jimmie Johnson for the championship and Jeff Gordon blatantly wrecking Clint Bowyer at Phoenix were two completely different circumstances in his eyes, and he couldn't help but notice the difference during his post-race press conference on Sunday.

Keselowski, who has a 20-point lead heading into the final race of the Sprint Cup Series season, said he was "ashamed to be a part of" what happened at Phoenix.

"What offends me is the double standard that I spent a whole week being bashed by a half-dozen drivers about racing hard at Texas and how I'm out of control and have a death wish, and then I see bullshit like that," he said. "That's fucking bullshit! That's all you can call that.

"These guys just tried to kill each other. You race hard and I get called an asshole for racing hard and called with a death wish, and I see shit like that and it just pisses me off. It's just fucking ridiculous, and they should be ashamed. It's embarrassing."

Keselowski said he knows people want to see drama, but the best drama is the result of racing for the lead – "not a retaliation for sixth place of whatever it might be."

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Bowyer: Gordon act 'makes us look like retards'

After speaking with NASCAR officials about his part in a late-race crash and melee in Sunday's AdvoCare 500 at Phoenix, Clint Bowyer was both angry and downtrodden over Jeff Gordon's actions.

Bowyer, who still had an outside chance at winning the Sprint Cup Series championship entering the race, was taken out by Gordon in an act of blatant retaliation that set off a brawl between the teams.

Gordon's retaliation, Bowyer said, "makes us all look like a bunch of retards."

"It's pretty embarrassing for a four-time champion and what I consider one of the best the sport's ever seen to act like that," Bowyer said. "It's completely ridiculous."

Bowyer said he wasn't even trying to pass Gordon at that point in the race. He was biding his time and was content to ride behind Gordon to ensure a solid finish and a gain in the championship standings, but Gordon suddenly slipped up the track.

"I get under him and here he comes back, and I literally just barely rubbed him," Bowyer said. "And then all of the sudden I feel him trying to retaliate. I don't know if he missed and hit the wall, but he made himself look like a fool."

Brett Griffin, Bowyer's spotter, then surprised the driver with the news Gordon was waiting for him in Turn 3, ready to retaliate. Bowyer was bitterly disappointed when Gordon followed through on the threat.

"That was my opportunity to get myself back into the championship hunt," Bowyer said. "When you disrupt a championship hunt like that, it's too bad. They ask us not to do that at the drivers meeting and there's usually a lot of respect there. It's crazy. I didn't even need to pass him."

Though the two drivers were in the NASCAR hauler at the same time, they apparently did not interact. Bowyer said he didn't speak to Gordon when asked for details of their conversation.

"It's pretty soon to be talking to him," he said.

Asked if Gordon should be suspended for the season finale at Homestead, Bowyer wouldn't offer an opinion. His focus turned to the race itself, where he can still finish third in points if he gains two positions on Kasey Kahne.

"There's nothing you can do to fix it now, it's over with," he said. You've got to go on to Homestead and I gotta try and beat the 5 car."

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VIDEO: NASCAR brawl!

A pile-up occurred on the track between Jeff Gordon and Clint Bowyer, and then a brawl erupted in the garage between the drivers' crews.

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Petty: Harvick's camp leaked SHR move

Kyle Petty had some interesting comments about Kevin Harvick's reported move to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014. Here are his thoughts, courtesy of Speed TV's public relations:

"Richard Childress is really upset about the way this has been handled. This is only a sport on Sunday afternoons. You drop the green flag and it's a sport from then until you drop the checkered flag. The rest of the time it's a business. And for Richard Childress, this is his livelihood. It's a business.

"Budweiser, whether it be Caterpillar, Menards – he has other partners and sponsors that he has to work with and deal with, and to get blindsided by a leak – and I do believe Kevin's camp leaked this out early so it would cause a little bit of chaos and would cause a little bit of disruption for whatever reason – I do understand Richard being upset about that."

