NASCAR At Phoenix International Raceway 2012: Denny Hamlin Cruises To Win

Kevin Harvick runs out of fuel with two laps to go, leading to an easy win for Denny Hamlin.

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NASCAR Results: Brad Keselowski Earns Career-Best Finish At Phoenix

Brad Keselowski is NASCAR's version of a mutual fund disclaimer: His past performance is not indicative of his future results.

In Keselowski's case, we mean that in the best way possible. The Penske Racing driver continues to shake off his own history at tracks where he once struggled, replacing lackluster finishes with surprisingly strong ones.

Perhaps it's about time we stop being surprised.

Keselowski finished fifth in Sunday's NASCAR race at Phoenix International Raceway, posting not only his first career top-five finish at the 1-mile desert oval, but his first top-10. In fact, it was just the second top-15 for Keselowski in six career Phoenix races.

"That just shows the effort that we're all putting into it, whether it's me behind the wheel or the whole team building these cars and going over the wall," he said. "If we keep putting that effort in, we'll find ourselves in Victory Lane. ... It's definitely my best here at Phoenix."

Keselowski was a fixture among the lead cars for the second half of Sunday's race, and his day was notable for some hard racing with Jimmie Johnson.

Johnson eventually won the battle for position, but Keselowski did just about everything he could to keep the No. 48 car behind him.

It didn't please Johnson, who at one point said on his radio, "He's DAMN lucky I'm a nice guy" – apparently referring to Keselowski.

"I mean we're just all fighting hard," Keselowski said afterward. "The last run of the race, every position counts. You're not going to get another shot at it. I was in a dogfight and I fought hard. I wish I could have held him off, but it wasn't meant to be."

Keselowski was grateful to finish fifth despite some sort of fuel pickup problem at the end of the race. He said he wasn't sure what exactly happened, but it felt like he was running out of gas with a few laps to go.

His car still finished the race with fuel in the tank, though, meaning the outspoken electronic fuel injection critic could likely add something else to the list of things he dislikes about NASCAR's new technology.

The strong Phoenix finish helped wipe away a disappointing Daytona 500 result (Keselowski was caught in a crash) and move the Penske Racing driver up 17 spots to 12th in the point standings.

And up next? Las Vegas, where Keselowski's best finish is 26th in three career Cup races.

"Vegas hasn't been very good to me, but before today neither had Phoenix," he said. "We'll just take it one race at a time and hopefully, we can have a strong run like we did here today. There's not really one thing I'm looking forward to. Maybe the casino."

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NASCAR Point Standings 2012: Denny Hamlin Leads Sprint Cup Series After Phoenix

Denny Hamlin's victory at Phoenix International Raceway on Sunday propelled him into the Sprint Cup Series points lead, where he sits six points ahead of Greg Biffle.

Sunday's runnerup Kevin Harvick is eight points back, followed by Matt Kenseth and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Brad Keselowski moved up a whopping 17 spots – the biggest gainer of the week – to 12th in the standings. The biggest losers among the top 30 in points were Jeff Burton, Paul Menard and Marcos Ambrose, who lost eight spots each.

There are a few surprising names toward the bottom of the standings, including Kasey Kahne (32nd), Jamie McMurray (37th) and Jimmie Johnson (38th, lost 25 points from NASCAR penalty).

Here are the Sprint Cup Series standings after Phoenix:

  1. Denny Hamlin
  2. Greg Biffle -6
  3. Kevin Harvick -8
  4. Matt Kenseth -10
  5. Dale Earnhardt Jr. -17
  6. Martin Truex Jr. -18
  7. Mark Martin -18
  8. Joey Logano -19
  9. Kyle Busch -23
  10. Carl Edwards -26
  11. Bobby Labonte -31
  12. Brad Keselowski -37
  13. Jeff Burton -37
  14. Paul Menard -37
  15. Tony Stewart -37
  16. Dave Blaney -38
  17. Clint Bowyer -42
  18. Ryan Newman -43
  19. Regan Smith -44
  20. Aric Almirola -46
  21. Marcos Ambrose -46
  22. Jeff Gordon -47
  23. Juan Pablo Montoya -48
  24. David Gilliland -52
  25. AJ Allmendinger -53
  26. Kurt Busch -54
  27. Landon Cassill -58
  28. Terry Labonte -62
  29. David Reutimann -63
  30. Tony Raines -64
  31. Travis Kvapil -64
  32. Kasey Kahne -64
  33. Casey Mears -65
  34. Davis Stremme -67
  35. Mike Bliss -68
  36. David Ragan -68
  37. Jamie McMurray -68
  38. Jimmie Johnson -71
  39. JJ Yeley -71
  40. Brendan Gaughan -72

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NASCAR At Phoenix: Ryan Newman Says Carl Edwards Has One Coming

Ryan Newman conceded Carl Edwards likely didn't wreck him intentionally on lap 256 of Sunday's NASCAR race at Phoenix International Raceway.

But that doesn't matter much when a potentially good finish goes by the wayside.

Newman, on the outside of Edwards heading into Turn 3 and challenging for a spot in the top five, was hit broadside by the 99 car, sending him hard into the wall.

The Stewart-Haas Racing driver vowed from this point forward to race the man who finished second a year ago in the Sprint Cup standings far differently.

"I'm 99 percent sure Carl Edwards didn't do that on purpose, but I trusted him," Newman said. "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.

"I don't consider that a deliberate move by any means. (But) we know plenty of times in this sport, what comes around goes around."

