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Edwards Wins PIR; Chase Race Tightens

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, November 14 2010

Denny Hamlin will be No. 1 heading to Homestead but not a comfortable No. 1. (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

Carl Edwards won the race at Phoenix International Raceway and Jimmie Johnson won his late-race fuel gamble, but NASCAR fans wanting a close battle for the 2010 Sprint Cup championship may have come away the biggest winners Sunday.

The series will head to Homestead-Miami Speedway with the top three drivers all within 46 points of each other.

Denny Hamlin, who started the race 33 points up on Johnson and who led a race-best 190 of 312 laps at PIR, will have a 15-point lead over Johnson and a 46-point lead over Kevin Harvick when the season-finale begins.

Hamlin, who was in second place when he had to pit for fuel with 14 laps remaining, finished 12th Sunday. Johnson, who opted to not pit for fuel late in the race, finished fifth.

“Pretty disappointing,” a downcast Hamlin said as he sat on the pit wall after the race. “We were in a good position there to look good going into next week. Things didn’t work out strategy-wise. It’s frustrating.

“I was sitting pretty.”

Johnson on the other hand, was in a great mood post race.

“We made chicken salad out of chicken you know what,” Johnson, who never came close to leading a lap, said.

Harvick, who didn’t have fuel problems but because a dropped lugnut on a pit stop with 90 laps to go took him out of sequence, had to battle his way back toward the front over the ensuing laps, finished sixth.

“Hey,” Gil Martin, Harvick’s crew chief said, “we’re in this thing.”

The victory was the first of the season in Cup for Edwards but his second of the season as he won the Nationwide race on Saturday. It was his first victory in 70 races, actually.

“It was a great day for us,” Edwards, who started from the pole, said. “The race started, I felt like we had the best car, and then here comes Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson, and I think their cars were better in the middle part of the race and Bob made really good adjustments, and then the track came to us a little bit, and then the thing that really saved us was our pit stall.  That’s something we talked a little bit here on Friday.

“We understand that we have to qualify better and that first pit stall is what kept us up there with that track position, so my guys did a good job on pit road. The pit stall was good.  Bob made good adjustments, and then at the end to make the fuel mileage work out, that was a little stressful but it worked.”

Ryan Newman finished second, Joey Logano third and Greg Biffle fourth.

Johnson said his key was going balloon foot.

“I did anything I could to stay out of the throttle,” he said. “We gave up a couple of positions at the end and when driving to pit road I thought man, I should have fought a little harder for those two spots because right now every point counts. But it was just a solid performance. We ran well all day long.”

And the pit crew he borrowed from teammate Jeff Gordon?

“Our pit stops were phenomenal and kept us out of trouble and kept us out of trouble a lot because of the great stops on pit road,” Johnson said. “And then we had to work whatever magic we could there at the end and save fuel and got it done and we have one heck of a points race going into Miami. I’m pumped.”

Johnson’s crew chief, Chad Knaus, said yes, the decision to stay out was of the do-or-die variety.

“Well, it was,” Knaus said, “but based on the numbers that we had, we figured it out right after we stopped, I told Jimmie to start saving fuel at that point. He obviously did a good job in saving fuel. We were only a half a lap short based on the fuel numbers that we had and so we were pretty good at that point. When that caution came out, I felt pretty confident we were going to make it. As soon as the No. 11 (Denny Hamlin) pitted, we really backed him down just to make sure and it turned out great.”

Asked if he was nervous, Knaus said, “I was nervous until five (laps) to go and at that point the bet was made. So there were no nerves after that.”

For Harvick, the lugnut problem kept hopes alive.

“Well, our mistake wound up being something that gained us more points than if we would have not made the mistake. We just kept after it and wound up getting an okay day,” Harvick said.

“I didn’t ever know that it would come down to the last race and I guess it’s 46 points, I don’t know how far it is from first to second (15 points), but that’s what we race for. An hour ago I would have told you we were done. But now we stand here talking about gaining 11 or 13 (points) or whatever we gained today and we’ll go down there (Homestead-Miami Speedway) and still have a shot.”

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, November 14 2010
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