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Race day: Start time, lineup, TV info and more

It's NASCAR race day at Phoenix International Raceway, and we've got the actual race start time, the starting lineup and some other facts about today's AdvoCare 500 for you below.

What time does the race start today? Today's Phoenix race has a late afternoon start time in order to finish close to primetime on the East Coast. Two executives from race sponsor AdvoCare will give the command to fire engines at 3:12 p.m. Eastern time (1:12 p.m. local), followed by the green flag at 3:20 p.m.

Race name/distance: Today's race is the AdvoCare 500, which is NOT 500 miles (thankfully). It's actually 312 laps around the 1-mile Phoenix International Raceway for a total of 312 miles. That's 500 kilometers, which is why there's a "500" in the name.

TV, radio and live streaming: Today's race can be seen on ESPN, as will next week's season finale at Homestead. There IS live streaming of the race today, which can be found at NASCAR.com's "RaceBuddy" site and on the "Watch ESPN" app. If you'll be away from your computer and TV, check the Motor Racing Network's web site for a list of affiliate radio stations in your area.

*** NOTE: If you're out and about today and can't watch the race, make sure to follow me (@jeff_gluck) on Twitter. I'll be tweeting updates about the event. ***

National anthem: JoJo, the young pop singer who sang "Get Out," will perform the national anthem today. Now 21 years old, JoJo was supposed to sing the anthem at Fontana this year but her appearance was postponed until now.

Tickets: The grandstands at Phoenix are SOLD OUT (55,000 seats), but there are still some general admission tickets available for the hillside (bring your own chairs). If you're hoping for grandstand seats, there are plenty of scalpers along Avondale Blvd. on the way from I-10 into the track.

Weather: The unofficial NASCAR weatherman, Brian Neudorff, says today's weather at Phoenix will be chilly for Arizona standards – in the low 60s – but not rainy.

Last time: In March, Denny Hamlin set the tone for his solid season by driving to victory at a track where his championship dreams once took a huge hit. And one year ago, Kasey Kahne won for Red Bull Racing on his way out the door.

Here's the starting lineup for today's NASCAR race at Phoenix International Raceway:

  1. Kyle Busch
  2. Martin Truex Jr.
  3. Denny Hamlin
  4. Kasey Kahne
  5. Aric Almirola
  6. Kurt Busch
  7. Paul Menard
  8. Regan Smith
  9. Tony Stewart
  10. Mark Martin
  11. Jeff Gordon
  12. Ryan Newman
  13. Carl Edwards
  14. Brad Keselowski
  15. Joey Logano
  16. Clint Bowyer
  17. Marcos Ambrose
  18. Jamie McMurray
  19. Kevin Harvick
  20. Greg Biffle
  21. Juan Pablo Montoya
  22. Matt Kenseth
  23. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
  24. Jimmie Johnson
  25. Casey Mears
  26. Sam Hornish Jr.
  27. Landon Cassill
  28. Michael McDowell
  29. David Ragan
  30. Bobby Labonte
  31. David Gilliland
  32. David Stremme
  33. Jeff Burton
  34. David Reutimann
  35. Stephen Leicht
  36. Mike Bliss
  37. Danica Patrick
  38. Josh Wise
  39. Travis Kvapil
  40. Jason Leffler
  41. Timmy Hill
  42. Dave Blaney
  43. Joe Nemechek

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NASCAR Race Day Weather Forecast at Phoenix

We are down to two races for the NASCAR Sprint Cup series, with today's race at Phoenix International Raceway. Forecast for today's race will be mostly sunny, with cooler than average temperatures. Average high for Phoenix in early November is around 78 degrees, afternoon temperatures today will be 15 to 20 degrees cooler.

There is one more forecast left for the 2012 season, looking forward to Homestead and here is to better weather for the end of the season than what we had at the beginning.

Please follow me on Twitter @NASCAR_WXMAN and like me on Facebook for the latest weather updates through the week.

