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Hamlin back to winning ways at Phoenix

"Those are the types of things you've got to do to take the chances," he said. "When you're close enough to at least coast around, they did a good job."

Also falling foul in the final laps were Jeff Burton (who developed an engine problem on lap 288) and Marcos Ambrose, set for a top three finish before his own engine blew half a dozen laps later.

"I don't really know what happened we broke something," said Burton. "I felt like a valve or valve spring of something, we don't really know just yet."

"We blew up," said Ambrose with typical Aussie succinctness, clearly unhappy with losing out on such a strong result at the last minute. "We are here trying to run for wins and run for championships and to trip over ourselves like that, it just isn't going to get it done."

Over in victory lane there were well-deserved celebrations for Denny Hamlin and the #11 team, which this season includes crew chief Darian Grubb who was in charge of Tony Stewart's championship-winning car in 2011 only to be let go by Stewart-Haas over the winter. Scoring a win so early in the season with his new team is unimpeachable proof of his talent: six of the last Cup race wins have gone to a Grubb-engineered car.

"I guess you could say it's a little bit of vindication ... I definitely came out of last year feeling like I still had something to prove," said Grubb. "The end of last year was bittersweet. I really loved working with those guys. The way it ended, I didn't really get to enjoy the championship like I really should have. So we're going to do our best this season to go out and win another one, this time with Denny and Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing."

The win meant the most to the driver himself, however. It was Hamlin's 18th race win in 225 Sprint Cup appearances, but moreover it was a return to something like the form that he'd enjoyed in 2010 when he finished runner-up to Jimmie Johnson in the Cup championship. By contrast, 2011 had been a deep disappointment with only one win (at Michigan in June) all season.

"I don't know where this came from. I don't know how our car was as good as it was," said Hamlin. "We were solidly off in practice. We were off, but we kept getting it better and closer to being competitive. But I had no idea we were going to fire off like we did."

He definitely saw this early victory as a way of shaking off for once and for all the malaise that had hung over the team in 2011 after its championship near-miss the year before. "We just never got going," he admitted. "Maybe there was a hangover effect for the first half of the year ... But it didn't have anything to do with how bad I ran the last 10 races. We just didn't have it all together."

That's now all in the past. While it's early days yet, taking the lead of the Sprint Cup championship standings is just the tonic that Hamlin was after to show that he's a real contender for the title again in 2012.




Related Pictures

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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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Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Jimmy John`s Chevrolet, qualifies for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Crown Royal Presents The John Wayne Walding 400 at the Brickyard Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 26, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images)
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Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet SS, qualified 2nd fastest Saturday, July 26, 2014 for Sunday`s Brickyard 400 Nascar Sprint Cup race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis, Indiana. Next to him on the front row will be pole winner Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS, was the fastest qualifier Saturday, July 26, 2014 to capture the pole position for Sunday`s Brickyard 400 Nascar Sprint Cup race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis, Indiana. Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet SS will join him on the front row. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Tony Stewart presents Darrell Wallace Jr. , driver of the #54 ToyotaCare Toyota, with the trophy after winning the Camping World Truck 2nd Annual 1-800 Car Cash Mudsummer Classic at Eldora Speedway on July 23, 2014 in Rossburg, Ohio.  (Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/NASCAR via 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)
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)

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