Redemption: Hamlin Wins Phoenix!
Joe Gibbs Racing proved hot in the warmth of the Phoenix desert today, with all three NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams earning a top-ten finish, led by Denny Hamlin in the No. 11 FedEx Office Toyota, who won the Subway Fresh Fit 500.
The victory was the 198th for the No. 11 car in NASCAR history, which ties the No. 43 for all-time wins by car number in the Sprint Cup Series.
Meanwhile his teammates Kyle Busch and Joey Logano were also strong throughout the day and earned sixth and 10th-place finishes respectively.
Hamlin started the race in the 13th position and was able to move his No. 11 FedEx Office Toyota into the top five shortly after the day’s first caution when he remained on the track to gain track position while others made a stop for tires and fuel. The move called for by crew chief Darian Grubb would pay off as Hamlin would spend much of the remainder of the race inside the top five. He would lead his first lap of the day on lap 188 as part of a green flag pit cycle and once that cycle was complete Hamlin would be running in the third position with just 100 laps remaining. The adjustments made by Grubb and the FedEx crew would make the car better with each stop and Hamlin would climb into the second position just prior the next caution on lap 228. Hamlin would restart fifth after the next round of stops, but quickly move back into third with 75 laps remaining. A caution on lap 247 would create decision time for teams on whether or not to try and make it to the end on fuel or pit once again to ensure making it to the finish. The 11 team would decide to stay out and restart second. Hamlin would beat Kevin Harvick on the day’s final two restarts and managed to save enough fuel for the victory.
Kyle Busch started the No. 18 M&Ms Brown Toyota in the 12th position and used some early pit strategy by staying out on the track during the day’s first caution to gain valuable track position. The M&Ms Camry really came to life following a restart on lap 65 and just a few laps later Busch drove his way into the second spot behind Jimmie Johnson. After changing two left-side tires during a pit stop under caution, Busch would restart the race in the top spot on lap 118. Busch went on to lead 52 laps but would come to pit road a little earlier than scheduled under the green flag when he felt a vibration with a possible tire going down. The M&Ms crew would change four tires and when the field had cycled through Busch was racing in the fifth position. When the next caution came out Busch would make his way down pit road and Dave Rogers would call for a four-tire change. With many others making the call for just two tires and still others remaining out on the track, the result left the No. 18 Toyota to restart 14th with about 85 laps remaining. Another caution would come out on lap 247 and Busch would come down pit road again to ensure he had enough fuel to make it to the end. The decision cost Busch very little track position as he would restart 16th. Busch would gain 10 spots on the track over the course of the remainder of the race to come home in sixth.
Joey Logano started the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota ninth and battled through some early handling issues that found his car tight in the center of turns and loose on the exits. However, his No. 20 Camry proved better on the longer green flag runs and Logano managed to remain near the top ten for most of the day. A great restart on lap 118 allowed Logano to climb into the ninth position on lap 125. From there The Home Depot team would make his Camry better with nearly every stop and soon Logano was racing for a spot in the top five. Tight conditions would return with about 90 laps remaining however and force him to give back a few spots during the race’s next run. Crew chief Jason Ratcliff and The Home Depot team would make the right calls once again however to improve Logano’s ability to turn the car and he was outstanding on another restart with about 85 laps remaining. A critical caution would come on lap 247 leaving teams to decide to come down pit road for fuel to ensure their ability to finish the race or gamble and remain out on the track and risk running out of gas. Ratcliff would bring Logano down pit road for tires and fuel and with several leaders making the decision to remain out, the No. 20 Camry would restart 14th. Logano would race his way forward once again over the final laps to earn an impressive 10th-place finish.
Hamlin was followed by Kevin Harvick, with Greg Biffle third, Jimmie Johnson fourth, and Brad Keselowski rounded out the top five. There were 7 cautions for a total of 35 laps with 25 lead changes among 15 different drivers.
All three JGR drivers are now top ten in points in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings following the season’s first two races, with Hamlin holding the top spot, while Logano is eighth and Busch ninth.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will remain out west for next week’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The 400-mile race will be held next Sunday, March 11 at 3 PM ET. Fox will provide live high-definition coverage of the race starting at 2 PM ET. Sirius NASCAR radio channel 90 and MRN Radio will also provide live coverage.