Conditions in Phoenix, AZ: Click here for Current Weather Conditions | Look at Doppler Radar | Mobile Friendly Site | Mobile Radar

SUNDAY:
1 p.m ET
Sprint Cup Race – Mostly sunny and cool – temp: 55
2 p.m ET
Sprint Cup Race – Mostly sunny and cool – temp: 57
3 p.m ET
Sprint Cup Race – Mostly sunny and cool – temp: 60
4 p.m ET
Sprint Cup Race – Mostly sunny and cool – temp: 61
5 p.m ET
Sprint Cup Race – Mostly sunny and cool – temp: 62
6 p.m ET
Sprint Cup Race – Mostly sunny and cool – temp: 61

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Nationwide results: Logano wins, Sadler falters

Joey Logano smoked the field, while Elliott Sadler's title dreams went up in smoke.

Logano, the polesitter, dominated Saturday's Great Clips 200 Nationwide Series race at Phoenix International Raceway, beating new Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Brian Vickers to the finish line to win for the ninth time in 21 starts this season, the first time at PIR and the 18th time in his career.

Sadler's wreck forced the race to a green-white-checkered-flag finish and extended the length of the race from the scheduled 200 laps to 204.

Defending NNS champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr. ran third and opened his lead in the series standings to 20 points over Sadler, whose late crash led to a 22nd-place finish.

For the second straight year at Phoenix, Elliott Sadler's championship hopes took a severe blow. Coming to the white flag in 12th position, Sadler tangled with the Chevrolet of Cole Whitt, backed into the outside wall and turned sideways into the path of Richard Childress Racing teammate Brendan Gaughan.

The blow from Gaughan's Chevy tore the nose off Sadler's car. NASCAR red-flagged the race, and Sadler sat in his crippled car, after driving away from the accident scene. Sadler lost a lap in the pits while his car was repaired and rolled across the finish line at half speed.

"I did it to myself," said Sadler, who started from the rear after slapping the wall during time trials and going to a backup car. "I put my team in a hole, qualifying like I did. We tried to work on this car as much as we could, and I just got a little loose there, getting under the 88 (Whitt).

"I just wanted to say, 'My fault.' I should have done a better job for these guys. I just apologized to them for putting them in this position heading to Homestead (site of next Saturday's season finale). We're going to go there and fight, but I definitely dug ourselves a hole."

The caution for Sadler's wreck interrupted a fierce battle between Logano and Vickers, both of whom thought they would have won had the race continued to green to the checkered flag. Logano pulled ahead after the drivers swapped the lead following a restart on Lap 196.

"He got underneath me, and then I crossed him over off of (Turn) 4," said Logano, who led 168 laps. "And then I was able to clear in the middle of 3 and 4, and it was like, 'OK, I've got him now.' I think my car was good enough to take off...

"I got pretty nervous when he passed me (after the restart). It was like, 'Uh, oh. This is not good. I'm about to give this thing away.' Brian did an awesome job. It was a heck of a race."

Sadler started from the rear in a backup car after slapping the wall during qualifying. From the drop of the green flag, he worked his way toward the front, climbing to the 18th position before John Blankenship's spin on Lap 32 brought out the second caution.

After a two-tire call on Lap 71, under the third yellow for Blankenship's second spin, Sadler restarted eighth. When Paulie Harraka looped his car in Turn 4 on Lap 89, NASCAR called the fifth caution. Sadler stayed out and restarted fourth -- and quickly gave back almost everything he had gained to that point.

Sadler went wide into the marbles on the restart on Lap 95 and nearly lost control of the No. 2 Chevrolet. By the time he had regained his momentum, Sadler was 15th and running behind Stenhouse, who had pitted for fuel and tires.

Running 11th on Lap 148 when Mike Wallace tapped Timmy Hill's Chevrolet and sent it spinning, Sadler chose to pit for four tires under caution on Lap 149, leaving him 14 spots behind Stenhouse in fourth for a restart on Lap 154.

Sadler, however, gained five positions to 13th before contact from Kyle Busch's Toyota turned Sam Hornish Jr. on Lap 155. By then, Stenhouse was running second to Logano.

