Sports

Denny Hamlin wins at Phoenix with new crew chief

AVONDALE, Ariz. -- It hasn't taken long for Denny Hamlin and Darian Grubb to build a driver-crew chief relationship that is capable of winning races.

Hamlin and Grubb teamed to win the second NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race of the season in their second race together. With Kevin Harvick running out of fuel with less than two laps remaining, Hamlin and the No. 11 FedEx Toyota team won the Subway Fresh Fit 500 with relative ease on a hot Sunday afternoon at Phoenix International Raceway.

"It's still a learning process between me and Darian," Hamlin said. "But to have success this early just tells me that once we get things down pat, it's going to be pretty good."

Grubb, who served as the series-winning crew chief for Tony Stewart last year, said he doesn't view the victory as any sort of vindication.

"I try to just take the high road all the time," Grubb said. "I feel like I came into a very good situation. We're a united team. We're working together that way, and we are just going to keep doing it."

It's the first victory at PIR for Hamlin, who ended a 22-race winless streak. Coupled with a fourth-place run at the season-opening Daytona 500, Hamlin has re-established himself as a championship contender.

Ironically, it happened at the track that hurt his title chances in 2010. After winning the AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, Hamlin had a 33-point lead over Jimmie Johnson for the series championship with two races remaining.

The following week at PIR, though, Hamlin saw his title dreams begin to slip away. He led the majority of the race but ran out of fuel with 14 laps remaining and finished 12th. His lead was cut to 15 points, and Johnson eventually won the championship that season.

"This is a bittersweet track for me," Hamlin said. "Before that moment, I had a lot of success at this track, ran very competitive. Never got a win, but last year I wasn't a huge fan of the track because I wasn't competitive."

Hamlin took the lead on Lap 253, moving past Harvick on Turn 4. He never trailed after that. Harvick stayed within striking distance until the final laps, when he went into fuel-conservation mode and ran out of fuel on the backstretch during the white-flagged lap.

Tony Stewart led for nine laps early on, but turned off his ignition on Lap 251 to save fuel and couldn't reignite it. That forced him to pit road, and he wound up two laps down in 22nd.

"I don't know why it didn't refire," said Stewart, who made a similar strategic move with no issues at Daytona. "It definitely cost us a good day."

It ended up being a good day for Stewart's former crew chief and the Joe Gibbs Racing team. Gibbs compared the hiring of Grubb to that of bringing in a Super Bowl-winning coach to a football organization.

"I'm always amazed at how close it is to the football operation because a coach in football roughly works with 13 assistant coaches," Gibbs said. "Over here Darian has come in, and I think he's done a great job of getting those guys all together. It is a team effort. He made some great calls there, he and Denny working together."

Drew Davison, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @drewdavison

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