FIRST WIN OUT WEST BRINGS POINTS LEAD

Johnson Finishes Foruth at Phoenix

Jimmie Johnson overcame a loose wheel at Phoenix to finish fourth at Phoenix. Johnson: "Unfortunately we had a little hiccup on pit road and it kept us from really racing for the win, but we still fought back and got into it. So I’m very proud of the effort and very proud of our race team." (photo courtesy: Robert Laberge, GETTY IMAGES SPORT)

Denny Hamlin—who entered the 2010 Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway with a 15-point lead over then four-time reigning Champion Jimmie Johnson and just a 46-point margin over Kevin Harvick—returned to his winning ways in Race 2 of 36 en route to NASCAR’s series-crowning Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 16-18. Tickets for Ford Championship Weekend—Nov. 16-18 at Homestead-Miami Speedway—go on sale May 1. For ticket information, click [HERE] or call (866) 409-RACE.

All three of those drivers were strong contenders in Sunday’s race at Phoenix International Raceway.  The clash out west became a fuel mileage race, one that Hamlin won from behind the wheel of the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.

"If you would've asked me at the beginning of the day, I would've taken a top-fifteen finish," Hamlin said in victory lane.

Harvick coasted the No. 29 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet across the start/finish line on fumes to finish second, and the No. 16 Roush Fenway Racing Ford of Greg Biffle crossed the line third.

"When you cut the fuel mileage that close, you're doing something right," Harvick said. “We've never been in this position early in the season.”

Biffle, meanwhile, thought me may have been a little too conservative.

"I wish I wouldn't have tried to save so much gas," he said. "I probably would have caught the 29, but you just never know how much gas you've got."

Five-time Sprint Cup Series Champion Johnson dominated the race early after taking the lead within the first 15 laps of the race, but Kyle Busch took over in the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota when he came off pit road first during a caution that came out on Lap 110 of the 312-lap event.

Johnson suffered a right rear wheel issue several laps later, forcing him to make multiple pit stops under the next caution that came out on Lap 135. With Johnson looking to be out of the picture, at least for a while, Busch and Harvick engaged in a heated battle for the lead.

Harvick took the top spot on Lap 169 and began to dominate. He led the most laps of any driver in the race, running up front for 88 laps.

Many of those leaders spent short amounts of time up front during a lengthy cycle of green-flag pit stops that Busch got underway on Lap 180.

The lead cycled back around to Harvick, and he continued to hold down the top spot until Martin Truex Jr. stayed on-track while others visited pit road during a debris caution with 85 laps remaining.

On the outer edge of their fuel windows, most drivers who stopped during that particular caution gambled and stayed out the remainder of the race. Truex pitted under the next caution that came out on Lap 247, handing the lead back over the Harvick.

Hamlin took the lead from Harvick on the following restart and didn't look back, maintaining the top spot the rest of the way.

"Huge momentum," Hamlin said of the win and taking the lead in the standings after the second race of the season. "We've never been in this position early in the season."

Tickets for Ford Championship Weekend—Nov. 16-18 at Homestead-Miami Speedway—go on sale May 1. For ticket information, click [HERE] or call (866) 409-RACE.

Next up for the Sprint Cup Series drivers is Las Vegas on Sunday, March 11 (2:30 p.m. ET, Fox TV)—Race 3 of 36 en route to Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Nov. 16-18). The Top 12 drivers in points after Race 26 qualify to contend for the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship, to be crowned in Miami on Nov. 18.

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