Stenhouse can lock up his second straight title with a finish of 16th or better at Homestead, 17th if he leads a lap and 18th if he leads the most laps.

"We've got to keep doing what we're doing," Stenhouse said. "We've given up 20 points in one race, so it's not even close to over... It's going to be tough, because obviously I'm going to have to not push the limits as much as I like. I like going for race wins, too, so it's going to be a fine balance there."

Logano extended the lead of the No. 18 JGR car to 33 points in the owners' standings over the No. 6 Ford driven by Stenhouse. JGR will win the owners' title if the 18 finishes 28th or better at Homestead, 29th if it leads a lap or 30th if it leads the most laps.


RACE RESULTS
1. (1) Joey Logano(i), Toyota, 204, $55050.
2. (5) Brian Vickers(i), Toyota, 204, $34300.
3. (8) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 204, $40318.
4. (2) Kyle Busch(i), Toyota, 204, $27265.
5. (7) Kasey Kahne(i), Chevrolet, 204, $23740.
6. (3) Austin Dillon #, Chevrolet, 204, $31358.
7. (17) Michael Annett, Ford, 204, $25908.
8. (10) Brian Scott, Toyota, 204, $24833.
9. (6) Brad Keselowski(i), Dodge, 204, $18000.
10. (14) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, 204, $25233.
11. (12) Justin Allgaier, Chevrolet, 204, $23908.
12. (9) Jason Leffler(i), Chevrolet, 204, $23758.
13. (15) Mike Bliss, Toyota, 204, $23608.
14. (4) Sam Hornish Jr., Dodge, 204, $24248.
15. (22) Alex Bowman, Toyota, 204, $24538.
16. (20) Joe Nemechek, Toyota, 204, $23253.
17. (27) Jason Bowles #, Toyota, 204, $25643.
18. (36) Jamie Dick, Chevrolet, 204, $22883.
19. (34) Mike Wallace, Chevrolet, 204, $22773.
20. (18) Eric McClure, Toyota, 204, $23338.
21. (23) Paulie Harraka(i), Ford, 203, $16085.
22. (16) Elliott Sadler, Chevrolet, 203, $22443.
23. (19) Jeff Green, Toyota, 201, $15840.
24. (33) Derrike Cope, Chevrolet, 200, $15725.
25. (39) John Blankenship, Chevrolet, 200, $22608.
26. (11) Brendan Gaughan(i), Chevrolet, Accident, 199, $22098.
27. (42) Timmy Hill, Chevrolet, 199, $22063.
28. (38) Daryl Harr, Chevrolet, 199, $21993.
29. (13) Cole Whitt #, Chevrolet, Accident, 198, $21918.
30. (37) Dexter Stacey, Ford, 197, $22183.
31. (41) Derek White, Toyota, 188, $21848.
32. (40) Noel Dowler, Ford, Accident, 182, $21813.
33. (21) Jeremy Clements, Chevrolet, Oil Pump, 86, $21778.
34. (26) Kevin Lepage, Ford, Axle, 39, $15275.
35. (32) Morgan Shepherd, Chevrolet, Engine, 20, $15240.
36. (43) Mike Harmon, Chevrolet, Overheating, 18, $15205.
37. (25) Erik Darnell, Chevrolet, Ignition, 18, $15160.
38. (28) JJ Yeley(i), Chevrolet, Rear Gear, 17, $15125.
39. (24) Blake Koch, Toyota, Brakes, 17, $14865.
40. (29) Josh Wise(i), Chevrolet, Electrical, 15, $14830.
41. (35) Carl Long, Ford, Brakes, 12, $14795.
42. (30) Chase Miller, Chevrolet, Brakes, 8, $14745.
43. (31) Tony Raines(i), Toyota, Vibration, 5, $14677.

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Johnson, Keselowski race hard, but with respect

Last week at Texas, NASCAR championship contenders Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski put on a fierce duel which ended with Johnson celebrating his second win in as many weeks.

