1. Denny Hamlin: Hamlin zoomed to the lead on a restart with 59 laps to go at Phoenix, and held off Kevin Harvick, who ran out of gas, to win the Subway Fresh Fit 500. It was Hamlin’s first win since last June at Michigan and first under new crew chief Darian Grubb. Hamlin now leads the Sprint Cup point standings with a six point lead over Greg Biffle.
“We’ve got a ton of confidence,” Hamlin said. “And, surprisingly, so does Jimmie Johnson. The last time I left Phoenix with the points lead, Johnson won the Sprint Cup title.
“I’d like to thank Toyota for giving me a strong engine. The car from ‘The Land Of The Rising Sun’ won in the ‘Valley Of The Sun.’”
2. Kevin Harvick: Harvick’s charge to overtake Denny Hamlin came to a halt when he ran out of gas on the final lap at Phoenix International Raceway. Harvick still finished second, and is third in the point standings, eight behind Hamlin.
“Hamlin knew I was coming,” Harvick said. “This father-to-be was getting ready to say ‘Who’s your daddy?’ That may have very well been Hamlin’s first ‘pregnancy scare.’ There’s a bun in the oven. Luckily for Hamlin, there was no gas in the tank.
“But better to lose to Hamlin than Kyle Busch. I’ve had my differences with Busch in the past, but I now realize we’ll soon have one thing in common: we’ll both have ‘Baby On Board’ stickers on our cars.”
3. Greg Biffle: Biffle backed up his third at Daytona with an equally-impressive third in the Subway Fresh Fit 500. He stands second in the Sprint Cup point standings, six behind Denny Hamlin.
“I’ll take third-place any day,” Biffle said. “As a teammate of Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards, I’m quite used to saying ‘There are two drivers better than me.’”
4. Matt Kenseth: Daytona 500 winner Kenseth finished 13th at Phoenix after a crash in practice forced him to resort to a backup car. He now sits fourth in the point standings, 10 points out of first.
“Despite a subpar finish at Phoenix,” Kenseth said, “I can’t complain. I’ve won the Daytona 500 and appeared on The Tonight Show. Surely, rumors of a relationship with Kim Kardashian are sure to follow. Even as a driver comfortable with speeds of 200 miles per hour, people will still be amazed at how quickly I deny those rumors. But not before I make the requisite ‘loose in the tail’ and ‘running out of talent’ jokes.”
5. Brad Keselowski: Keselowski shook off a disappointing finish at Daytona to post a solid finish at Phoenix, charging from the 28th starting position to finish fifth.
“Luckily,” Keselowski said, “I have a car owner who supports my use of Twitter. Roger Penske is all for short, concise tweets from my phone. Ironically, he encourages me to be ‘curt.’ In fact, Roger often refers to me by my Twitter handle ‘@Keselowski.’ Last year, he often referred to Kurt Busch by a name than sounded like a Twitter handle, ‘@SOB.’”
6. Martin Truex, Jr.: Truex finished seventh in Phoenix, joining Michael Waltrip Racing teammate Mark Martin, who finished ninth after starting from the pole, in the top 10. Truex jumped six places in the point standings to sixth, and trails Denny Hamlin by 18.
“This team is hot right now,” Truex said. “As our early-season results can attest, MWR is one of NASCAR’s top teams. And we’ve got Michael Waltrip to thank, mostly because he’s not driving. Michael Waltrip Racing is at its best, unless Michael Waltrip’s racing.”
7. Dale Earnhardt, Jr.: Earnhardt came home 14th at Phoenix, as his winless streak reached 131 races. He is fifth in the point standings, 17 out of first.
“I sincerely believe a win is forthcoming,” Earnhardt said. “At least according to the Mayan calendar. Luckily, my fans are always supportive and don’t pressure me to win. They don’t say ‘Just win, baby.’ They say ‘Just whenever, baby.’
“Call Junior Nation whatever you want, like ‘The Nation Of Is Lame,’ or ‘Junior Station-ary,’ or ‘The Winless Circle,’ but they are the best fans in NASCAR.”
8. Kyle Busch: Busch led 52 laps at Phoenix and finished sixth on the two-mile oval, scoring his first top-10 finish after a 17th at Daytona. He is now ninth in the Sprint Cup point standings, 23 behind Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin.
“Inquiring minds want to know,” Busch said. “Will 2012 see the ‘old’ Kyle Busch or the ‘new’ Kyle Busch? I think you’ll see a little bit of both. That’s called the ‘same’ Kyle Busch.”
9. Jimmie Johnson: Johnson rebounded from a disastrous week at Daytona to score a solid fourth in the Subway Fresh Fit 500. Johnson finished 42nd after a lap 2 wreck at Daytona, and was later docked 25 points and crew chief Chad Knaus was suspended for six races after failing inspection after the Gatorade Duels.
“I was once a ‘five-time defender,’” Johnson said. “That’s in stark contrast to Knaus, who’s a ‘ten-time offender.’ Knaus was also fined $100,000 in addition to his six-race suspension. Those are pretty stiff penalties. Once again, as a result of what happened in Florida, there’s a ‘hanging Chad.’”
10. Joey Logano: Logano posted his second top-10 finish of the year with a tenth at Phoenix, joining Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch in the top 10. Logano is eight in the point standings, 19 behind Hamlin.
“Later this summer,” Logano said, “new father Kevin Harvick will ‘cut the cord.’ Hopefully, my dad can do the same.”