By Toby Christie (Originally appeared on RubbingsRacing.com)
It’s becoming a recurring theme with each passing week, Denny Hamlin led the most laps Sunday en route to victory at the Helluva Good 400 at Michigan. The only time it even appeared that Hamlin might not win the race was directly after a green flag pitstop where his car hiccuped when there was an air bubble in his fuel line.
Hamlin overcame to lead 123 of the 200 laps on the day and easily cruised to his fifth victory of the season. What’s impressive is that the wins have come at all kinds of racetracks. In fact this was Hamlin’s first career victory at Michigan.
“It’s a great accomplishment to win on so many different racetracks for us.” Hamlin Said. “To be able to unload and know you’re going to be competitive for a race win week in and week out gives you a lot of confidence. For the first time really in my career, I feel like we’re at this place.”
According to crew chief Mike Ford, the 11 car was nowhere near ready to compete for a win earlier in the weekend.
“During the course of the week, we made probably more changes than we have all year.” Ford said. “Friday we were what I consider horrible. We weren’t a top-15 team. We made some big adjustments going into Saturday.”
Unlike last week where Hamlin crashed doing a burnout, he brought the car home without a scratch on it.
Kasey Kahne, who went for a wild ride last week at Pocono, was chasing Hamlin all day long and came home in second place just over a second behind the 11 car. The reason the victory margin was even that close was because of a late caution for debris. Several conspiracy theorists immediately said that the caution was a “phantom” one thrown by NASCAR to tighten the field, however Kahne insists that he saw the debris in question.
“Yeah, it was a big piece of debris back there and I saw it.” Kahne said. “I felt good at the time because I thought we might have a shot. We had made gains and tightened the car up, so I thought maybe I could hang with him. I hung with him for about three laps, running in his dirty air, but he slowly creeped away.”
Kahne went on to praise the new Ford FR9 Engine after his strong run.
“Our whole Budweiser team did a really nice job. We showed up with a new Ford engine, night-and-day difference than what I had last week at Pocono.” Kahne said. “I was definitely happy with the Roush-Yates Ford engine that they brought for our first time to race. It was a nice improvement. So that was good for all the Ford teams. I think they’ll all run better now.”
Kurt Busch who started on the pole finished third. Busch explained that early on he felt he was where he needed to be, but things fell off a bit later in the race.
“As the race progressed, the track rubbered in. It wasn’t that we didn’t keep up with adjustments. I thought we had a good handle on the car. Other guys got better than us.” Busch said. “In Sprint Cup racing, if you’re off just a little bit, somebody is going to jump on top of you, get by you, pass you, make you feel like you belong up there.”
Kurt Busch was followed by Jeff Gordon in fourth and Tony Stewart in fifth. Stewart, who had an atrocious start to the 2010 season got a much needed third place finish last week, and he continues to find his way with a fifth place run this week at Michigan.
Jimmie Johnson stopped the bleeding on a season that was spinning out of control last week, and got another top-ten this week with a sixth place finish and it appears they have completely righted the ship in the 48 shop. They aren’t running for victories, but they are actually finishing races again which is what’s really important.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. who was very positive on the radio for the first time in a long while last week, continued the good vibes this week. He was upbeat all day on the radio, and praised his team for bringing him good cars to the track two weeks in a row. Earnhardt was able to make some great moves on the final restart to finish an impressive seventh. This team looks like maybe just maybe they are beginning to gel. Earnhardt now sits 14th in the point standings just 81 points shy of the last chase spot.
Speaking of the point standings, Kevin Harvick finished 19th, but was able to hang on to his top spot in the points. Kyle Busch for the majority of the day had overtaken Harvick in the standings, however when trying to make a pass for 10th place late in the race Busch slapped the wall, which destroyed the handling on his car. Busch was relegated to a 20th place finish, and he now sits 22 points behind Harvick heading into Infineon Raceway.