The accident left Newman 21st in the final running order (Edwards finished 17th) and 18th in the point standings heading into next Sunday's race in Las Vegas.

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. Proposes Tire Swap After NASCAR Phoenix Race

Dale Earnhardt Jr. wasn't too pleased with how his car ran on Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway – and suggested it might be time for Goodyear to try a different tire combination on the newly repaved track.

While he acknowledged the No. 88 car didn't have enough speed throughout the weekend ("We weren't very good," he said), Earnhardt Jr. suggested an inconsistent tire contributed to the team's troubles.

"The track has aged a little bit, and it's going to age a lot out here in this desert," he said after finishing 14th. "So it's time to soften the tire up and do something different with this tire. It's greasy; it don't get into the track. It just lays grease like a film on top of the track, and it's just real slick."

The Hendrick Motorsports driver pointed to the difference between Friday's practice times and Saturday's qualifying session as evidence the tire needed a change.

When teams put their cars into qualifying trim, Earnhardt Jr. said, the times dropped off from practice instead of doing the opposite.

"That should tell you your tire is not quite right for the track," he said.

While he said the tire is "OK" and "alright," Earnhardt Jr. said he'd like to see Goodyear return to Phoenix for a full tire test – even though it's expensive.

The tires used Sunday were the same ones brought to last November's Phoenix race, which was the first race run on the repaved and reconfigured 1-mile oval.

Goodyear held its initial Phoenix tire test with Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart in late August to find the right tire, then confirmed its results during NASCAR's open test in early October.

The left-side tires are the same ones Goodyear used last season at Indianapolis, but Earnhardt Jr. said the type of tire used at Richmond might be a better fit for Phoenix.

Despite his tire concerns, Earnhardt Jr. was mostly pleased to leave Phoenix with a 14th-place finish in light of how he ran for most of the day.

"There was one damn run in the middle of that race (after) a green-flag stop where we were really happy, but for whatever reason, on restarts we weren't good," he said. "I don't know, man, I don't really know why.

"We got a decent finish out of today. The car wasn't good and we got decent points on what I would call one of our worst performances as a group in a long time."

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NASCAR At Phoenix: Kevin Harvick Comes Up Short On Fuel

A couple more drops of Sunoco, and it might have been a different driver/crew chief pairing celebrating their first win together rather than Denny Hamlin and Darian Grubb.

Instead, Kevin Harvick, in his second race with Shane Wilson atop his pit box, limped across the finish line in second place Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway after running out of fuel two laps from 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," Harvick said. "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. But those are the types of things you've got to do to take the chances, and when you're close enough to at least coast around, they did a good job."

While it was a frustrating result to be sure, it is also a result which speaks of bigger things to come for a driver who has finished third in the championship the last two years and desperately wants to secure his first Sprint Cup championship.

"We came here and struggled at the last race here and ran 25th, 30th all day and came back and raced for a win today," Harvick said. "So they've done a good job over the winter, and hopefully that continues over the next few weeks in the preparation that they've done."

Paired with his seventh-place finish in the Daytona 500, Harvick now finds himself third in the standings two races into the season, trailing Hamlin by a mere eight points. That strong start to the season is why Harvick wasn't beating himself or his team up afterward about a potential win slipping away.

The focus on the 29 team is about the big picture, which was exactly what Harvick was doing.

"This is obviously a group of guys that has been together for a while, and in the end, I have to help be that team leader to be able to keep the guys together, whether it's a good day or bad," Harvick said. "A lot of them may think it's a bad day, (and) obviously we all want to win, but in the end, finishing second and being in contention for race wins and having the speed in the car is really what you're looking for early in the year.

"We have to build it one week at a time, and that confidence and that character that comes with winning or losing is part of it."

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Kasey Kahne Blames Himself For Wreck In NASCAR Phoenix Race

Kasey Kahne limped through the Phoenix International Raceway garage toward his hauler, walking slowly after a 34th-place finish that left him 38 laps down.

How could this happen? Kahne had finally arrived at Hendrick Motorsports this season after an 18-month wait, full of optimism and excitement over the best opportunity of his career.

Instead, his Hendrick tenure has had a nightmarish beginning. Kahne wrecked three cars during Daytona Speedweeks – including in the Daytona 500 – and then found trouble early in Sunday's race at Phoenix.

Kahne came off Turn 4 – perhaps a little too aggressively – got loose and slapped the wall, badly damaging his car. He blamed himself for the incident.

"I've been so excited about it, and I was excited the whole offseason and couldn't wait for the season to get here," Kahne said. "I show up at Phoenix, we're the best car all day Friday, top two cars all day yesterday, would have been the same today. I just need to calm the fuck down."

Kahne criticized himself for trying too hard and said he finds himself not wanting to lift off the gas.

"It's just wide-open – and it's stupid," he said. "I just need to calm down and things will work out a lot better. I think our cars are as good as it gets right now."

Kahne had plenty of time to talk to himself during Sunday's race. After his car was repaired, the 31-year-old drove more than 250 miles to finish the race – despite only being able to gain several points.

Two races into the season, Kahne is 32nd in the Sprint Cup Series point standings.

With Las Vegas approaching, Kahne will get the first test at a 1.5-mile track with his new team. And he plans to arrive there with a different mental outlook.

"If I do (calm down)," he said, "we'll be in really, really good shape."

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NASCAR Phoenix Results: Denny Hamlin Takes First Race Win Of 2012

At the racetrack that dashed his championship hopes in 2010, Denny Hamlin found redemption in Sunday's Subway Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix International Raceway.

