‘Bittersweet’ doesn’t even begin to describe how the final race at Homestead-Miami made me feel.
When the season starts with a jet dryer explosion, your expectations are high. The season may have faltered at times, but a large chunk of the races delivered. We headed into Miami with that same anticipation. How was this season going to end?
The points battle was down to two. Jimmie Johnson -the five-time champion- was twenty points behind fresh-faced Brad Keselowski. The points leader kept calm and loose all week, strong nerves not breaking down. Focused. Driven.
The race itself had few cautions, but the points brought the drama. The first stumble was from Keselowski, who ran out of fuel, trying to stretch the run. Ironically, the #2 team were pros at playing the fuel mileage game throughout the season. The car stayed running, but they fell a lap down.
Just when it looked like Brad’s luck was running out, however, he was dealt a winning hand.
Jimmie Johnson was set on an agenda: he was only going to need one stop while everyone else would need two, including Brad.
That crumbled when his crew missed a lugnut. They had waited for fuel, so it was a flat-out miss. At this time, Brad cycled back onto the lead lap into seventh. Jimmie went a lap down.
A crack in the façade of flawlessness the #48 team had built. And it continued when the cockpit began to fill up with smoke.
When he made that extra pit stop, and the TV showed Chad Knaus getting out of his seat, you knew. They went to the garage. You knew it, and you couldn’t believe it.
The championship fell into Brad’s hands. Now, many will say it was luck, and many will say it was strategy. So let me say this.
He could’ve cracked. He could’ve succumbed to the pressure.
But he didn’t.
And as the checkered flag fell for Jeff Gordon, he held it in his hands. It was real, for him, Roger Penske, Dodge, the fans, everyone.
Brad Keselowski deserves this championship. For now, we have a champion who relates to us. Imperfect. Real. Twitter-addicted. Not to mention the fondness for alcohol. He’s the purest form of a NASCAR fan. He’s just a huge piece in its puzzle.
Jeff Gordon won the race, a huge 180 from last week at Phoenix. He claimed he wanted to gain momentum for next year. I don’t blame him. It marks Gordon’s and Hendrick’s first win at the track. In a race with so much hurt for that organization, a bit of happiness slips through those cracks.
Not only is it the end of a season, it’s the end of my first season covering this beautiful creature of a sport. For those who have watched me grow and read every edition, I thank you.
This is why my heart beats.
It came down to a full circle ending. The season began in Florida under the lights, and that’s how it came to a close, under a shower of fireworks and confetti. The oddly enchanting quirk is enjoyable. Pleasant.
As poetic as it seems, this writer despises it.
The season is really over.
Ninety-eight days until the Daytona 500, everyone.
Hunker down until then.