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Hamlin holds off Harvick in Phoenix

NASCAR Sprint Cup
Sunday, March 04, 2012

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Denny Hamlin

At the racetrack that dashed his championship hopes in 2010, Denny Hamlin found redemption in Sunday's Subway Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix International Raceway.

In his second race with 2011 Sprint Cup championship crew chief Darian Grubb on his pit box, Hamlin held off Kevin Harvick in a 53-lap green-flag run to finish the 312-lap race at the one-mile track and took over the series points lead for the first time since surrendering it in the final race of 2010 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Harvick lost fuel pressure with fewer than two laps left but had enough momentum to retain the second position, 7.315 seconds behind the race winner.

Greg Biffle came home third, followed by Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski. Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Jeff Gordon, pole-sitter Mark Martin and Joey Logano completed the top 10.

Hamlin surged into the lead after a restart on Lap 254, passing Harvick and pulling away. Ryan Newman's hard contact with the Turn 4 wall two laps later caused the seventh caution of the afternoon, but Hamlin again stretched his advantage over Harvick after a restart on Lap 260 and held on the rest of the way.

"I don't know where this came from," Hamlin said. "We were solidly off in practice. We were off, but we kept getting it better and closer and closer to being competitive, but I had no idea that we were going to fire off like we did today."

With an opportunity to secure his first title in the next-to-last race of 2010, Hamlin led a race-high 190 laps but fell victim to pit strategy from other teams, finished 12th and lost 18 points of a 33-point advantage over Jimmie Johnson. A week later, a shell-shocked Hamlin spun early and saw the championship escape him.

Hamlin admitted there might have been a lingering malaise in 2011, when he made the Chase for the Sprint Cup as a wild card and finished ninth in the standings but didn't come close to matching his 2010 stats.

"We just never got going (in 2011)," Hamlin said. "Yeah, maybe there was a hangover effect for the first half of the year -- you can claim that -- but it didn't have anything to do with how bad I ran the last 10 races. We just didn't have it all together . . .

"We've still got work to do. I'm going to push for more and more and more -- things within our racecar -- that's the attitude you've got to have to stay on top, and when I come back here, it just puts 2011 to rest. That year is done. It's a year I'd just as soon forget about, and we're focused on winning a championship."

Jettisoned by Tony Stewart in favor of Steve Addington despite leading the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing team to its first Cup championship -- and Stewart's third -- Grubb savored the victory as much as Hamlin did.

"I guess you could say it is a little bit of vindication, but I really don't think that way," Grubb said. "I try to just think the high road all the time. I feel like I came into a very good situation. Mike Ford (Grubb's predecessor) built one heck of a team here with the No. 11 car.

"I'm proud to be able to come in here and lead this bunch of guys."

Notes: Hamlin leads the series standings by six points over Biffle, who also finished third in the Daytona 500 . . . Stewart turned his engine off after NASCAR threw the yellow flag for the seventh caution and couldn't get the No. 14 restarted. The defending Cup champion finished 22nd, two laps down . . . Daytona runner-up Dale Earnhardt Jr. posted a nondescript 14th-place result and left PIR fifth in points, 17 behind Hamlin.

Q and A with Winner

How did you get the race win?
"If you would have asked me at the beginning of the day, I would have said I'd take a top-15 finish. Just an amazing job by this FedEx Office team. Just kept working on it. Every time we worked on it, it got better. Can't thank them enough. This win is for Johnny Furino. He lost his Dad. He's one of our head mechanics. Our thoughts and prayers are with him. He lost his Dad yesterday. We're thinking about him. He told me before he left that only a trophy will do, and we're going to bring it back home to him. It feels good. Someone asked me - one of the FedEx employees asked me earlier today - 'Do you know where victory lane is here?' I said, 'I don't know but they can point me to it after the race.'"

How important is this win for your race team?
"Huge momentum. We've never been in this position this early in the season. We've always struggled. We've always taken our time - five or six races in - before we hit our stride. This is particularly not my type of race track - new pavement. I'm usually better at saving tires. He (Darian Grubb, crew chief) made me a winner today."

What does this victory mean?
"So much. I mean -- for this whole team to bounce back the way we have. We knew we were going to have a rebound year and I told everyone we were. You got to prove it. You got to go out and win these races. A great step in the right direction for our race team."

What was the strategy in the closing laps and were you trying to save fuel?
"Absolutely, I was saving the entire run and I was kind of pacing myself off the 29 (Kevin Harvick). He had a really dominant car there towards the middle part. If he could inch closer, I'd step up the pace. We did what we had to do today."

How was your car during the race?
"It seemed like once we had that green flag pit stop, our car took off from there. Whatever he (Darian Grubb, crew chief) did to it from that point, it took off and we had the best car since."

Would you consider Phoenix your second 'home' track?
"I love it out here. Obviously, winning doesn't hurt anything. We're going to have a big party tonight."