In his second race with 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup championship crew chief Darian Grubb on his pit box, Hamlin held off Kevin Harvick in a 53-lap green-flag run to finish the 312-lap race at the one-mile track. Hamlin took over the series points lead for the first time since surrendering it in the final race of 2010 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Harvick lost fuel pressure with fewer than two laps left but had enough to retain the second position, 7.315 seconds behind the race winner.

Greg Biffle came home third, followed by Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski. Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Jeff Gordon, pole-sitter Mark Martin and Joey Logano completed the top 10.

Hamlin surged into the lead after a restart on Lap 254, passing Harvick and pulling away. Ryan Newman's hard contact with the Turn 4 wall two laps later caused the seventh caution of the afternoon, but Hamlin again stretched his advantage over Harvick after a restart on Lap 260 and held on the rest of the way.

Here are the full results from today's NASCAR race at Phoenix International Raceway:

  1. Denny Hamlin
  2. Kevin Harvick
  3. Greg Biffle
  4. Jimmie Johnson
  5. Brad Keselowski
  6. Kyle Busch
  7. Martin Truex Jr.
  8. Jeff Gordon
  9. Mark Martin
  10. Joey Logano
  11. Juan Pablo Montoya
  12. Aric Almirola
  13. Matt Kenseth
  14. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
  15. Kurt Busch
  16. Bobby Labonte
  17. Carl Edwards
  18. AJ Allmendinger
  19. Travis Kvapil
  20. Regan Smith
  21. Ryan Newman
  22. Tony Stewart
  23. Dave Blaney
  24. Mike Bliss
  25. David Ragan
  26. JJ Yeley
  27. Brendan Gaughan
  28. David Gilliland
  29. David Stremme
  30. Clint Bowyer
  31. Paul Menard
  32. Marcos Ambrose
  33. Jeff Burton
  34. Kasey Kahne
  35. Landon Cassill
  36. David Reutimann
  37. Jamie McMurray
  38. Josh Wise
  39. Casey Mears
  40. Joe Nemechek
  41. Robby Gordon
  42. Scott Riggs
  43. Michael McDowell
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NASCAR At Phoenix 2012: Viewer's Guide For Subway Fresh Fit 500

Here are some storylines to watch for in today's Subway Fresh Fit 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Phoenix International Raceway:

Can Jimmie Johnson climb out of his big hole?

Earlier in the week, NASCAR announced it had penalized Hendrick Motorsports for illegal C-posts found on the 48 car during inspection for the Daytona 500. The sanctioning body subsequently deducted 25 driver points from Jimmie Johnson, 25 owner points from Rick Hendrick and suspended both crew chief Chad Knaus and car chief Ron Malec for six weeks.

Because of those penalties -- and because of his 42nd-place finish in the Daytona 500, which netted him just two points -- Johnson finds himself in a hole unlike any he's ever been in before, sitting at minus 23 points. While it's far too early to panic, a good run this weekend would go a long way toward righting the ship, or at the very least, helping put Daytona behind them.

The good news for Johnson is crew chief Chad Knaus is still with the team as his appeal is going through the process, and as such, he will be atop the 48 pit box all weekend.

Kenseth going for back-to-back

The last time Matt Kenseth won the Daytona 500 in 2009, he followed it up by winning again the next week at Auto Club Speedway. In the process, he became just the fifth driver in history to start the year with consecutive victories, joining Marvin Panch (1957), Bob Welborn (1959), David Pearson (1976) and Jeff Gordon (1997).

A win at Phoenix might be a far more daunting task this time around for Kenseth. In 19 career races on the one-mile oval, his average finish is 18.1. In his last nine starts there, he has just two top-ten finishes. Not exactly numbers that scream "potential winner."

Using Phoenix as a barometer

Because of its unpredictable nature, it's incredibly difficult to gauge how a driver is going to do through the course of season based on how they perform at Daytona. A poor finish in the 500 doesn't necessarily ensure a driver is doomed to a bad season and vice versa.

Case in point: Last year, eight drivers who would go on to make the Chase finished 20th or worse in the 500. Conversely, only three of the top 10 finishers would later qualify for NASCAR's version of the playoffs.

All that being said, two bad races to begin the year can start to put the squeeze on a driver and team. If you're looking for a telltale sign of who should be in Chase contention, keep an eye on who finishes in the top 15. Last year, 11 of the 12 eventual Chase drivers finished 15th or better ago in this race. The only exception was Carl Edwards, who led the series in top-five and top-10 finishes.

Worth Noting

Recent history suggests Chevrolet is the manufacturer most likely to end up in the winner's circle Sunday. Dating back to 2003, the Bowtie Brigade has won 13 of 16 races in the desert.

Only two drivers have notched their first career wins in the 31 Sprint Cup races Phoenix International Raceway has hosted. The first driver to do so was Alan Kulwicki in 1988 during NASCAR's maiden voyage to the one-mile track. This was followed up eight years later by Bobby Hamilton taking Richard Petty's team back to Victory Lane for the first time since "The King" won his 200th race at Daytona 12 years prior.

Sunday's Subway Fresh Fit 500 will be just the second race on the reconfigured and repaved oval. Last year between the February and November races, track officials added some banking, widened the front stretch and extended the dogleg on the backstretch.

