Going into Phoenix, Denny Hamlin led the most laps at the Daytona 500 but the win slipped away from the #11 Fed Ex team. And looking into Denny Hamlin’s past at Phoenix his track record wasn’t the greatest and most people only pegged him as a dark horse for the race.
Denny’s 2011 season on short, flat tracks measuring a mile or less in length left something to be desired. Based on past success, he should have swept the top 10, but he managed only four such finishes. Three of the remaining races ended in results of 11th or 12th, which left him with only one truly bad result, but so much more has come to be expected of the No. 11 team. But with that being said, I picked Denny Hamlin as my driver in the “Slicks and Sticks” Nascar poll/standings.
And at Phoenix, Denny didn’t lead the most laps but led all the laps that counted the most and went on to win his first career race at Phoenix International Raceway. Hamlin took the lead on a restart, but had to sweat out his fuel mileage over the last few laps. “We just kept working on it,” said Hamlin, who took over the points lead from Matt Kenseth, who was 13th. “Every time we worked on it, it got better.”
Sunday’s race was only the second time Hamlin has worked with new crew chief Darian Grubb in a points race. “It’s still a learning process between me and Darian. The communication has still got a long way to go.” Hamlin then went on to say, “but to have the success this early just tells me that once we get things down pat, it’s going to be pretty good.”
Hamlin was able to grab the lead from Kevin Harvick on the final restart of the day with 52 laps remaining. As is often the case in auto racing, the car who dominates doesn’t always take home the checkered flag. Harvick, who is largely known as the ‘comeback’ driver in the garage, nearly caught Hamlin in the closing laps after leading 88 of the 312 laps. His attempt at victory were for not as he ran out of fuel with only two laps remaining, but still finished in the second position. Harvick wasn’t the only one to run out of gas, as Carl Edwards also ran out only two-laps remaining in the Subway Fresh Fit 500.
Early on in the event, the car of Jimmie Johnson appeared the be the class of the field. Leading 55 laps early on, Johnson’s hopes for victory were subsided after three pit stops during a mid-race caution flag for loose lug nuts. Greg Biffle finished third and Johnson was able to bounce back from a miserable Daytona 500 but also a troublesome race to finish fourth.
Several drivers had their fair share of troubles throughout the day. Clint Bowyer blew two right front tires in the first 25 laps and Kasey Kahne hit the wall early in the race. And Tony Stewart was unable to start his fuel-injected Chevrolet, after shutting off his engine during the David Reutimann caution. Falling two laps down, Stewart finished 22nd.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series travels to Las Vegas, Nevada next weekend, where Carl Edwards will attempt to win his second LVMS race in a row.