5 March 2012
Hamlin back to winning ways at Phoenix
Harvick continued in front after a round of green flag pit stops but then lost the lead during a quick second visit to pit road under a brief debris caution to Martin Truex Jr., who was trying a different fuel strategy. With the race looking set to come down to fuel conservation - and virtually everybody still on the wrong side of the figures to make it all the way home on their current tank of fuel - Truex Jr. took the opportunity to pit on lap 247 when David Reutimann's car blew an engine and brought out the sixth of the afternoon's seven cautions.
Tony Stewart had already been playing the fuel game, and was using the old trick of turning off the engine as much as possible and coasting around behind the safety car during the caution, but the tactic ended up biting him: when he tried to restart his car, he got nothing. he car coasted to a dead halt and had to be pushed back to pit road by a safety vehicle to have the car re-fired, costing him two laps and ruining any chance he had of a late run to the win.
“I just shut the car off like we did at Daytona and turned it back on, and it never re-fired,” said Stewart, a previous race winner at Phoenix back in November 1999. “That's all I can tell you. I don't know why it didn't re-fire. I honestly don't know. It's not really my department. I just turned the switch back on, and it never re-fired. I don't know why that was, but it definitely cost us a good day.”
The race had barely got underway again when Ryan Newman got tipped into a spin in turn 4 after contact from Carl Edwards. "I'm 99 percent sure Carl Edwards didn't do that on purpose," he said. "I don't consider that a deliberate move by any means."
But that didn't mean that payback wasn't on the cards sometime down the road in 2012. "I trusted him, now he can't trust me because there is a lot to be had and lost, we lost a lot today. I don't know how much he lost, but that's not the point," he said. "We know plenty of times in this sport, what comes around goes around."
Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski led at the restart ahead of Greg Biffle and Kevin Harvick, with Marcos Ambrose now in an impressive fifth place. The latest caution laps meant that most cars were expecting to make it to the end assuming there were no green-white-chequered period extending the distance, provided that they didn't have to burn through the fuel excessively in a fight to the flag.
It was Hamlin's first proper stint in the lead after a couple of single laps during pit stops or briefly at restarts. But just as he had demonstrated in Saturday's Nationwide race, Joe Gibbs Racing had delivered him a car with impressive pace in clear air, and now he had the opportunity to control the race from the front he seized it with both hands and jumped away at the restart. It turned out that Hamlin would not give up the top spot again for the remaining 59 laps of the race.
His biggest threat was of course Kevin Harvick, who quickly got past Brad Keselowski and Greg Biffle to take up the chase in second place at the green flag. Harvick was able to close to within seven-tenths of a second on Hamlin, but he was being warned over the Richard Childress Racing team radio that he was just shy on fuel and needed to back off if he was to make the finish.
"When you come out of caution [and] they tell you you're nine laps short, you really don't think there's any possibility to make it," he said later. "But a couple cautions and a little bit of saving and a little bit tighter crunch on the numbers, we wound up about a lap short."
On the penultimate lap the #29 started gasping with fuel pressure problems; the push for the lead was over and done with, and now all Harvick could hope for was for enough left in the tank to get across the finish line ahead of Greg Biffle and Jimmie Johnson. The risk of trying to extend the fuel to the finish hadn't worked out, but Harvick was happy that he'd tried and gone for it.
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