BEST IN CLASS — While Ford Motor Co. drivers dominated the proceedings in the season-opening Daytona 500, that most decidedly was not the case in Sunday’s Subway Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix International Raceway. There, Greg Biffle’s third-place run in his No. 16 Roush Fenway Racing Ford represented the only top 10 for any of the Ford drivers.
All told, Ford drivers led just 3 of 312 laps, a sharp departure from Daytona, where Matt Kenseth won, Biffle finished third and Carl Edwards finished eighth. “I certainly would have thought we would have run better today than we did,” said Biffle, who is second in points, six back of race-winner Denny Hamlin.
Biffle said part of the problem was the track schedule. All of the NASCAR Sprint Cup practice was Friday, with Saturday being qualifying only. And track temperatures were 20 degrees hotter Sunday than they were Friday, making setups something of a guessing game.
“We fought the car really bad at the beginning of this race,” said Biffle. “I guess the track is just a lot different than it was on Friday. I don't care so much for this format of doing all of our practice on Friday when we get here. I like to practice and qualify, and then Saturday we have Happy Hour. We have two race practices to get ready for the race. It's difficult coming into a green racetrack and doing all your race stuff in one day to get set up for the race and just qualify on Saturday. It was challenging, and I missed it a little bit.”
Biffle’s teammate, Carl Edwards, had it even worse. Edwards did not run up front all day and finished 17th after running out of gas. Daytona 500 winner Kenseth was 13th.
“We made our way up there and did a good job with strategy, just didn’t know that we were going to run out of fuel there,” said Edwards. “I think we thought we had a little more fuel in it than we did, but that is the way it goes. It took us a long time to get up towards the front but I felt like once we did we had a pretty good race car. It is a big race for us with Subway and everybody and we would have loved to get a victory for them but we just ran out of fuel at the end. I couldn’t believe it. I thought we were about a lap short but we ended up being a few laps short.”
BIG DAY FOR JGR — Not only did Denny Hamlin win at Phoenix International Raceway, but both his teammates finished in the top 10 as well, with Kyle Busch coming home sixth and Joey Logano 10th. “It was a really good race,” said Busch. “We had a really good car there through the beginning and middle stages of the race. We took lefts (tires) and we were leading for a long time and just kind of got off sequence a little bit with those laps and could never get the handle of the car back. We just kept fighting tight the rest of the day. I hate it for that, hate it for the guys. We were really fast and I thought we had a shot to win, but the 11 (Denny Hamlin) just got it when it mattered most.”
GORDON GOES TOP 10 — Defending Subway Fresh Fit 500 winner Jeff Gordon had a so-so day in his Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, finishing eighth after leading just one lap of Sunday’s race at Phoenix International Raceway. Still, the four-time champion was pleased by and large.
“It was a solid day for us,” said Gordon, who needed one after a blown engine left him 40th in the Daytona 500 a week earlier. “I was very happy with some of the calls that we made to get track position. There at the end our car just wouldn’t take off, so we really struggled being real loose getting into the corner. Once it came to us we were pretty good. There was a middle part of the race where I thought we were one of the better cars. It just didn’t work out that way at the end. All in all top-10, a lot of guys had trouble we were solid. We needed a solid day like this after last week.”
SHR BLUES — The 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup season isn’t starting off on a great note for defending series champion Tony Stewart and his Stewart-Haas Racing teammate, Ryan Newman. In Sunday’s Subway Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix International Raceway, Stewart shut off his engine to save gas under caution and couldn’t get it restarted, losing two laps en route to a 22nd-place finish.
“I just shut the car off like we did at Daytona and turned it back on and it never re-fired,” said Stewart. “That’s all I can tell you. I don’t know why it didn’t re-fire. I honestly don’t know. It’s not really my department. I just turned the switch back on and it never re-fired. I don’t know why that was; but it definitely cost us a good day.”
Newman, meanwhile, was the unwitting victim of a mistake by Carl Edwards, who got loose in Turn 3 on Lap 256, slid up the track and put Newman into the wall. That it was an accident was cold comfort to Newman.
“I’m 99 percent sure Carl Edwards didn’t do that on purpose, but I trusted him,” Newman said. “Now he can’t trust me because there is a lot to be had and lost. We lost a lot today. I don’t know how much he lost, but that’s not the point. I don’t consider that a deliberate move by any means. We know plenty of times in this sport, what comes around goes around.”
HARD LUCK SAGA — Marcos Ambrose was having a great run in the No. 9 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford, running third in the closing stages of the race when his engine let go with 17 laps left. “We blew up,” said Ambrose. “We are here trying to run for wins and run for championships and to trip over ourselves like that, it just isn’t going to get it done.”
Tom Jensen is the Editor in Chief of SPEED.com, Senior NASCAR Editor at RACER and a contributing Editor for TruckSeries.com. You can follow him online at twitter.com/tomjensen100.