Hamlin was Heluva Good!Share
Denny Hamlin and his No. 11 team have adopted a slogan that seems to become more self-evident every week: “All we do is win.”
Who’s to argue after witnessing Hamlin win the Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips 400 NASCAR Sprint Series race at Michigan International Speedway today in such dominating fashion.
Hamlin also contends the best is yet to come, which has to be a scary thought among his adversaries. It was Hamlin’s series-leading fifth win of the season, his second in a row and fourth in the last eight races.
“It’s just been a great year so far,” admitted Hamlin who led 123 of the total 200 laps. “It’s so easy to drive cars like this and they make me look good. It’s a great accomplishment to win on so many different race tracks and to be able to unload and know you’re going to be competitive week in and week out. It gives you a lot of confidence. For the first time in my career I feel like we’re really at that place.”
Crew chief Mike Ford was anything but happy when the car was unloaded on Friday, saying it was the worst it’s been all season. Even after Saturday’s practice he rated the car as no better than a top-15 finisher. But with a number of adjustments, especially during the race today, Hamlin was almost untouchable, leading by as many as 10 seconds over second-place Kasey Kahne before a caution flag for debris with 17 laps remaining tightened the field into a double-file restart with Kahne sitting next to Hamlin.
“Anything can happen. I knew a caution was coming,” Hamlin said. “I just decided to back off and save my tires. We’ve got to do what’s right for the fans and they needed to see a great race at the end. The best car won. That’s all you can ask for.”
Hamlin quickly assumed his dominance on the restart with 14 laps remaining and defeated Kahne by 1.2 seconds for his 13th career win and first at MIS.
While Hamlin said he didn’t see any debris to bring out the late caution flag, Kahne said he spotted a large piece of debris that lifted his spirits when the yellow flag came out.
“I felt good at the time and thought I had a shot at winning,” he added. “I thought I could hang with him and I did for about three laps and then he started to creep away.”
Asked if he was surprised at how dominant Hamlin was, Kahne said, “It’s been like that for the last 2 ½ months or so. I wasn’t surprised that they were that strong. I didn’t like to watch them drive away from me but I wasn’t surprised when he did. We had a really good car and a real good effort by our whole team but the No. 11 was a touch better.”
Kahne was the leading Ford driver, all of the Ford entrants powered by the new FR-9 engine for the first time this season.
“It was night and day different between this engine and the old one I had a Pocono last week,” he said. “It was a nice improvement. It was good for all the Ford teams and I think we’ll all run better.”
Kurt Busch, who finished third and led for 60 laps, felt much like Kahne, stating he was happy with his overall effort and that of his Miller Lite Dodge Team, but was no match for Hamlin.
“We felt we had a special day brewing,” he said. “We sat on the pole led a lot of laps. We felt like we had things going our way. We had a good handle on the car but other guys just got better than us and that’s what this game is about. If you’re off just a little bit someone is going to jump on top of you, get by you just a little bit and make you feel like you don’t belong up there.
“It was a great day for us. Denny Hamlin deserves all the credit. He put on a great show. They’ve been dominant this year and they’re showing their strength. Denny was in a Toyota, Kasey drove a Ford, we were in a Dodge and Jeff Gordon finished fourth in a Chevrolet. It’s a dream you could ask for when you come to Michigan and see all the manufacturers have the success they had today. Of course I was pulling for Dodge and we were just a bit short.”
Kevin Harvick, with a 19th-place finish retained the points lead with Kyle Busch second just 22 back. Hamlin moved to within 47 points of the lead in third place but leads in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup seeding with 50 bonus points for his five triumphs.
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