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Phoenix Notes: Taking Tires The Hot New Strategy

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, April 9 2010

Denny Hamlin sacrificed track position for tires late in the race at Martinsville and the tactic paid off. (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images)

By Jeff Hood | Senior Writer

Avondale, Ariz. – Track position is normally coveted during the closing laps of Sprint Cup events at Bristol and Martinsville.

But Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin bucked that trend by ducking onto pit road for fresh tires with just a handful of laps remaining during two races last month.

In each case, both drivers sliced their way through the field on their way to victory lane.

Can the same scenario play out at Phoenix International Raceway during the final laps of Saturday night’s Subway Fresh Fit 600? The flat, one-mile oval in the desert is generally regarded as one of the more difficult tracks to pass cars.

“(Taking tires over track position late in a race) can become a trend,” Johnson said. “The garage area has been asking Goodyear to try to build a tire that’s durable but that also wears out, which is a contradictory statement.

“But within racing, there is a way to do it and I think they’ve done a very good job of building a tire that will last the course of a fuel run but that also has a lot of speed drop-off in it.

“At Bristol, I never in a million years would have thought we would win that race. And I think Denny would say the same thing at Martinsville. It’s just circumstances.”

Clint Bowyer said you’ve always got to consider the possibility of the race going past the advertised distance.

“Three attempt at a green-white-checker, that’s the tricky thing,” he said. “You can usually hold those guys off for one, but when you have three attempts at it and you have to use those, your hands are full of those guys if they those guys have tires.”

Nationwide qualifying: Carl Edwards claimed the pole for the Bashas’ Supermarkets 200 Nationwide Series race Friday afternoon with a lap at 130.938 mph.

Edwards will head into the race as the series points leader.

Qualifying second fastest for the race, which is scheduled to start 9:30 Eastern Friday night, was Kyle Busch. Busch is fourth in points, 56 behind Edwards.

Brad Keselowski, second in points and 16 behind Edwards, was third.

Greg Biffle was fourth.

Justin Allgaier, third in points (21 behind Edwards), qualified seventh fastest.

Hobbling Hamlin: Fresh off his victory at Martinsville less than two weeks ago, Hamlin was spotted hobbling through the garage prepping for Saturday night’s race.

Hamlin, who had knee surgery last week, will have Casey Mears on standby in case he’s unable to complete all 375 laps.

Jeff Burton is confident Hamlin won’t put himself or his fellow competitors in harm’s way this weekend.

“I don’t have any concern,” Burton said. “I think that Denny will know his limitations and I’m not concerned about it in the least.

“Driving injured is just a part of the sport. There have probably been a lot of times that people have been injured and no one ever knew about it. In this case, it was one of those things where he had to go public with it.

“He’ll find a way to make it happen. If he can’t, then he’ll get out.”

The knee did nothing to slow Hamlin down as he had the fastest practice lap on Friday. Still, he remains a bit shaky.

“It’s been one of those days,” Hamlin said. “We ran a lot of laps in the final practice and let Casey (Mears) run a little bit in the first practice, trying to save what energy I do have and what strength I do have for the final practice. I don’t know how far I’ll go. I mean, it definitely aches quite a bit and the problem is range of motion.

“I can’t get my knee bent far enough to put it on top of the pedal. That’s a small issue, but we’re going to do some things. We have some things that we’re going to do that’s going to make pain better and it’s going to make range of motion better for tomorrow that we haven’t done for today. Until we get to tomorrow, we really don’t know where we stand.”

Desert Fox: With four wins in 13 Cup starts at Phoenix, Johnson is considered one of the favorites to win Saturday night’s race.

Johnson, who is seeking a record-setting fifth consecutive championship, took over the points lead two weeks ago at Martinsville. The Cup series was idle last weekend during Easter.

“We’ve had a great record here over the years,” said Johnson, who has led 744 laps at Phoenix. “Leading the points is a great position to be in. If you take out Daytona, we’ve been competitive at all the races and been doing a great job.

“I am so excited, coming back to the race track and walking into the garage area after you go away for a week and relax and charge your batteries up. When I came in and saw the cars, I got the feeling and goose bumps and got fired up to be back at the race track. I’m looking forward to it.”

– Jeff Hood can be reached at jhood@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, April 9 2010
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