Sunday, March 4, 2012

Denny Hamlin Wins Duel In the Desert

Denny Hamlin was in the lead, headed towards a win at Phoenix International Raceway.  Then, in the midst of a fuel-mileage race, he ran out of gas and finished 12th.  The next week, Denny Hamlin's championship dreams were crushed by Jimmie Johnson, who went on to win his fifth championship.  That was 2010.  Today, Hamlin, who had a down 2011, may have finally recovered from his 2010 heartbreak.  Hamlin was able to hold off Kevin Harvick to win the Subway Fresh Fit 500.

Denny Hamlin celebrates his win at Phoenix (Photo courtesy Getty Images)
 At the beginning of the race, Clint Bowyer's day went downhill.  On lap 16, Bowyer cut down a tire to bring out the first caution.  Then, on lap 25, Bowyer cut down another tire, and had to go the pits to get the car fixed after hitting the wall.  Without a caution, Bowyer would fall a few laps down.  He finished 30th, six laps down.

Race favorite Kasey Kahne smacked the wall hard on lap 31, and took his car behind the wall.  Kahne, who crashed in his Hendrick Motorsports debut in the Daytona 500, finished 34th, 38 laps down.  Kahne now finds himself 32nd in points, 64 points out of the lead.

Kevin Harvick led 88 laps en route to a runner-up finish (Photo courtesy Associated Press)
 After pit stops on lap 230, the race became a fuel-mileage race, with many of the drivers not being able to go the rest of the way.  Kevin Harvick, who dominated most of the race, now found himself chasing the leader.  When Carl Edwards and Ryan Newman got together, bringing out the seventh caution, Harvick found himself in fourth. 
Ryan Newman hits the wall after contact from Carl Edwards (Photo courtesy Getty Images)
With ten laps to go, Harvick began to reel in leader Denny Hamlin.  With about six laps to go, the leaders caught some lapped traffic, and Hamlin was able to pick his way past the slower cars.  But in doing so, he let Harvick pull right up to his back bumper.  But with a lap and a half to go, Harvick ran out of gas, and that opened the doors for Denny Hamlin to win his first race since Michigan last June.  Hamlin told reporters that was surprised by his team's performance today.  "I don't know where this came from.  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," Hamlin said.

Hamlin crosses the line in first place (Photo courtesy Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick was still able to finish 2nd, even though he ran out of gas.  Following Harvick was Greg Biffle.  Jimmie Johnson, who was strong early in the race, finished 4th, and Brad Keselowski finished 5th.  Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., and Jeff Gordon finished 6th, 7th, and 8th, respectively.  Pole-sitter Mark Martin finished 9th, and Joey Logano finished 10th.

The Sprint Cup Series may have finished the race in Phoenix, but they aren't done on the west coast.  Next week, the stars of the Sprint Cup Series head to Las Vegas, where Carl Edwards won last season.  It should be fun to watch next week, when the Sprint Cup Series heads into the Sin City!

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