NASCAR opens and closes 2012 season with a bang

By Jenna Fryer

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 23 2011 12:00 a.m. MST

Still grappling with just how far drivers can go in policing themselves, NASCAR officials held up Busch at Texas as the one who finally crossed the line. But, there's still questions: A week after Busch's incident, Brian Vickers intentionally wrecked Matt Kenseth at Phoenix — after announcing weeks before that Kenseth had one coming — and NASCAR took no action.

NASCAR also didn't explain publicly why Vickers wasn't punished, and it was discovered days before the season finale that Keselowski had been secretly fined $25,000 for critical comments he made about fuel injection. At a time when NASCAR claims to be transparent, it was back-to-back examples of the missteps the series still makes.

France has promised to re-evaluate the process of not announcing all fines during the offseason.

There are other issues to be addressed, as well.

At least four major teams are going away next year — one from Roush Fenway Racing, one from Richard Childress Racing and both Red Bull cars — because of sponsorship issues. Kenseth, a former series champion who challenged for the title deep into the Chase, has no funding lined up for next year, and team owner Jack Roush has said he'll pay for Kenseth's car out of pocket if he must.

Roush already has begun layoffs as David Ragan's Cup team likely won't exist next season, and Roush has nowhere to put Bayne or reigning Nationwide Series champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

After fielding three Nationwide cars this season, the team likely will be down to 1.5 next year.

Kevin Harvick Inc. closed its doors after celebrating the Truck Series owner's championship. Harvick's Nationwide cars went to RCR, and he shuttered the truck program. It might prove to be a wise decision as making money in NASCAR's lower two divisions becomes a difficult endeavor going forward. NASCAR finally unveiled its 2012 Truck Series schedule this week, and it was down three races to 22 as many tracks said they couldn't make the business model work.

The most immediate challenge, though, is breaking up the two-car packs before racing resumes again at Daytona in February.

The season finale was so thrilling, and drew a fair share of casual viewers, that NASCAR must back it up come the Daytona 500 with a solid show.

NASCAR took several cars to Daytona before the season finale to try different aerodynamic packages, and work likely will continue deep into January on making sure racing at Daytona returns to the style fans love.

"We are working on rolling back the clock to traditional Daytona, Talladega races," France said. "We'll have to see how that goes. I think the majority of fans would like to see that, and so would we."

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