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Hamlin's strategy backfires and opens door for Johnson

AVONDALE, Ariz. - Carl Edwards snapped a 70-race losing streak Sunday by winning at Phoenix International Raceway, where fuel strategy backfired on championship leader Denny Hamlin and loosened his grip on the title.

Hamlin dominated, leading a race-high 190 laps before giving up the lead to Edwards. Racing against Edwards so hard burned up a chunk of Hamlin's fuel, and he was forced to give up second place to stop for gas with 14 laps remaining.

His Joe Gibbs Racing crew thought for sure that four-time defending champion Jimmie Johnson would also need fuel, but crew chief Chad Knaus coaxed Johnson to the finish without an emergency splash of gas. Kevin Harvick, who was hurt by a loose lug nut on a late pit stop, had the room to make an extra stop for gas and didn't have any fuel issues over the final laps.

It left Hamlin driving frantically through the field while Johnson and Harvick were coasting to the finish. Hamlin wound up 12th, Johnson was fifth and Harvick was sixth.

Up almost 60 points over Johnson before his stop for gas, Hamlin now takes a slim 15-point lead over Johnson into next week's season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Harvick is still in reach at 46 points out.

"It's pretty disappointing," said Hamlin, who looked despondent as he sat hunched on a pit wall. "It's tough to not be happy having the point lead going into the last race. But we were sitting pretty."

His No. 11 team seemed just as devastated. Crew chief Mike Ford, so boastful after last week's win at Texas, initially declined to comment as he entered the team trailer to meet with owner Joe Gibbs. The crew, meanwhile, packed up its equipment in near silence.

Mere feet away was a thrilled Knaus, who could not have dreamed of a better finish despite not having a car that could compete with Hamlin. Johnson, meanwhile, relaxed on an outdoor patio as Hamlin held his post-race news conference.

Asked if the unhappy look on Hamlin's face as he exited the press room said it all, Johnson smiled.

"He didn't go out of his way to say 'Hi' on his way out, so I can imagine he wasn't in a good mood," Johnson joked.

New York Sports