DARIAN GRUBB, Crew Chief, No. 11 FedEx Office Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing What does it feel like to win so early with your new team?
"I guess you could say it is a little bit of vindication, but I really don't think that way. I try to just think the high road all the time. I feel like I came into a very good situation. Mike Ford built one heck of a team here with the 11 car, and the FedEx Toyota is obviously really strong -- Joe Gibbs organization is very strong. I've got a lot of friends in both organization, but I'm proud to come in here and lead this bunch of guys, and even just guys like John Furino (mechanic) who's actually at home now, his father passed away, he left Phoenix to go back and we dedicated this win to him because he's a big part of it. We're a united team. We're working together that way, and we are just going to keep doing it."

Results

FIN ST CAR DRIVER MAKE SPONSOR PTS/BNS LAPS STATUS
1 13 11 Denny Hamlin Toyota FedEx Office 47/1 312 Running
2 8 29 Kevin Harvick Chevrolet Rheem 44/2 312 Running
3 7 16 Greg Biffle Ford 3M Commercial Graphics 41/0 312 Running
4 4 48 Jimmie Johnson Chevrolet Lowe's / Kobalt Tools 41/1 312 Running
5 28 2 Brad Keselowski Dodge Miller Lite 40/1 312 Running
6 12 18 Kyle Busch Toyota M&M's Ms. Brown 39/1 312 Running
7 25 56 Martin Truex Jr. Toyota NAPA Filters 38/1 312 Running
8 30 24 Jeff Gordon Chevrolet Drive to End Hunger 37/1 312 Running
9 1 55 Mark Martin Toyota Aaron's Dream Machine 36/1 312 Running
10 9 20 Joey Logano Toyota The Home Depot 34/0 312 Running
11 5 42 Juan Montoya Chevrolet Target 33/0 312 Running
12 18 43 Aric Almirola Ford Smithfield "Allez cuisine" 32/0 312 Running
13 26 17 Matt Kenseth Ford Best Buy 32/1 312 Running
14 29 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. Chevrolet National Guard / Diet Mountain Dew 30/0 312 Running
15 19 51 Kurt Busch Chevrolet Phoenix Construction Services 30/1 312 Running
16 17 47 Bobby Labonte Toyota Kingsford / Scott Products 28/0 312 Running
17 24 99 Carl Edwards Ford Subway 27/0 312 Running
18 15 22 A.J. Allmendinger Dodge Shell / Pennzoil 26/0 311 Running
19 41 93 Travis Kvapil Toyota Burger King 25/0 311 Running
20 3 78 Regan Smith Chevrolet Furniture Row / Farm American 24/0 311 Running
21 6 39 Ryan Newman Chevrolet Wix Filters 23/0 310 Running
22 2 14 Tony Stewart Chevrolet Office Depot / Mobil 1 23/1 310 Running
23 23 36 Dave Blaney Chevrolet Ollie's Bargain Outlet 21/0 309 Running
24 42 32 Mike Bliss Ford U.S. Chrome / Southern Pride Trucking 0 309 Running
25 34 34 David Ragan Ford Barrett-Jackson 20/1 309 Running
26 35 249 J.J. Yeley Toyota America Israel Racing 18/0 309 Running
27 40 33 Brendan Gaughan Chevrolet South Point Hotel & Casino 17/0 308 Running
28 36 38 David Gilliland Ford Rick Santorum for President 16/0 308 Running
29 43 30 David Stremme Toyota Inception Motorsports 15/0 306 Running
30 16 15 Clint Bowyer Toyota 5-hour Energy 14/0 306 Running
31 20 27 Paul Menard Chevrolet Tarkett / Menards 13/0 303 Running
32 14 9 Marcos Ambrose Ford Stanley 12/0 295 Engine
33 11 31 Jeff Burton Chevrolet Wheaties 12/1 291 Engine
34 10 5 Kasey Kahne Chevrolet Farmers Insurance 10/0 274 Running
35 22 83 Landon Cassill Toyota Burger King 9/0 272 Running
36 32 10 David Reutimann Chevrolet Accell Construction 8/0 248 Engine
37 21 1 Jamie McMurray Chevrolet Bass Pro Shops / Tracker Boats 8/1 212 Engine
38 33 26 Josh Wise * Ford Morristown Driver's Service 6/0 110 Vibration
39 31 13 Casey Mears Ford GEICO 5/0 109 Accident
40 38 87 Joe Nemechek Toyota AMFMEnergy.com / Pellet & Wood Stoves 0 62 Brakes
41 39 7 Robby Gordon Dodge Speed Energy 3/0 33 Brakes
42 27 23 Scott Riggs Chevrolet North Texas Pipe 2/0 29 Brakes
43 37 98 Michael McDowell Ford Curb Records 1/0 8 Brakes

* Denotes Rookie

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