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Hamlin back to winning ways at Phoenix

After a disappointing 2011, Denny Hamlin made a declaration of intent with victory over Kevin Harvick at Phoenix International Raceway on Sunday.
Denny Hamlin had been mighty early in the Nationwide Series race the previous day at Phoenix International Raceway, only to fade away as the afternoon wore on. But he would make no such mistakes when it came to Sunday afternoon's Subway Fresh Fit 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup championship race.

For one thing Hamlin wasn't in the position of being able to dominate from the start of Sunday's second Cup race of the season. Rather than the pole position he had enjoyed on Saturday, he was starting back in 13th place. It was Mark Martin on the pole alongside Tony Stewart for the green flag, but the veteran racer lost grip through the turn and promptly dropped back to eighth place on lap 2.

Stewart had nine laps in front before Jimmie Johnson took over, and then the first caution came out on lap 16 when Clint Bowyer's car blew a tyre. Several of the leaders opted to take the opportunity to pit, including Johnson, Stewart and Martin, leaving Kevin Harvick and Kasey Kahne in charge for the restart. Unfortunately Kahne was caught out on the high line and slapped into the wall at turn 4 when the field got back up to speed, and Bowyer also made contact with the wall in the same place three laps later with more tyre problems; both cars were able to continue and there was no caution, but Bowyer and Kahne were both now off the lead lap.

Harvick led to the next caution on lap 59 for debris which was nicely timed for the next round of pit stops. Just as had been the case on Saturday, Harvick found that pit stops were not his strong suit at Phoenix and dropped behind Johnson, Kurt Busch and Hamlin for the restart. That put Harvick alongside his 2011 nemesis Kyle Busch for the restart, but Busch simply blasted away and through the field, slotting into second position behind a dominant Jimmie Johnson during the next stint.

Lap 110 saw a spin for Casey Mears in turns 1 and 2: "We just lost the brakes," he explained. "They were getting too hot and we kept backing it up trying to ease off of them but we ended up going to the floor right there going into one. I don't know why they are getting so hot."

This time Harvick had a great stop that put him on the front row - alongside Kyle Busch again. The two had a fierce side-by-side battle for the lead at the restart before Busch finally managed to power away while Harvick focussed on maintaining his second position from Jimmie Johnson, Mark Martin and Brad Keselowski.

The next caution was on lap 132 when Paul Menard crashed after tagging the rear of AJ Allmendinger's car coming into turn 4. Jamie McMurray also got caught up in the mêlée: "Maybe the #22 car and Paul had to check-up and I already had a run on him," said McMurray later. "I didn't see the car in front of him hit, so I got tangled up there."

McMurray was able to continue in the race but subsequently retired with engine problems before the finish. "The motor blew up again. I don't know what happened there. It started missing and started smoking and just quit running," he explained. "Tough day."

Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick led at the restart, but Harvick again found the outside line a slippery character to get to grips with and fell back. Just 25 laps later, however, he was fully back on it and there was a fierce side-by-side battle between the two old enemies for the lead that was the fight of the afternoon, finally decided when Busch slid up the track in turn 1 on lap 169 and handed the lead to Harvick. Busch also picked up a vibration that needed a check on pit road, and while he was able to continue it was enough to stop him from continuing to figure in the afternoon's battle for the win.




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Tony Stewart gets a push to pit road after turning off his engine to save fuel and not being able to refire on Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway at Avondale, Ariz. [Picture Credit: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR]
Denny Hamlin celebrates after snapping a 22-race winless streak in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series after taking the win in the Subway Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix International Raceway in Avondale, Ariz. [Picture Credit: Justin Edmonds/Getty Images for NASCAR]
Denny Hamlin leads Kevin Harvick and Greg Biffle late in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Subway Fresh Fit 500 on Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway in Avondale, Ariz. [Picture Credit: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR]
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Cars race after a restart lead by Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 Napa Auto Parts Chevrolet (L), Ryan Blaney, driver of the #22 Hertz Ford and Kyle Larson, driver of the #42 Cartwheel by Target Chevrolet (R) during the EnjoyIllinois.com 300 race at Chicagoland Speedway on July 19, 2014 in Joliet, Illinois. (Photo Credit: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 Interstate Batteries Toyota, and Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet, lead the field at the start of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Camping World RV Sales 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 13, 2014 in Loudon, New Hampshire. (Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet, crashes in the early part of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Camping World RV Sales 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 13, 2014 in Loudon, New Hampshire.  (Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images)
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Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet SS, qualifies second Friday, July 11, 2014 for NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Camping World RV Sales 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, New Hampshire. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet SS, qualifies second Friday, July 11, 2014 for NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Camping World RV Sales 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, New Hampshire. (Photo by Alan Marler/HHP for Chevy Racing)
 
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet SS, qualifies second Friday, July 11, 2014 for NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Camping World RV Sales 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, New Hampshire. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
 
Tony Stewart, driver of the #14 Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS, qualifies fourth Friday, July 11, 2014 for NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Camping World RV Sales 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, New Hampshire. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
 
Jamie McMurray, driver of the #1 McDonald`s Chevrolet SS, qualifies fifth Friday, July 11, 2014 for NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Camping World RV Sales 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, New Hampshire. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Patriotic Chevrolet, climbs from his car after being involved in an on track incident during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway on July 6, 2014 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images)
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Kasey Kahne, driver of the #5 Hellmann`s Chevrolet, takes the chequered flag to win the NASCAR Nationwide Series Subway Firecracker 250 Powered by Coca-Cola at Daytona International Speedway on July 4, 2014 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo Credit: Streeter Lecka/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kasey Kahne, driver of the #5 Hellmann`s Chevrolet, celebrates in Victory Lane with Jared Fogle of Subway after winning the NASCAR Nationwide Series Subway Firecracker 250 Powered by Coca-Cola at Daytona International Speedway on July 4, 2014 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Chris Graythen/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe’s Patriotic Chevrolet SS, qualified fifth Friday, July 4, 2014 for Saturday`s Nascar Sprint Cup race at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. Johnson is 2nd in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/HHP for Chevy Racing)
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