Hamlin rolls to 5th win of season
Denny Hamlin continued his hot streak, dominating Sunday’s NASCAR race at Michigan International Speedway to pick up his second straight victory and fifth of the season.
Hamlin led 123 laps and controlled the second half of the race, easily pulling away from Kasey Kahne on a restart with under 20 laps remaining.
Kahne held on for second, followed by pole-sitter Kurt Busch, Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart. Four-time defending series champion Jimmie Johnson was sixth and Dale Earnhardt Jr. was seventh.
Hamlin needed to survive NASCAR’s version of overtime last week at Pocono. There was no such drama Sunday at the two-mile oval. He led by as much as 10 seconds at one point then had little trouble dispatching Kahne following a late caution for debris.
"All we do is win baby,” Hamlin said shortly after crossing the finish line.
And unlike his postrace celebration at Pocono, Hamlin kept his No. 11 Toyota in one piece. Hamlin put a damper on the victory party last week when he smacked the wall while doing a burnout.
This time, his car rolled into Victory Lane in pristine condition. Not exactly good news for the rest of the series, which finds itself scrambling to keep up.
Kahne had a brief glimmer of hope when the debris caution came out. It lasted all of three laps, or as long as it took for Hamlin to run out and disappear.
"They’ve been doing it for the last two, two-and-a-half months,” Kahne said.
And they’ve been doing it everywhere. Hamlin’s wins run the gamut. Short tracks. Intermediate ovals. Superspeedways. Doesn’t matter right now to Hamlin.
"Now I know what Jimmie has felt like the last four years,” he said.
He certainly looked like Johnson on Sunday, and did it during a relatively quiet race that lacked some of the fireworks that have peppered the series this season.
A week after Joey Logano and points leader Kevin Harvick created waves during a postrace dustup, both drivers stayed quiet at Michigan. Logano, who raced without his father Tom in attendance, finished 10th while Harvick struggled with his car all day and wound up 19th.
The two found themselves running side-by-side for a short stretch early on, with Logano’s spotter telling the 20-year-old to give Harvick room so he could make the pass. Logano went back by Harvick moments later.
"I was focused straight ahead all the time,” Logano said. "It wasn’t distracting. I do a good job on focusing out on all that stuff.”
Kahne’s performance highlighted a resurgent day for Ford. The manufacturer still hasn’t won a race since last fall, but placed five drivers in the top 14. All five were using the new FR9 engine designed to put Ford back in the win column.
Kahne sang the engine’s praises, saying it felt like he was driving on a level playing field for the first time in awhile.
"I didn’t feel like we were at a disadvantage,” he said.
Earnhardt’s seventh-place finish was his best Bristol in early spring and though his winless streak stretched to 72 races, he was upbeat.
Still, Hamlin’s performance highlighted the chasm between his team and the rest of the series at the moment. He’s won five of the last 11 races and is poised to make a serious run at ending Johnson’s long reign.