Afterward, despite losing ground to Johnson in the standings, Keselowski made it a point to stop in Victory Lane and congratulate Johnson on his latest triumph – something no other driver did.

Johnson appreciated the gesture so much he tweeted his appreciation to his rival with the hashtag "#respect." Keselowski responded cryptically with, "Thanks for helping me out in Road Atlanta," referring to a savage crash in a test session there last year that left him with a broken left ankle.

When asked earlier in the week about his tweet, Keselowski declined to elaborate beyond saying Johnson "cared when he didn't have to."

But on Friday at Phoenix International Raceway, Johnson expounded upon the relationship between the two drivers and why they share mutual respect for one another.

At the Road Atlanta incident, Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus were some of the first people on the scene.

"We helped him get out of the car and find his bearings," Johnson said. "And we checked up on him when he was at the hospital. I mean, it was a heck of a crash. I was just concerned for him, and maybe that was something different than he had experienced with other racers."

Did that explain why Keselowski didn't spin Johnson at Texas, even though it would have given him a comfortable points lead with two races to go?

Perhaps in a small way. But the Penske Racing driver said it had more to do with the respect Johnson has shown him on the track than anything else.

"Jimmie has never done anything to me to deserve to be raced in that manner," Keselowski said. "When I race people the way I race them, I race them off a code that usually exists based off of how they race me. And Jimmie has never put me in a spot where I had to stand my ground.

"That's my No. 1 reason, because he's never tried to push me around."

Johnson, however, wasn't surprised that Keselowski chose not intentionally wreck him. In his eyes, to have done so would have tainted anything that could have potentially been gained.

"There are only a few people out there wired like that, and in today's world there is probably less – like it or not," Johnson said. "It's just the way it is. People race really, really hard and I think Brad did.

"To just go into a corner and dump someone, man, that's tough to deal with. There are a variety of things that come with that and I don't think there are many guys out there who would haul off and dump their competition for the championship."

But the respect Keselowski has shown upon Johnson isn't something he necessarily did earlier in his career. When he first came on the scene, Keselowski earned a reputation for being aggressive on the track and had well-documented run-ins with Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin.

However, with time and some maturity, Keselowski has learned to channel his aggressiveness – something Johnson certainly took note of last week.

"I really feel like he was extremely aggressive and had that mindset of 'go for broke,' but we all evolve as drivers," Johnson said. "And I think he was more in control of his vehicle Sunday night (than) when he was new to the sport."

Now, 15 months after the incident at Road Atlanta, that camaraderie and admiration between Johnson and Keselowski is being put to the test as they square off for the Cup championship. But don't think for a second that just because they share respect for one another doesn't mean they're not going to race each hard other these final two weeks.

Keselowski, in particular, professes that while he has a "tremendous amount of respect" for Johnson, he also wants to beat him "with every inch of my body." But Keselowski refuses to allow that esteem to be used against him.

"There is a difference between respect and laying over for someone," he said. "I'm going to push him as hard as I can, and if he does win it – which I don't plan on letting happen – he's going to look back at this time period and say he's never fought harder than he's had to fight me. And that's how I plan on racing him."

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Cool temperatures in the Arizona desert

Weather this weekend for Phoenix International Raceway will be mostly sunny but it will also be cool for Phoenix standards. A strong cold upper level low will work across the region.

Nascar_phoenix_weather_forecast_medium

It will be cool this weekend with afternoon high temperatures will be in the low 60s during the day. By Sunday, the forecast for the Sprint Cup Series race will be sunny and cool with high temperatures in the low 60s.

Please follow me on Twitter @NASCAR_WXMAN and like me on Facebook for the latest weather updates through the week.

