Here's a look at some of the winners and losers from the recently completed NASCAR weekend at Phoenix International Raceway:
Be it exorcising demons or simple redemption, Hamlin had a statement victory Sunday in the Subway Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix International Raceway.
Seemingly clear of the frustration and disappointment which consumed him for all of last year, Hamlin resembled the driver who had won eight times in 2010 and finished a close second to Jimmie Johnson in points.
The consensus in the offseason was the Hamlin/Grubb combo would eventually be a force to be reckoned with. However, no one thought the two would visit Victory Lane in their second race together. But in a short amount of time, the man who led Tony Stewart to last year's championship has restored his driver's confidence and has him off to the best start of his seven-year career.
While in hindsight, it's easy to say Stewart was foolish to let the man who guided him to his third title go, there's no need to do that. Instead, all I am going to do is point out that dating back to last year, a Grubb-led team has won six of the past 12 races.
Challenging for the lead and having your fuel tank go dry with two laps to go can be an infuriating thing to deal with. To Harvick's credit, though, he handled everything with aplomb. Harvick knew a second-place finish is not something to complain about, considering this is only his second race with Shane Wilson as his crew chief; in the big picture, this was a day when a second-place finish was as good as a win.
Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 team
It has been anything but a quiet start to the 2012 season for the 48 team, and what they needed more than anything this past weekend was a quiet day with a high finish and the points that come with it.
Although Sunday didn't go as smoothly as possible – after leading 55 of the first 112 laps, a loose wheel sent Johnson back to 24th – he still was able to rally back and leave the desert with a fourth-place finish. With that, the guy they refer to as "five-time" climbed back into the black in the point standings and let it be known he and his team are still as formidable as ever.
Personally, I think this team's renewed focus to secure a spot in the Chase by racing for wins is going to mean bad things for the rest of the garage.
You can do a lot worse than start off the year with consecutive third-place finishes.
Although a tight race car saw him slide back to sixth, these are the exact kind of days Busch needs more of – consistently running up front, leading laps, challenging for the win and leaving with a very solid finish – if he is to win finally win his first Sprint Cup title.
Martin Truex Jr.
Two races into the season and in the last year of his contract, Truex is making a nice push for an extension with a 12th-place run at Daytona and seventh-place result at Phoenix. The positive start to the year has the New Jersey native sixth in points heading into Las Vegas, a track where he finished sixth a season ago.
Aric Almirola and Kurt Busch
Two drivers with a lot to prove in 2012 each turned in respectable days with Almirola crossing the line in 12th and Busch 15th.
If Martin keeps winning poles and finishing in the top 10, I find it hard to believe Michael Waltrip isn't going to use his powers of persuasion to keep Martin in the 55 car for the entire season. Especially if the 53-year-old driver is in position to claim MWR's first Chase berth.
The rap on Sadler is he's a nice guy who doesn't win enough to be a challenger for the championship. But Saturday in the Nationwide Series race, the Richard Childress driver silenced his critics, winning his first Nationwide race since Oct. 31, 1998 and showing he needs to be taken as a serious title contender in NASCAR's No. 2 series.
It was an all-around bad Sunday for Stewart. First, the car he owns driven by Ryan Newman got wrecked while running in the top 10. Then, Stewart's own top-10 effort went bye-bye when he couldn't refire his engine after he shut it down to save fuel during a late caution. This was topped off by seeing his old crew chief – and the guy he fired – celebrating in Victory Lane with his new team.
Like Truex, Allmendinger is driving for his future this season, seeking a long-term contract. But unlike Truex, 'Dinger – with finishes of 18th and 34th – hasn't done much so far to show Penske Racing he's worthy of such a commitment.
Through two races, Kahne has been involved in four different incidents and hasn't finished better than 29th. All of which explains why following his latest brush with the wall, the newest addition to Hendrick Motorsports was kicking himself for being too aggressive and said that he "needs to calm down."
A virtual nonfactor at Daytona – albeit he did finish eighth – Edwards was expected to be among the frontrunners this past weekend. But instead, last year's championship runner-up spent much of Sunday running mid-pack. When he did eventually make into the top 10, Edwards wrecked Newman, ran out of fuel in the closing laps and finished 17th in the final running order.
Yes, Danica Patrick doesn't have a lot of seat time behind the wheel of a Nationwide Series car. But then again, she has started more Nationwide races than JR Motorsports teammate Cole Whitt. And it was Whitt who finished 13th Saturday and on the lead lap, while Patrick struggled mightily, finishing three laps down in 21st.