Denny Hamlin got his first victory of the 2011 season this past weekend at Michigan. The win was Hamlin’s 17th career victory in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
“We finished, that’s the thing,” said Hamlin. “We got it done. Everyone knows that we’ve been strong. Today we didn’t look as strong as we normally do here, but we got it working there at the end. We made a magical adjustment, and the car took off.”
Hamlin held off Matt Kenseth on a late race restart with five laps remaining for the victory. Kenseth spun his tires on the final restart but got a push from teammate Carl Edwards and closed in on Hamlin but ran out of time.
Hamlin’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch finished third, with Paul Menard and points leader Carl Edwards rounding out the top five.
The victory was a good finish to a weekend that did not have the best start for the Joe Gibbs Racing team. On Friday, NASCAR ordered all three JGR teams to replace oil pans that had not been submitted for approval. NASCAR is still considering sanctions for the unapproved parts, with an announcement expected early this week.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. did not have the day he was hoping for either, after late race contact with teammate Mark Martin resulted in a 21st –place finish for the day at the track where he posted his last victory.
“I got on the outside of Mark and he just came up and drove us into the fence off the corner,” said Earnhardt. “I don’t know if his spotter wasn’t paying attention or he just couldn’t see or what. Just ran us flat into the wall. I don’t know how else to explain it. It blew the right front tire out of it eventually. We had gotten the car pretty good at that point and we were moving forward. I don’t know. “
Martin had this to say about the incident, “I would have given him room if I’d known that he was there. It was too late. I had my front wheels cut and I let off the gas and that’s all I could do at that point. My mistake. I don’t have a history of having problems. I think we’ll get it sorted out. I feel like I give everybody on the track plenty of respect. I made a mistake.”
Edwards still leads the point standings by 20 points over Kevin Harvick. Earnhardt Jr. is still holding on to third, and Busch and Jimmie Johnson round out the top five. With the win Hamlin cracked the top 10 in the Cup standings for the first time since the third week of the season. Hamlin is currently ninth, 77 points behind Edwards.