Conditions in Phoenix, AZ: Click here for Current Weather Conditions | Look at Doppler Radar | Mobile Friendly Site | Mobile Radar

SATURDAY:
12:35 p.m ET
Nationwide Qualifying – Partly sunny – temp: 58
2:35 p.m ET
Sprint Cup Series Final practice – Partly sunny – temp: 61
4:00 p.m ET
Nationwide Series race – Partly Sunny – temp: 62

SUNDAY:
1 p.m ET
Sprint Cup Race – Mostly sunny and cool – temp: 55
2 p.m ET
Sprint Cup Race – Mostly sunny and cool – temp: 57
3 p.m ET
Sprint Cup Race – Mostly sunny and cool – temp: 60
4 p.m ET
Sprint Cup Race – Mostly sunny and cool – temp: 61
5 p.m ET
Sprint Cup Race – Mostly sunny and cool – temp: 62
6 p.m ET
Sprint Cup Race – Mostly sunny and cool – temp: 63

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Lineup: Kyle Busch wins the pole, JJ struggles

Kyle Busch won the pole for Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Phoenix International Raceway with a new track record, but the biggest story was perhaps points leader Jimmie Johnson's mediocre qualifying lap.

Johnson, who came into the penultimate Chase race with a seven-point lead over Brad Keselowski, qualified a surprising 24th for the AdvoCare 500 on Friday – his worst start in a Chase race since the 2010 opener at New Hampshire. Johnson hadn't qualified so low this season since the August Bristol race.

Keselowski, meanwhile, qualified 14th after struggling with qualifying earlier in the Chase. Starting 10 spots ahead of Johnson means he'll be the "points as they run" leader when the green flag is waved on Sunday afternoon.

As for Busch, he used his position as the last car out to post the quickest lap of the day. Martin Truex Jr. was second, followed by Denny Hamlin, Kasey Kahne and Aric Almirola. Kurt Busch, Paul Menard, Regan Smith, Tony Stewart and Mark Martin rounded out the top 10.

Clint Bowyer, who still has an outside shot at the championship, qualified 16th – in between Keselowski and Johnson.

JJ Yeley was the only car to miss the race.

Here is the starting lineup for Sunday's NASCAR race at Phoenix:

  1. Kyle Busch
  2. Martin Truex Jr.
  3. Denny Hamlin
  4. Kasey Kahne
  5. Aric Almirola
  6. Kurt Busch
  7. Paul Menard
  8. Regan Smith
  9. Tony Stewart
  10. Mark Martin
  11. Jeff Gordon
  12. Ryan Newman
  13. Carl Edwards
  14. Brad Keselowski
  15. Joey Logano
  16. Clint Bowyer
  17. Marcos Ambrose
  18. Jamie McMurray
  19. Kevin Harvick
  20. Greg Biffle
  21. Juan Pablo Montoya
  22. Matt Kenseth
  23. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
  24. Jimmie Johnson
  25. Casey Mears
  26. Sam Hornish Jr.
  27. Landon Cassill
  28. Michael McDowell
  29. David Ragan
  30. Bobby Labonte
  31. David Gilliland
  32. David Stremme
  33. Jeff Burton
  34. David Reutimann
  35. Stephen Leicht
  36. Mike Bliss
  37. Danica Patrick
  38. Josh Wise
  39. Travis Kvapil
  40. Jason Leffler
  41. Timmy Hill
  42. Dave Blaney
  43. Joe Nemechek
DNQ: JJ Yeley

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Is Johnson a 'butthole' for winning so much?

Is Jimmie Johnson an asshole for winning so much? Clint Bowyer seems to think so.

"I just saw Clint Bowyer in the motorhome lot, and he said a lot of things I can't say on TV," Johnson said with a laugh on Friday at Phoenix International Raceway. "Something about the rear end...and I'm that part for winning last weekend."

Rear end?

"Not the cheeks, but the other part, in his words," Johnson said.

Oh. "Asshole."

"I called him a butthole – that would be the PG-13 (version) of it," Bowyer said. "He is. He's just a pain in the butt. He won't go away.

"I sent him a message after he won Martinsville, and it was kind of similar along those lines."

It's all in good fun, of course (almost everything is when Bowyer is involved). But in some ways, Bowyer just said what other drivers are thinking: Please, Jimmie, stop winning so much.

