[media-credit name=”Simon Scoggins” align=”alignright” width=”238″][/media-credit]Denny Hamlin started the race in 13th position and by Lap 20 he was in the Top-5. He worked his way up to third position by Lap 33, after caution was thrown for Clint Bowyer blowing a tire. He hovered in the Top-5 until Lap 247 when caution was thrown for David Reutimann blowing an engine. When leader Martin Truex Jr. pitted for tires and fuel, this allowed Hamlin to get the lead on the restart.
It looked as if the race would come down to Brad Keselowski and Hamlin battling for the lead, until Keselowski locked up his brakes going into turn four, shortly after the restart on Lap 253. This forced Keselowski to drop back to sixth position and give Hamlin the lead of the race. Hamlin faced heat from a hard-charging Kevin Harvick in the last 50 laps of the race, until he ran out of fuel on the final lap, allowing Hamlin to drive to victory lane for the first time in 39 Sprint Cup Series races.
We haven’t seen Hamlin in this competitive form since 2010 when he won eight races and finished second in points standings behind five-time champion Jimmie Johnson. Hamlin admitted last season that Johnson defeating him for the championship title is something that has never left his mind. He sought assistance from a sports psychologist in 2011 to help him be mentally prepared and competitive for this season, and it evidently worked. Hamlin is now leading the championship standings by six points over Greg Biffle heading to Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Although we are still early in the season, I expect to see Hamlin continue to be at the top of the standings this year.
Harvick Keeps Up Momentum
Kevin Harvick started in the eighth position and was leading the race by Lap 20. After a caution on Lap 56 for debris, he lost the lead to Johnson on pit road and dropped back to 4th position. Harvick hovered in the Top-5 until Lap 151, when he moved up to second position and put himself in contention for the lead once again. On Lap 165 a three-wide battle for the lead played out between Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., and Harvick – with Harvick coming out on top.
Harvick lost the lead once again when Truex did not pit under caution and received the lead of the race, placing Harvick in second position on the restart. Eventually Truex was forced to pit, allowing Hamlin to take over the race lead using pit strategy. Despite running out of fuel on the last lap, Harvick was able to coast around the track to finish the race in second position. With his second place finish at Phoenix and seventh place finish at Daytona, Harvick is now third in the championship standings.
Edwards’ Disappointing Day in Phoenix
Carl Edwards started the race in 24th position and didn’t gain much ground in the race. As Edwards was attempting to make a late race charge, gaining sixth positions among leaders, when he made contact with Ryan Newman with 65 laps to go. The contact caused right front fender damage to the No. 99 car and ended Edwards’ chance of a decent finish. Edwards finished the race in 17th position and dropped from the top 10 in points standings.
This is not the Edwards we are used to seeing, after finishing in second place in the championship battle last season, with a tie breaker used to determine the winner. On the up-side, Edwards has time to make up ground before he has to worry about the championship battle for this season.
Reigning champion Tony Stewart got a rude lesson in this year’s new electronic fuel injection Sunday at PIR. With about 60 laps left in the Subway Fresh Fit 500, Stewart was running 13th and shut off his engine during a caution period to save fuel. Normally when drivers do this, the engine will fire back up easily on command. But this time the engine in Stewart’s No. 14 Chevrolet wouldn’t re-fire despite repeated attempts. Stewart fell two laps down until his crew finally got the car started, and Stewart finished in 22nd position. Stewart’s season hasn’t started off to his liking, after finishing 16th in the Daytona 500 and currently sitting 15th in points standings.