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Alessandro Zanardi of Italy pushes off from the start of the men’s road cycle individual time trial H4 category at the 2012 Paralympics games, Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2012, in London. (Alastair Grant/AP Photo)
Alessandro Zanardi of Italy pushes off from the start of the men’s road cycle individual time trial H4 category at the 2012 Paralympics games, Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2012, in London. (Alastair Grant/AP Photo)

Motorsports

Motorsports: The best and worst of racing in 2012 Add to ...

With 2012 coming to a close, here is a look back at the best and worst moments in racing this year.

There were many to choose from and some worthy candidates such as three-time Formula One champion Sebastian Vettel and Sébastien Loeb, who won his seventh consecutive World Rally title, did not make the list despite stellar seasons.

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Here are the ones who did:

Awesomeness Award – Alex Zanardi

There may be no better role model on the planet than former Formula One and IndyCar driver Alex Zanardi. After losing his legs in a devastating racing accident in 2001, Zanardi not only showed courage in the face of massive adversity, but he also humbled the world with his selflessness and determination.

He returned to racing in the world touring car championship and won four times behind the wheel of a hand-controlled BMW. He became the first person with a disability to drive an F1 car.

This year, he amazed again, excelling in a new sport and taking two gold and one silver medal for Italy in handcycling at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London. He is inspiration personified.

Best final lap of the year – NASCAR Sprint Cup at Watkins Glen

The last lap of the Sprint Cup race at the famed Watkins Glen International road course will not only go down as the best of the season but also one of the most intense and entertaining single laps in NASCAR history.

Three drivers – Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch, and eventual winner Marcos Ambrose – jealously battled over every inch of the track in August’s Finger Lakes 355, driving on a fender banging tightrope on the final lap as everyone held their breath to see who would come out on top.

Busch led as the last lap began with Keselowski and Ambrose in hot pursuit. Keselowski went inside Busch at Turn 2 and tapped his right rear fender, sending the leader into the Armco and leaving only two cars to fight for the win. Both cars went onto the grass in the next corner as Keselowski tried to keep Ambrose at bay.

Ambrose got ahead as they drag raced down the straight to the final two corners, only to have Keselowski nudge him from behind and push him wide in the penultimate corner. He recovered and the pair went sliding side-by-side into the last turn with Ambrose gaining the upper hand and edging his rival at the line by 0.571 seconds.

Crash of the year– Juan Pablo Montoya, NASCAR

The Sprint Cup season opener started with a bang – literally – when Juan Pablo Montoya lost control of his car exiting the pitlane under caution and drove directly into a jet dryer.

Essentially jet engines strapped onto the back of a truck, NASCAR uses these air blowing contraptions to quicken the drying process of race tracks following rain. The impact caused a massive fireball as about 750 litres of blazing jet fuel streamed down the banking.

Both Montoya and the truck driver escaped with minor injuries. The race was red-flagged for more than two hours as crews worked to fix the pavement incinerated by the heat from the blast.

Disaster of the year – IndyCar’s firing chief executive Randy Bernard

When communications students need a case study on how not to handle a delicate public relations situation, they may just look to IndyCar’s botching Randy Bernard’s exit as the best example in recent memory.

A crescendo of late October rumours that the series chief executive was on his way out were met by a lukewarm statement of support from the IndyCar board of directors that his employment status had not changed. The ink had hardly dried on the “Randy still has a job” release when another was issued saying Bernard had been removed as IndyCar boss in an emergency board meeting.

While the series immediately named an interim boss, it became clear that IndyCar not only had no succession plan in place, but it also intended to follow through on just about every initiative Bernard started, leaving most to wonder why he had been fired in the first place. The fact that Bernard was popular with fans didn’t help the series, which now has to sell a new chief executive who many feel was one of the ringleaders in the plot to overthrow their man.

Worse yet, IndyCar fans learned in those few days that the people making the decisions about the series seem to be making it up as they go. For a series struggling to remain relevant, that can’t be a good thing.

Driver of the year – Fernando Alonso, Ferrari

There’s no doubt that the 2012 Formula One season belonged to Fernando Alonso. Hampered by Ferrari that was more donkey than prancing horse, the double world champion put on a performance that can only be described as sublime.

In the season’s second race in Malaysia, a downpour allowed him to use a combination of guile and skill to put a car that was 1.347 seconds slower than the pole time in qualifying into the winners circle. Time and time again, Alonso’s immense talent raised his car to heights it didn’t deserve. When the season was done, he fell four points shy of the 2012 drivers’ crown in a car that had no business being a title challenger. While he didn’t take home the hardware, just about everyone agreed that Alonso was in a class of his own this year.