Favorites

1. Kasey Kahne

No owner has more victories at Phoenix than Rick Hendrick, who has won with five different drivers wheeling his cars. Coincidentally, Hendrick's newest driver, Kasey Kahne, is the most recent PIR winner, having won here last November while driving for Red Bull Racing. Add everything up and it makes sense to think Kahne should be viewed as the favorite Sunday.

2. Tony Stewart

Kahne may have picked up the checkered flag in November, but it was Tony Stewart who dominated. Starting eighth, Stewart quickly ascended to the lead and altogether led five different times for a race-high 160 laps before sliding back to finish third. Bringing the same car this weekend as he raced last fall, the expectation is Stewart will once again be challenging for the win.

3. Carl Edwards

The Roush Fenway Fords looked mighty fast throughout Speedweeks. While there is a sizable difference between Daytona and Phoenix, it is worth noting Carl Edwards did finish second here last fall and started on the pole in this race a year ago.

Sleeper

Last year, driving for the underfunded team of Richard Petty Motorsports, AJ Allmendinger was able to post top-10 finishes in both Phoenix events. Now with Penske Racing, ‘Dinger will have better equipment underneath him, which should give him a chance to improve. That doesn't necessarily mean he's going to win, but a solid top-five finish shouldn't be ruled out.

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NASCAR Changes Jet Dryer Policy After Daytona 500 Incident

Beginning with today's Sprint Cup Series race in Phoenix, NASCAR will deploy an extra caution car to trail jet dryers and warn drivers to slow down when passing trucks filled with explosive jet fuel.

NASCAR informed the drivers of the change to its jet dryer policy at Sunday's pre-race drivers meeting, and it is clearly a reaction to Juan Pablo Montoya's collision with a jet dryer during the Daytona 500.

"When we're out there on the racetrack, we have a shared responsibility of slowing down in the area where (safety workers) are out there working," race director David Hoots told the drivers. "... There's no toleration for speeding by them."

Montoya was traveling in excess of 100 mph when his car suddenly broke during Monday night's Daytona 500, sending him careening into a jet dryer. Both the jet dryer and Montoya's vehicle blew up, but neither driver was injured.

Hoots said the caution car trailing the jet dryers will have all its lights on and remind drivers to slow down when approaching both the jet dryers and other safety vehicles.

"Not just for the jets, but the rescue personnel, the firetrucks, everyone," he said. "Let them do their jobs -- and do them well -- and be respectful of them out there on the racetrack."

In addition, NASCAR spokesman David Higdon said jet dryer drivers will be required to wear firesuits and helmets from now on.

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NASCAR At Phoenix 2012: Start Time, Starting Lineup, TV/Radio Schedule And More

It's NASCAR race day at Phoenix International Raceway and we've got the actual race start time, the starting lineup and some other facts about today's race for you below.

What time does the race start today? Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh – today's grand marshal – will command drivers to fire their engines at 3:08 p.m. Eastern Time (that's 1:08 p.m. in Phoenix). After a few pace laps, the field will take the green at 3:15 p.m. Eastern. So if you're looking to skip the pre-race show, tune in at 3:15.

Race name/distance: The Subway Fresh Fit 500 is not 500 miles, but 500 kilometers around the 1-mile oval near Phoenix. The actual distance of the race is 312 miles, which makes it one of the shorter NASCAR races of the season.

TV and radio: Today's race can be seen on FOX. Every Sprint Cup Series race through May will be on the FOX network. Unfortunately, there is no live streaming of the race – but you can listen on the Motor Racing Network's Web site (just click the red link). You can also check MRN's site for a list of affiliate stations in your area.

National anthem: R&B singer Brian McKnight and his two sons will sing the national anthem today. McKnight is known for hits such as "Back At One," but also for having a record 16 Grammy nominations without ever winning.

Tickets: Though November's Phoenix race was a sellout, tickets still remain for today's race if you're in the area and want to make a last-minute trip.

Weather: The unofficial NASCAR weatherman, Brian Neudorff, says NASCAR is in for a rain-free day at Phoenix (obviously a relief after Daytona). Neudorff is calling for temperatures in the low 80s with plenty of sunshine.

Last time: Jeff Gordon ended a 66-race winless drought by winning the Phoenix race in February, which was the second race of the season. Then, in November, Kasey Kahne snapped an 81-race winless streak while driving for Red Bull Racing. Perhaps another driver with a long winless streak could win today.

Starting lineup for today's NASCAR race at Phoenix International Raceway:

  1. Mark Martin
  2. Tony Stewart
  3. Regan Smith
  4. Jimmie Johnson
  5. Juan Pablo Montoya
  6. Ryan Newman
  7. Greg Biffle
  8. Kevin Harvick
  9. Joey Logano
  10. Kasey Kahne
  11. Jeff Burton
  12. Kyle Busch
  13. Denny Hamlin
  14. Marcos Ambrose
  15. AJ Allmendinger
  16. Clint Bowyer
  17. Bobby Labonte
  18. Aric Almirola
  19. Kurt Busch
  20. Paul Menard
  21. Jamie McMurray
  22. Landon Cassill
  23. Dave Blaney
  24. Carl Edwards
  25. Martin Truex Jr.
  26. Matt Kenseth
  27. Scott Riggs
  28. Brad Keselowski
  29. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
  30. Jeff Gordon
  31. Casey Mears
  32. David Reutimann
  33. Josh Wise
  34. David Ragan
  35. JJ Yeley
  36. David Gilliland
  37. Michael McDowell
  38. Joe Nemechek
  39. Robby Gordon
  40. Brendan Gaughan
  41. Travis Kvapil
  42. Mike Bliss
  43. David Stremme
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NASCAR Phoenix Nationwide Series Results: Elliott Sadler Wins First Race Since 1998

Elliott Sadler took the lead with 25 laps left in the Bashas' Supermarkets 200 at Phoenix International Raceway and held off hard-charging Brad Keselowski to win for the first time at PIR and the sixth time in his Nationwide Series career.

