Emergency workers extinguish a fire burning a jet dryer during the NASCAR… (Bill Friel / Associated…)
A bizarre fire. A brush with fame. A crushing loss. A historic champion.
It was a memorable 2012 in motor racing. And as the sport, well, gears up for next season, here's a look back at five major stories this year in chronological order:
1. NASCAR's Daytona 500 was one for the books. After a rain delay pushed the race to Monday night, Juan Pablo Montoya's Chevrolet broke as it went around the track under caution, slamming into the back of a jet-dryer truck blowing the track clean.
A fireball erupted, causing an extended red-flag period during which Brad Keselowski made more headlines by tweeting from his parked car. Oh, and Matt Kenseth eventually won the race.
2. Largely unknown Takuma Sato nearly put his name in the record books by trying to pass Dario Franchitti for the lead on the last lap of the Indianapolis 500.
If Sato had succeeded, he would have been the first Japanese driver to win the legendary race. Instead, Sato spun out and hit the Turn 1 wall, with Franchitti going on to win his third Indy 500.
3. Yet again, Australian Will Power had his first Izod IndyCar Series championship in his sights as he started the season finale at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana.
Then, early in the race, Power inexplicably spun and crashed into the wall, opening the door for Ryan Hunter-Reay to win the title instead. Months later, Power still couldn't explain why he lost control of his car.
4. Antron Brown, a former motorcycle racer who switched to top-fuel dragsters, drag racing's premier series, won the National Hot Rod Assn.'s Full Throttle Series top-fuel title at the season finale in Pomona.
Brown thus became the first African American to capture a major U.S. motor racing championship.
5. That same day, NASCAR once again made national headlines, this time for a melee in Phoenix.
After Jeff Gordon intentionally wrecked Clint Bowyer's car (and his own), Bowyer's crew went after Gordon in the garage and then all hell broke loose, with a throng of people pushing and shoving each other.
After the race resumed, there were more fireworks on the last lap when several other cars crashed as they came to the checkered flag. One who escaped was Keselowski, who went on to win his first Cup title for Penske Racing the following week.
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