In Autosport Magazine’s year end survey of F1 team bosses. Alonso took eight of 12 votes for the best driver of 2012 and won the honour by the widest margin in the poll’s five years.

Dumbest fine award – NASCAR

When it come to social media nobody “gets it” more than 2012 Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski. His @keselowski Twitter feed should be the model for any athlete who wants to engage and entertain fans as well as show that they completely appreciate the support.

He’s funny, he responds to questions, he engages in conversation, and he talks about much more than racing. But none if that matters to NASCAR which fined the driver $25,000 for the zeal with which he tweets.

After engaging with fans on Twitter during a red flag period during a the season’s penultimate race in Phoenix, Keselowski was fined $25,000 by NASCAR for having an unauthorized electronic device in his car – a mobile phone.

It was the second time Keselowski jumped on Twitter this season during a lengthy delay. In February, he tweeted during a two-hour stoppage in the Daytona 500 to clean up the mess caused by a fireball ignited by Juan Pablo Montoya (see crash of the year above).

Seeing the social media commotion caused by Keselowski’s in-car tweeting in Daytona, which gained him about 100,000 new followers in a few hours, NASCAR did the logical thing and banned mobile phones from the cockpit.

So, when Keselowski took to Twitter in Phoenix, the series had the tools it needed to fine him for making NASCAR look cool and hip to the younger fans it desperately needs to attract.

Lack of patience award – Romain Grosjean, Lotus F1 Team

There’s little doubt that Romain Grosjean missed the day in his first ever competitive driving school class where the instructor told the students that you don’t win a race in the first corner.

The low point came when the Lotus F1 Team was banned for one race after causing a huge pile-up in the first corner of the Belgian Grand Prix that could have ended in tears. In all, he was involved in eight accidents at the start of grand prix this year, although the one in Australia happened on the second lap. He also crashed out of two other races.

Things got so bad that Red Bull driver Mark Webber, a veteran of 196 F1 starts called him a “first-lap nutcase” after Grosjean turfed him from the Japanese Grand Prix in the first corner of the race.

Pass of the year – Tie between Force India drivers Paul Di Resta (Bahrain Grand Prix) and Nico Hulkenberg (Korean Grand Prix).

In Di Resta’s case, he closed quickly on the Sauber of Sergio Perez and Williams of Pastor Maldonado who were battling over 10th place 20 laps into the Bahrain Grand Prix. Di Resta, who had just pitted for fresh tires, wasted no time.

He pounced when the pair pushed each other wide in Turn 4 and skillfully cut underneath both cars to take two spots in one brilliant move.

His teammate Hulkenberg pulled off an almost identical maneuver with McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton and Romain Grosjean of Lotus as the victims in the Korean Grand Prix. On Lap 40, Hulkenberg used his fresher tires to catch the pair as Grosjean tried to outbrake Hamilton going into Turn 3.

When Grosjean’s move didn’t stick, he and Hamilton drag raced side-by-side to Corner 4, with Hulkenberg making it three-wide as they approached the turn. Using the better grip of his new rubber, Hulkenberg went to the outside of both cars in Turn 4 and muscled his way past both on the exit.

Quote of the year – Kimi Räikkönen, Lotus F1 Team

Ask any journalist in the Formula One paddock and they’ll tell you that it’s likely easier to win a grand prix than get a good quote out of Lotus driver Kimi Räikkönen. But even the most reticent conversationalists can come up with gems every now and then.

A case in point was this year’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix where Räikkönen sent just about everyone into hysterics when he tossed some choice words at his race engineer, Simon Rennie, who was apparently being too chatty.

When Rennie gave Räikkönen the gap to second-placed Ferrari of Fernando Alonso and said more would be coming, the normally quiet Finn brusquely snapped: “Leave me alone; I know what I am doing.”

Scariest revelation of the year – NASCAR drivers racing with concussions

When Dale Earnhardt Jr. sat out two races after being diagnosed with a headaches due to a concussion suffered a wreck in Talladega, it came to light that the NASCAR’s most popular driver had also raced earlier in the season while feeling the effects of getting his bell rung.

Earnhardt experienced headaches after a crash during a tire test in Kansas but did not seek medical attention for his symptoms. About six weeks later, severe headaches following the accident in Talladega forced him to see a doctor.

In addition to hiding symptoms after this year’s Kansas crash, Earnhardt also admitted to racing with a concussion previously. Making matters worse was four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon’s admission that he would keep concussion symptoms secret if he were in title contention late in a NASCAR season.

Others like Mark Martin and 2012 Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski said that they felt doctor’s orders shouldn’t keep a driver on the sidelines, but rather it should be a up to the individual driver to choose whether or not they should race.

For more from Jeff Pappone, go to facebook.com/jeffpappone (No login required!)

Twitter: @jpappone

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