Defending series champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr. ran third, followed by rookie Austin Dillon and Kevin Harvick, who dominated the race but fell victim to pit strategy in the late going.

Driving for Richard Childress Racing after selling his own team to RCR last year, Harvick took control of the race on Lap 53, when he passed Hamlin for the lead four circuits after a restart. He pulled away to an advantage of more than six seconds before Kenny Wallace's crash into the Turn 4 wall caused the second caution of the afternoon.

Hamlin, the pole-sitter, regained the lead off pit road on Lap 105, but it didn't last, as Harvick took over the top spot moments after the subsequent restart on Lap 111.

Harvick stayed out front until NASCAR called the third caution on Lap 163 for debris in Turn 3. When the leap-lap cars pitted one circuit later, Harvick took four tires and came out seventh, as the six drivers ahead of him either took two tires or fuel only on their stops.

Keselowski passed Hamlin for the lead after the restart on Lap 168 but surrendered the top position to Sadler on Lap 175.

Here are the full Nationwide Series results from Phoenix:

  1. Elliott Sadler
  2. Brad Keselowski
  3. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
  4. Austin Dillon
  5. Kevin Harvick
  6. Sam Hornish Jr.
  7. Trevor Bayne
  8. Joey Logano
  9. Denny Hamlin
  10. Michael Annett
  11. Kyle Busch
  12. James Buescher
  13. Cole Whitt
  14. Brian Scott
  15. Justin Allgaier
  16. Mike Bliss
  17. Casey Roderick
  18. Kasey Kahne
  19. Jason Bowles
  20. Tayler Malsam
  21. Danica Patrick
  22. Jeremy Clements
  23. Jamie Dick
  24. Joe Nemechek
  25. Joey Gase
  26. Erik Darnell
  27. Benny Gordon
  28. Eric McClure
  29. T.J. Bell
  30. Tim Schendel
  31. Blake Koch
  32. Mike Wallace
  33. Daryl Harr
  34. Charles Lewandoski
  35. David Green
  36. Kenny Wallace
  37. JJ Yeley
  38. Morgan Shepherd
  39. Mike Harmon
  40. Josh Wise
  41. Chase Miller
  42. Scott Speed
  43. Jeff Green
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NASCAR Phoenix Starting Lineup 2012: Mark Martin Earns Pole Position For Sunday's Race

As if anyone doubted it, the old man can still get it done.

Mark Martin, 53, won the pole position for Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Phoenix International Raceway, snatching the top spot away from former protegé Regan Smith with just two cars remaining in Saturday's qualifying session.

The pole came in just Martin's second race weekend with Michael Waltrip racing, for whom he will drive 25 races this season.

"Make no mistake – MWR and (crew chief) Rodney Childers have good stuff," Martin said. "They're making gains and they're making progress. ... I couldn't do it without that kind of effort, so I feel really blessed."

Martin now has almost as many poles as his age; Saturday's No. 1 spot was the 52nd of his career.

"You look at Mark Martin and it doesn't matter whose car he drives – he's going to be good in it," outside pole-sitter Tony Stewart said. "He's just one of those guys where it doesn't matter who you put him with, he's going to bring the best out of their team."

Smith ended up third behind Stewart – the last car to go in the time trials – and had to settle for what tied for his second-best career qualifying effort.

"Certainly was thinking about getting locked into the Shootout early on this year, but it wasn't meant to be today," Smith said.

Jimmie Johnson and Juan Pablo Montoya rounded out the top five, followed by Ryan Newman, Greg Biffle, Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano and Kasey Kahne.

A pair of Hendrick Motorsports cars – defending race winner Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. – struggled in qualifying. Earnhardt Jr. will start 29th and Gordon will start 30th.

Rookie of the Year candidate Timmy Hill, driving the No. 37 car, was the only driver to miss the race and be sent home.

Here's the starting lineup for Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Phoenix International Raceway:

  1. Mark Martin
  2. Tony Stewart
  3. Regan Smith
  4. Jimmie Johnson
  5. Juan Pablo Montoya
  6. Ryan Newman
  7. Greg Biffle
  8. Kevin Harvick
  9. Joey Logano
  10. Kasey Kahne
  11. Jeff Burton
  12. Kyle Busch
  13. Denny Hamlin
  14. Marcos Ambrose
  15. AJ Allmendinger
  16. Clint Bowyer
  17. Bobby Labonte
  18. Aric Almirola
  19. Kurt Busch
  20. Paul Menard
  21. Jamie McMurray
  22. Landon Cassill
  23. Dave Blaney
  24. Carl Edwards
  25. Martin Truex Jr.
  26. Matt Kenseth
  27. Scott Riggs
  28. Brad Keselowski
  29. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
  30. Jeff Gordon
  31. Casey Mears
  32. David Reutimann
  33. Josh Wise
  34. David Ragan
  35. JJ Yeley
  36. David Gilliland
  37. Michael McDowell
  38. Joe Nemechek
  39. Robby Gordon
  40. David Stremme
  41. Brendan Gaughan
  42. Travis Kvapil
  43. Mike Bliss
DNQ: Timmy Hill
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NASCAR Nationwide Series At Phoenix: What's Going On With Kenny Wallace And RAB Racing?

