Hamlin's first PIR win hands him the points lead
The Subway Fresh Fit 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Phoenix International Raceway on Sunday became a fuel mileage race, one that Denny Hamlin won from behind the wheel of the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.
"If you would've asked me at the beginning of the day, I would've taken a top-fifteen finish," Hamlin said in victory lane.
Kevin Harvick coasted the No. 29 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet across the start/finish line on fumes to finish second, and the No. 16 Roush Fenway Racing Ford of Greg Biffle crossed the line third.
"When you cut the fuel mileage that close, you're doing something right," Harvick said.
We've never been in this position early in the season.
Biffle, meanwhile, thought me may have been a little too conservative.
"I wish I wouldn't have tried to save so much gas," he said. "I probably would have caught the 29, but you just never know how much gas you've got."
Jimmie Johnson dominated the race early with his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet after taking the lead within the first 15 laps of the race, but Kyle Busch took over in the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota when he came off pit road first during a caution that came out on lap 110 of the 312-lap event.
Johnson suffered a right rear wheel issue several laps later, forcing him to make multiple pit stops under the next caution that came out on lap 135.
With Johnson looking to be out of the picture, at least for a while, Busch and Harvick engaged in a heated battle for the lead.
Harvick took the top spot on lap 169 and began to dominate. He led the most laps of any driver in the race, running up front for 88 laps in an event that saw a record number 15 different leaders.
Many of those leaders spent short amounts of time up front during a lengthy cycle of green-flag pit stops that Busch got underway on lap 180.
The lead cycled back around to Harvick, and he continued to hold down the top spot until Martin Truex Jr. stayed out in the No. 56 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota while other pitted during a debris caution with 85 laps remaining.
On the outer edge of their fuel windows, most drivers who pitted during that particular caution gambled and stayed out the remainder of the race. Truex pitted under the next caution that came out on lap 247, handing the lead back over the Harvick.
Hamlin took the lead from Harvick on the following restart and didn't look back, maintaining the top spot the rest of the way.
"Huge momentum," Hamlin said of the win and taking the lead in the standings after the second race of the season. "We've never been in this position early in the season."
Johnson rebounded from his wheel issue to finish fourth, and Brad Keselowski rounded out the top-five in the No. 2 Penske Racing Dodge. Busch was sixth, Truex seventh; Jeff Gordon eighth in the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, and pole sitter Mark Martin drove the No. 55 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota to a ninth-place finish. Joey Logano rounded out the top-10 in the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.