"Maybe they are not happy to see me in position to win a championship, but I think a lot of people respect the position we are in and what the team has done, what I have done," Johnson said. "I think that respect shows on the racetrack, too."

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Chance of Showers Early in the Weekend at Phoenix

Strong upper level low will slide through the state of Arizona bringing a chance of showers this afternoon to Phoenix International Raceway and much colder temperatures for both Saturday and Sunday.

Nascar_forecast_phoenix_nov_2012_medium

Skies will remain mostly cloudy through Friday afternoon and it is possible we see a scattered shower for Sprint Cup qualifying as well as the Camping World Truck Series race Friday night. Friday afternoon temperatures will be in the mid 70s.

Saturday and Sunday will be much cooler. High temperatures will be in the low 60s during the day and there is just a slight chance of an isolated shower or sprinkle during the day Saturday. By Sunday, the forecast for the Sprint Cup Series race will be sunny and cool with high temperatures in the low 60s.

Please follow me on Twitter @NASCAR_WXMAN and like me on Facebook for the latest weather updates through the week.

Conditions in Phoenix, AZ: Click here for Current Weather Conditions | Look at Doppler Radar | Mobile Friendly Site | Mobile Radar

FRIDAY:
2:00 p.m ET
Sprint Cup Series practice – Mostly cloudy, breezy chance of a shower – temp: 72
3:35 p.m ET
Nationwide Series Final practice – Mostly cloudy, breezy chance of a shower – temp: 74
4:35 p.m ET
Camping World Truck Series qualifying – Mostly cloudy, breezy chance of a shower – temp: 75
6:10 p.m ET
Sprint Cup Series practice qualifying – Mostly cloudy, breezy chance of a shower – temp: 75
8:00 p.m ET
Camping World Truck Series race – Mostly cloudy, breezy chance of a shower – temp: 67

SATURDAY:
12:35 p.m ET
Nationwide Qualifying – Partly sunny – temp: 58
2:35 p.m ET
Sprint Cup Series Final practice – Partly sunny – temp: 62
4:00 p.m ET
Nationwide Series race – Partly Sunny – temp: 63

SUNDAY:
1 p.m ET
Sprint Cup Race – Mostly sunny and cool – temp: 56
2 p.m ET
Sprint Cup Race – Mostly sunny and cool – temp: 58
3 p.m ET
Sprint Cup Race – Mostly sunny and cool – temp: 60
4 p.m ET
Sprint Cup Race – Mostly sunny and cool – temp: 61
5 p.m ET
Sprint Cup Race – Mostly sunny and cool – temp: 62
6 p.m ET
Sprint Cup Race – Mostly sunny and cool – temp: 63

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Schedule: Practices, qualifying and race times

NASCAR has a busy lineup at Phoenix International Raceway this weekend, with all three national series in action plus a K&N West Series race.

Here's a look at the on-track schedule – practices, qualifying and races – at Phoenix (all times listed are Eastern...track is on Mountain time):

FRIDAY

12 p.m. – Nationwide Series practice (1 hour, 20 minutes)

2 p.m. – Sprint Cup Series practice (1 hour, 25 minutes)

3:35 p.m. – Nationwide Series final practice (50 minutes)

4:35 p.m. – Camping World Truck Series qualifying

6:10 p.m. – Sprint Cup Series qualifying

8 p.m. – Camping World Truck Series race (150 laps, 150 miles)

SATURDAY

11:30 a.m. – Sprint Cup Series practice (55 minutes)

12:35 p.m. – Nationwide Series qualifying

2:35 p.m. – Sprint Cup Series final practice (50 minutes)

4 p.m. – Nationwide Series race (200 laps, 200 miles)

7 p.m. – K&N West Series race (50 laps, 50 miles)

SUNDAY

3 p.m. – Sprint Cup Series race (312 laps, 312 miles)

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Keselowski's hard-knock life prepped him for Chase

Chase pressure is nothing compared to the stress Brad Keselowski faced when his family race team went bankrupt – with him as the driver.

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