If you're one of the 88,000 people who follow NASCAR driver Kenny Wallace on Twitter, you know he's in a difficult sponsorship situation.

Wallace tweeted this week his future is in doubt due to a lack of funding at the RAB Racing team in the Nationwide Series. The driver has essentially begged for a company to support his efforts to keep racing.

Wallace told SceneDaily.com the team was "broke" and also tweeted repeatedly about RAB's financial situation.

Team owner Robby Benton, though, told SB Nation he takes exception to Wallace's approach. Benton said he's been trying to find sponsorship for Wallace over the past 14 months and is running a black, unsponsored car at Phoenix in an effort to show the ride is available.

But Benton feels Wallace's desperation is undermining his efforts to strike a deal with a potential sponsor.

"He thinks what he's doing is generating interest," Benton said. "But at the end of the day, it's making me and our race team look (unprofessional) and trying to get people to feel sorry for him. That's not productive. You don't want people to feel sorry for you. We're trying to sell a strong, marketable program."

Benton said RAB Racing is not broke and has the structure in place to field a strong program. But it will be broke if sponsorship isn't found, which is why Benton said he's in a position to make some difficult choices.

"For what it costs to be associated with us, to get the performance we exhibit and to get the popularity Kenny has got, we're one of the best bargains in the garage," Benton said. "And we still can't sell it.

"So in order to not break myself and put us in a position where we're destitute, I've got to make some tough decisions."

That includes listening to offers from drivers who could potentially bring funding to the team. Wallace was particularly vocal on Twitter about the rent-a-ride philosophy.

Naturally, this has resulted in backlash against RAB. Benton said he's received hate mail since Wallace's latest tweets.

"Kenny's frustrated and nobody wants to be out of their ride," he said. "Unfortunately, I'm having a hard time selling it. I'm not independently wealthy. I can't just do what I want to do; I have to do what I have to do.

"Just because somebody walks in to come see me doesn't mean I'm going to put them in the car. I'm not going to be a rent-a-ride."

Here's the situation, according to Benton: RAB has sponsorship for only four of the remaining 32 Nationwide Series events this season (the races are scattered throughout the year). Companies who backed the team in 2011, including Federated Auto Parts, UNOH and G-Oil, all decided not to return for this season.

With no funding to move forward with Wallace, Benton said he's been forced to entertain offers from drivers who can bring sponsorship and keep the team running.

Benton had one such offer for Phoenix, but felt it would be ethically wrong to pull the rug out from under Wallace's feet after Daytona (Benton and Wallace entered a car in the Daytona 500, but failed to make the field). So Benton and his partners committed to running Wallace in the next four races – unsponsored – in hopes of finding money.

"I turned away a one-race deal because I didn't feel like it was the right thing to do with Kenny," Benton said. "I feel like I'm doing the right things, but I'm getting crucified."

Wallace, though, isn't about to let his racing career slip away without doing everything he can. And that includes pleading with his fans to spread the word about the sponsorship situation.

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Why Brad Keselowski Carries A Phone In His Race Car

Brad Keselowski made news last week for tweeting from the backstretch during a long delay in the Daytona 500 – but his reasons for keeping a phone in his car have nothing to do with his Twitter account.

"The reason why I keep a phone in my car – it's a lengthy story," said Keselowski, who picked up more than 100,000 new Twitter followers during the two-hour, five-minute stoppage that followed Juan Pablo Montoya's collision with a jet dryer and subsequent fuel fire at Daytona.

"I was in California, driving for Dale Earnhardt Jr., and I had just gotten the ride to drive his No. 88 car (in NASCAR's Nationwide Series). We were running a race there, and I got in a really bad accident. They airlifted me off, and, obviously, my family wasn't there ... and they had no idea what status I was in, and, quite frankly, neither did I."

Keselowski arrived at a hospital in Los Angeles with no phone, no clothes, no wallet and no idea where he actually was.

"I wasn't knocked out or anything, but you're strapped on a helicopter, and you have no idea where it's going," he said.

Fast forward to last August at Road Atlanta, where Keselowski broke his ankle in a crash during testing.

"I got into another serious accident, and again got airlifted off, and the difference was that I had my phone with me," Keselowski said. "And I had my phone because testing, you know, it gets really boring, monotonous. You sit in the car for an hour while they make a change.

"So I go through the incident and so forth, and they put me on a helicopter and all that same stuff. I have my phone with me, so I just send a message to my mom like, 'Hey, just want you to know that you're going to read this in the news, but I think I'm OK.' So that really kind of put the fire out before it really got started, and I think she really appreciated that."

Clearly, Keselowski's tweeting on the backstretch was just a matter of opportunity.

"I had a pocket put inside my car to be able to keep (the phone) there," he said. "I didn't put it in my car thinking we were going to have a red flag at Daytona for a guy hitting a jet dryer and causing an explosion. I didn't have that much foresight."

NASCAR does not plan to prohibit drivers from keeping phones in their cars.

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Jimmie Johnson Defends No. 48 Team, Chad Knaus After Penalty

Sitting negative in points is not a position Jimmie Johnson is at all familiar with.

But after a 42nd-place showing in the Daytona 500 coupled with a 25-point penalty from NASCAR for illegal modifications made to his car prior to Daytona 500 qualifying, the five-time champ finds himself in the red entering this weekend's Subway Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix International Raceway.

