Hamlin Charges to Third at Phoenix International Raceway
Denny Hamlin led Joe Gibbs Racing after driving from the back of the field to finish third in today’s Subway Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix International Raceway. Matt Kenseth was solid throughout the day and finished seventh while an early race spin left Kyle Busch to battle back from a lap down to finish 23rd.
Hamlin, who won this race one year ago, qualified eighth on Friday, but changed out his engine prior to the final practice session Saturday which resulted in having to drop to the back of the field for the start of today’s race. Hamlin showed tremendous patience in his No. 11 FedEx Ground Toyota however as he methodically worked his way up through the field. He would enter the top 30 within the first 10 laps of the race and was inside the top 20 ¼ of the way into the scheduled 312 laps. Pit strategy and great stops by the FedEx crew would help Hamlin continue to make his way forward and he would enter the top five by the midpoint of the race. Hamlin would remain in the top 10 the rest of the day and he lined up fourth for a green white checker finish on lap 314. He would make a tremendous move to get around both Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski for second, but Johnson would come back to edge Hamlin at the line and he would settle for an outstanding third-place effort.
Kenseth started his No. 20 Home Depot Husky Toyota in the ninth position and battled inside the top 10 throughout the race. In fact, Kenseth was a model of consistency as he raced in sixth at the ¼ mark of the race as well as the midpoint. He would run as high as third and proved to be solid on the long green flag runs. Kenseth would race as high as third when a caution on lap 238 would bring everyone down pit road. With various pit strategies at play Kenseth would restart seventh and he would go on to finish seventh for his first top-ten finish at JGR.
Busch, who captured the Nationwide Series win on Saturday, qualified his No. 18 M&Ms Toyota fourth but joined his teammate Hamlin at the back of the field for the green flag to start the race following an engine change this morning. Busch wasted no time climbing through the field as he entered the top 30 just 10 laps into race scheduled for 312 laps. An early caution allowed Busch to further advance his position and he would enter the top 15 prior to lap 50. However that is when Busch’s fortune took a turn for the worse as he spun while attempting to make a pass on the outside lane which resulted in contact on the front left side of his car with the outside wall. The M&Ms crew would work furiously to repair the damage over several pit stops, but Busch would fall a lap off the leaders. The 18 team would have to be patient as Busch managed to race his way into the lucky dog position several times only to see a car get lapped just prior to the next caution. Finally with just under 100 laps remaining Busch would get back on the lead lap to restart 23rd. Once again while racing for position Busch would get loose on the outside lane and although this time he was able to make an incredible save and stay in the race without drawing a caution, he would lose several positions in the field. He would manage to get all those positions back before the finish however to finish 23rd.
Carl Edwards captured the win, while Jimmie Johnson narrowly edged Hamlin for second, Brad Keselowski finished fourth, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. rounded out the top five. There were eight cautions for a total of 43 laps and 12 lead changes among nine different drivers. The race was extended four laps for a green white checker finish.