The Year That Was: A splash n’ go history of 2012 in the world of NASCAR

From the Marbles

Can't believe we're already at the end of the year! Why, it seems like just yesterday that we were all basking in the glow of Juan Pablo Montoya's jet dryer fire at Daytona.

The season started with a rain-delayed Daytona 500. During the rain, we were joined for an impromptu live chat by a fella named Brad Keselowski. What ever happened to him? Once the race started, it wasn't long -- as in, two laps -- before Jimmie Johnson and Danica Patrick were taken out in a wreck. But the big story was the inferno caused by Montoya's collision with a jet dryer. That halted the race, allowing Keselowski to become the Twitter sensation that he is today. Oh, yeah, and Matt Kenseth won the race. We also saw the high school yearbook photos of a few of your favorite drivers.

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[Related: Danica Patrick to divorce after seven years of marriage | Photos]

NASCAR came down hard -- for a little while, at least -- on the 48 team for unauthorized modifications. A few drivers got a handful of Tony Stewart on live TV. In Bristol, Keselowski won his first race of the season. In the first of many ugly events for Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. cut his tire, ending Gordon's Bristol day early. Clint Bowyer collected Gordon and Johnson in a late wreck at Martinsville that would have no later recriminations whatsoever.

Check out a bird's-eye (well, satellite's-eye) view of Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s car graveyard. Denny Hamlin's second win of the season, at Kansas, made the #11 the winningest number in NASCAR ever.

Danica Patrick showed some salt by crashing Sam Hornish Jr. after the checkered flag at the Talladega Nationwide race. At the Sprint Cup race, another monstrous wreck led to differing opinions; meanwhile, Keselowski won again on a daring last-lap move on Kyle Busch. Talladega was also the second half of a Kentucky Derby/NASCAR two-day infield jaunt that we haven't totally recovered from. At Darlington, Jimmie Johnson scored win No. 200 for Hendrick Motorsports, and Kurt Busch got into a fight with Ryan Newman's crew and got himself suspended for a race. Off the track, Jeremy Mayfield was ordered to pay $1 million for his dogs' attack on a postal carrier, and NASCAR named its 2013 Hall of Fame class.

[Related: Beer-chugging champ Brad Keselowski is perfect NASCAR pitchman]

DALE EARNHARDT JR. WON A RACE. In other news, Carl Edwards fell out of the top 10 after hitting a wall at Dover, continuing a long slow slide. His teammate Matt Kenseth revealed he'd be leaving the 17 and Roush Fenway after the 2012 season.

AJ Allmendinger failed a drug test, setting off an unfortunate chain of events that saw him leave the Penske team. And, for a moment, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was in first place in the standings.

Sadness as a fan died from a lightning strike outside Pocono. Mark Martin had a scary wreck that could have been much worse at Michigan. Tony Stewart threw his helmet at Matt Kenseth at Bristol in the best fight of the year between drivers. It couldn't possibly get any better than that, could it?

Merry-go-round: Matt Kenseth revealed he's headed to Joe Gibbs Racing, while Joey Logano headed to Penske. A blown pit call in Richmond cost Kyle Busch a slot in the Chase and a possible championship shot. After yet another tumultuous season, Kurt Busch jumps to Furniture Row Racing.

[Related: Clint Bowyer pleased with second-place finish in points race]

Dale Earnhardt Jr. suffered a concussion in a monstrous Talladega wreck and missed two races. Denny Hamlin's championship chances vanished after mechanical problems at Martinsville.

In a perfect metaphor for his season, Kevin Harvick's car was hit by a parachuter's sandbag right before the Texas race. But Harvick had better news ahead, as he is reportedly headed to Stewart-Haas in 2014. Oh, and there was a little disagreement between the crews of Jeff Gordon and Clint Bowyer. In the end, however, the last man standing was Brad Keselowski, who hammered down his first Sprint Cup championship with an exceptional Chase.

Congrats to Brad, and thanks to all of you for a great season! We'll see you ... well, we'll see you all offseason. Stick around, won't you? Only three months to Daytona!

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