"It is certainly not a position we want to be in," Johnson said Friday when he met with reporters. "But there is a lot of racing between now and September (for the Chase cutoff). Right now, we are focused on doing the best job we can and getting as many points as we possibly can."

Helping ease the concern is how well the 48 team has responded to and thrived over the years when faced with adversity.

While the points margin is daunting, it is not insurmountable. Particularly considering NASCAR's wild card format, which awards Chase spots to the two drivers who have won the most races and are ranked inside the top 20 in points.

When asked if his strategy might change in order to recoup some of the points he lost, both in the 500 and the penalty from NASCAR, Johnson didn't waver.

"No, no strategy change," Johnson said. "The end result is winning races. The worst-case scenario would be fighting for a wild card spot, and that boils down to winning races. It is no different than if we won the Daytona 500. We want to go to the race track and perform as well as we can each and every week and win races. That is our agenda."

Johnson also was steadfast in his support of crew chief Chad Knaus, the man who has guided him to five Sprint Cup championships – this despite Knaus' continued run-ins with NASCAR and facing his third suspension for a rules violation.

"There is a lot of work that goes into these race cars," Johnson said. "I have all the confidence in the world and everybody at Hendrick Motorsports on the No. 48 team and across the board. We are building race cars to go to the race track and win races with. I believe in our system, I believe in my team, I believe in my guys. It is what it is. We are here to race and win the race this weekend."

When asked to speculate whether Knaus' reputation for pushing the limits of what's legal played a part in NASCAR's decision-making process, Johnson deferred to officials.

"That would require me speculating," he said. "I'm just not in a position to do that. You will have to take that question up with NASCAR."

If Knaus' appeal is denied and he is forced to sit out for six weeks, Johnson has little concern the crew chief's absence would greatly impact the team he leads. As for whether this latest indiscretion may taint what he and his team have accomplished, Johnson was adamant his team plays within the rules.

"Whatever ends up happening post-appeal, I have a lot of confidence in Hendrick Motorsports and the depth we have in our organization," Johnson said. "We will respond to whatever we need to then.

"Right now, again, I'm focused on Phoenix and we will move on from here and deal with things as they come up."

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Juan Pablo Montoya Feels Lucky To Survive Daytona 500 Jet Dryer Explosion

Just days after Juan Pablo Montoya's harrowing wreck in the Daytona 500 – when his car suddenly swerved into a jet dryer and set off an explosion involving 200 gallons of jet fuel – the Colombian driver told reporters at Phoenix he felt fortunate to escape unharmed.

"I'm still a little sore, but not bad," Montoya said outside his hauler. "It's kind of interesting five days later when you look back at the impact – I'm pretty lucky, to be honest."

Montoya, typically unflappable, said he views incidents like the jet dryer explosions as "terrible" and a "freak accident" but tries not to think about the what-ifs.

"The way I've always looked at it is, 'Either you're going to be OK or you're not,'" he said. "I don't think anyone could hit anything harder than I did."

As for what caused the accident, Montoya confirmed it was a parts failure that triggered him turning abruptly into the back of the jet dryer.

If there are positives to be had in all this, it's once again that the much-maligned vehicle formerly known as the "Car of Tomorrow" did its job and allowed Montoya to walk away with nothing more than a bruised foot.

"The COT when it came out, people complained it wasn't this, it was that, and the view from the side, and the size and this," Montoya said. "I can guarantee in the other car, I wouldn't be OK. I am pretty happy we're in this car. It's pretty amazing what NASCAR does."

With the knowledge both he and the driver of the jet dryer escaped uninjured, Montoya was able to laugh and offer some perspective how in retrospect the accident ended up being a good team bonding experience for a group still trying to get familiar with one another.

"We're here in Phoenix and everyone was OK from that accident," he said. "It's very important the guy driving the jet dryer was OK, and the positives are we're here now."

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Denny Hamlin: I Wanted To Work With Dale Earnhardt Jr. At End Of Daytona 500

The end of the Daytona 500 seemed like the perfect time for Denny Hamlin to pair up with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and challenge the two Roush Fenway Racing cars up front for the win.

Well, at least Hamlin thought so.

On the final green-white-checkered restart, race leader (and eventual winner) Matt Kenseth started on the inside with Hamlin behind him. On the outside, it was Greg Biffle ahead of Earnhardt Jr.

And behind the top four, three Richard Childress Racing cars – Jeff Burton, Kevin Harvick and Paul Menard – figured to team up together.

The green flag waved, and Hamlin began to push Kenseth in hopes of connecting in a tandem draft. But it quickly became obvious the two Roush Fenway Racing cars were going to work together, and Biffle ducked down behind Kenseth.

At that point, Hamlin looked around him and realized he and Earnhardt Jr. were the two odd men out. So why not team up?

"To me it made sense to hook up with the 88, but trust me, I was on the radio asking and requesting," Hamlin said Friday at Phoenix International Raceway. "But you just you didn't get much cooperation there."

Earnhardt Jr. had decided to try and push Biffle to the finish for strategic reasons, he said Friday. It was nothing against Hamlin, he said, because "me and him are good friends."

"I was going to push the guy who was in front of me, because that gives me a chance – if I do it right – to come off Turn 4 in second place and pass him for the win," Earnhardt Jr. said. "If I'm getting pushed by somebody, I'm gonna be the loser."

