Gamblin' Hamlin wins in Phoenix

Denny Hamlin celebrates after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series SUBWAY Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix...

Denny Hamlin celebrates after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series SUBWAY Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on March 4, 2012. (Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR/AFP)

Dean McNulty, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:08 PM ET

TORONTO - There was more gambling Phoenix International Raceway on Sunday than on a river boat casino as NASCAR Sprint Cup teams fought fuel mileage at the Subway Fresh Fit 500.

And with the advent this season of electronic fuel ignition, it was a whole new game with no rules to follow.

At the end of 312 laps at PIR’s one-mile banked oval it was Denny Hamlin who gambled smartest and took home the house money.

But from Lap 254 onwards it was the combination of speed and fuel mileage that played out in the Arizona desert.

Hamlin had rolled the dice by staying out with the leaders on that final yellow flag, betting that his No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota could make it to the race finish.

Kevin Harvick, who was inches off of Hamlin’s bumper on the final lap rolled craps on the final lap with the No. 29 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet running short on gas within sight of the finish line.

A fuel-mileage race like we saw Sunday was the bane of NASCAR last season, when it seemed evey other race on non-restrictor plate tracks were decided by who could best squeeze the last drop of gasoline out of their fuel cells.

When you factor in that these 900-horsepower stock cars only get about five miles per gallon and the cars do not have fuel gauges, it is at best a guessing game, even though the teams have computerized models of how far they should be able to run on a tank of gasoline.

It is no different on other forms of racing, but in NASCAR it seems to happen more often. One would like to see the final laps of any race decided on pure speed.

Even some drivers who were trying old tricks to save fuel, like turning off the engine and coasting around the track on caution laps, were being dealt deuces.

Defending series champion Tony Stewart, who had been running in the top five late in the race, ran into electronic fuel injector problems in the No. 14 Chevrolet with 63 laps to go.

Stewart had shut the engine off to save fuel on a yellow flag, but he couldn’t get it to re-fire. That misstep took Stewart from challenging for a race win to an also ran, finishing 22nd, two laps down to the winner.

Carl Edwards, who finished second to Stewart in the 2011 Chase, also gambled and lost, dropping from a top-10 finish to 17th after his No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford ran out of gas on the final lap.

He wasn’t the only big name to have problems on Sunday, not all of them caused by fuel mileage.

An ill-handling car through the first 100 laps put a crimp in Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s No. 88 team. After a second-place finish at Daytona there had been high hopes Junior could end his losing streak at Phoenix, but the best he could manage was 14th on this day.

And Kasey Kahne, who was expected to race with the leaders this season in the No. 5 Hendrick Chevrolet, was out of contention early as well with front-end suspension problems and ended up way back in 34th place, not where he and team owner Rick Hendrick envisioned them being after Kahne took over from Mark Martin this season.

FINISH LINES

In one of his rare appearances in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series, D.J. Kennington, of St. Thomas, Ont., brought his No. 81 Northern Provincial Pipelines Dodge home in 10th place in Saturday’s Talking Stick Resort 50 at PIR. David Mayhew won the race and Edmonton’s Daryl Harr finished 13th. ... In the final day of Formula 1 testing at Barcelona on Sunday, comeback boy Kimi Raikkonen was fastest in the Lotus with a time of one minute, 22.030 seconds. Fernando Alonso was second at 1:22.250 for Ferrari. Those times may not mean much, however, as two-time defending F-1 champion Sebastian Vettel was slowest on the day for Red Bull at 1:23.608. ... I suspect there will be some questions on Monday at the JR Motorsports shop on how 20-year-old Cole Whitt managed a 13th-place finish on the lead lap in the No. 88 JRM car in the NASCAR Nationwide Series Bashas’ Supermarkets 200 while Danica Patrick ended the day 21st, three laps down in the No. 7 JRM Chevrolet.

NUTS & BOLTS

NASCAR SPRINT CUP

It was a redemption of sorts for Denny Hamlin on Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway where he won the Subway Fresh 500 in the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.

Hamlin had a horrible 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup season after nearly winning it all in 2010.

But he came into the 2012 season determined to get back to the front with new crew chief Darian Grubb — who had guided Tony Stewart’s championship run last season.

It looks like the change is having an immediate payout.

Hamlin led the final 59 laps and was able to save enough fuel to hold off Kevin Harvick on the final lap after Harvick’s No. 29 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet had slowed dramatically less than a quarter mile from the finish line.

Harvick had started to lose fuel pressure two laps from the finish but had enough to hold on second place, 7.315 seconds behind the race winner.

Hamlin credited Grubb for the calls that put him in Victory Lane.

“We just kept working on it,” Hamlin said. “Every time we worked on it, it got better.”

Greg Biffle finished third in the No. 16 Roush Fenway Racing Ford.

He said his efforts to save gas cost him a chance at winning.

“I wish I wouldn’t have tried to save so much gas,” Biffle said. “I probably would have caught (Harvick), but you just never know how much gas you’ve got.”

Jimmie Johnson was fourth in the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet with Brad Keselowski fifth in the No. 2 Penske Racing Dodge.

Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Jeff Gordon, pole-sitter Mark Martin and Joey Logano completed the top 10.


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