The start of the 2012 Sprint Cup season isn’t messing around after a fiery, record breaking Daytona 500 last week. It was the first Daytona 500 in history to be rain-delayed and ran into Tuesday morning, with the checkered flag being thrown at around 1am. This Sunday, they raced at Phoenix International Speedway for the Subway Fresh Fit 500, where desert heats and a short, 1-mile oval promised a far different experience during the second race of the season.
The starting line up included Mark Martin (55) with his 52 career pole position, Tony Stewart (14), Regan Smith (78), Jimmie Johnson (48), Juan Pablo Montoya (42), Ryan Newman (39), Greg Biffle (16), Kevin Harvick (29), Joey Logano (20), and Kasey Kahne (5). Martin quickly dropped out of the lead, Stewart swooping in to pick it up. After a series of lead changes, a grand total of 25 changes between 15 drivers over the course of the race, Kevin Harvick ended up leading the majority of the race.
With 7 cautions over the course of the race, most drivers focused on conserving fuel, watching how hard they ran their brakes, and monitoring their cooling systems. We only saw smoke come out a few cars and the modified cooling systems held up under the hot Arizona sun. NASCAR officials had maintained there would be no issues with the reduced size of the front cooling vent, but many voiced skepticism before the start of the season. It would seem the officials were correct in this case!
Several drivers saw issues related to fuel pressure and EFI, most notably Tony Stewart on lap 249, who tried to re-fire his engine as he had done at Daytona but failed to get it restarted. Stewart was pushed off the track by a wrecker and finished in 22 with 2 laps down. Carl Edwards experienced a similar issue, but was able to re-fire his engine with no problems.
One of the most surprising drivers of the race was Regan Smith in the Furniture Row 78. His team, Furniture Row Racing, is a one-car team based out of Denver, CO, a far cry from the Greater Charlotte, NC area where most teams are based. Starting in 3rd position, Smith ran hard against the multi-car teams, keeping with Harvick, Hamlin, Johnson, and Keselowski for the first half of the race. It was a nice change to see a small team running with the big money teams, proving that racing is about skill and talent, rather than how much money sponsors will fork over.
The Subway Fresh Fit 500 ended in a showdown between Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin. Hamlin lost the Sprint Cup Championship at Phoenix in 2010 and had a disappointing 2011 season. Harvick, known as “The Closer”, has a reputation for holding back until the end of the race before cinching a win. At lap 235, Harvick’s team told him he would be 11 laps short on fuel if he didn’t pit before the end of the race. Through a series of lucky-for-him events, cautions were thrown and he was able to get his fuel topped off. Hamlin and Harvick raced neck to neck until the final lap, when Harvick ran out of fuel. He had enough momentum to retain his 2nd place position, leaving Hamlin to win for the first time since his devastating 2010 loss.
The official top 5 results were Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Greg Biffle, Jimmie Johnson, and Brad Keselowski. Next week, the Kobalt Tools 400 brings us to Las Vegas, NV!
Meg Gauthier is 22 years old and doesn’t have clue! Working every job that comes her way, Meg currently fills the roles of head hostess, ghost writer, copy editor, student, and occasional chandler. She drinks more coffee than any one girl should have and is constantly searching for new places to tuck books into her flat. She lives in St Augustine with a grumpy Siamese named Giles and wants to write for television someday. You can find her ramblings onTwitter and Google Plus.