But Hamlin felt the end of the 500 could have unfolded differently if Earnhardt Jr. had worked with him. If the 11 and 88 cars had paired up, they perhaps could have made a two-car draft to challenge the Roush cars for the win.

Hamlin said he pushed other cars to the lead for the whole race and felt he and Earnhardt Jr. would have made a formidable duo.

"I think (Earnhardt Jr.) conceded a victory by pushing the 16," Hamlin said. "I didn't think he really had a shot to win making that choice. I think that he had a shot if we linked up either in front or behind. It just seemed like things never really worked out."

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What Were Dale Earnhardt Jr., Brad Keselowski Talking About During Red Flag?

During Monday night's red flag at the Daytona 500, FOX's TV cameras showed the drivers chatting with one another and looking at Brad Keselowski's phone after the driver had tweeted from inside the car.

At one point, viewers saw an shot of Dale Earnhardt Jr. seeming to chuckle as he scrolled through Keselowski's mobile device.

So what were they talking about?

"Well, he made fun of me because it's not organized," Keselowski said Friday at Phoenix International Raceway. "If you've ever seen Dale Jr.'s phone in action, he has I think at least 40 folders all full of different apps and games. There's no way he can use them all.

"I don't use but maybe one or two folders, and the rest is all on different pages. So he couldn't believe I couldn't didn't have them organized, and he couldn't believe I didn't have more apps. It was a whole new world to him."

What was Keselowski's comeback to Earnhardt Jr.'s ribbing?

"I told him I couldn't believe he wasn't on Twitter," Keselowski said.

The drivers later used the phone to look up the weather radar, since a rain shower was dancing around the track.

"We had some fun," Keselowski said. "It was great to have access to those things."

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Chad Knaus: NASCAR Penalty To No. 48 Team Was Surprising, Disappointing

Hendrick Motorsports crew chief Chad Knaus said he was "deeply saddened" and "disappointed" by NASCAR's heavy-handed penalty this week for the illegally modified C-posts found on Jimmie Johnson's No. 48 car at Daytona International Speedway.

Knaus, who was suspended for six weeks along with car chief Ron Malec and fined $100,000, said Friday he "really didn't expect" NASCAR to have an issue with the C-posts and did not believe he was taking a risk with the parts.

The penalties are currently under appeal, so Knaus will still be crew chief for the 48 team at Phoenix.

"We do everything we can to build the best race cars we possibly can to bring to the racetrack, and that's what we do," he told a group of reporters at Phoenix. "Unfortunately, they didn't like something and we've got to address that."

The identical car raced at all four restrictor-plate races last season – it won the spring Talladega race – and was inspected multiple times without issue, Knaus said.

But if that's true, then it's also the same car Knaus told Johnson to intentionally damage if he won the fall Talladega race.

Knaus, a crew chief with a history of pushing the limit and occasionally getting caught, said NASCAR only did a visual inspection of the car and never put the templates on to take an actual measurement (though it's worth noting NASCAR said this may have been an area that was in between the templates).

"It was just a visual inspection at that point," Knaus said. "We never actually got the opportunity to present that under the templates. So it's unfortunate. There's a bit of subjectiveness to it. That's why we're going through the appeal."

When a reporter asked if it was acceptable for a team to be penalized without ever getting its car actually measured, Knaus said that would be part of the appeal process.

"We'll just have to talk about it at that point," he said. "(NASCAR has) a good set of structure and standards that are in black in white, and some areas that are not."

Knaus, who has run afoul of NASCAR and been suspended multiple times in the past, said he wasn't sure if NASCAR put him under more scrutiny than other crew chiefs.

"You know, I don't know," he said. "That's difficult for me to say. You'd have to go ask NASCAR about that."

A backup plan for who would crew chief the No. 48 car in case the appeal fails has not been determined, Knaus said. The crew chief also wouldn't say who was responsible for the illegal C-posts on the car.

Despite a 25-point penalty which left Johnson with -23 points entering Phoenix, Knaus said he expected the 48 team to overcome the setback and rise to the occasion by still contending for the championship.

Though he's been penalized for various offenses over the years, the 40-year-old Knaus said he wasn't worried about how he would be viewed by the public.

"Honestly, I'm here to do the best I can for the 48 team, and that's all that really matters to me," he said. "As far as my reputation goes, I'm really not too concerned about that."

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NASCAR At Phoenix International Raceway: 2012 Weekend Schedule

Just three days after the conclusion of the Daytona 500 early Tuesday morning, NASCAR is in Phoenix today to begin preparations for Sunday's Sprint Cup Series race.

Friday's action features two practice sessions, Saturday is Sprint Cup qualifying and the Nationwide Series race, followed by the Cup race on Sunday.

Here's the full weekend schedule (all times listed are EASTERN; track is on Mountain time):

FRIDAY

1 p.m. – Nationwide Series practice (1 hour, 20 minutes)

2:30 p.m. – Sprint Cup Series practice (1 hour, 30 minutes)

4:10 p.m. – Nationwide Series final practice (1 hour, 10 minutes)

5:30 p.m. – Sprint Cup Series final practice (1 hour, 30 minutes)

SATURDAY

1:05 p.m. – Nationwide Series qualifying

2:35 p.m. – Sprint Cup Series qualifying

4:30 p.m. – Nationwide Series race: The Bashas' Supermarkets 200 (200 laps, 200 miles)

SUNDAY

3 p.m. – Sprint Cup Series race: The Subway Fresh Fit 500 (312 laps, 312 miles)

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