By: Amanda Vincent, NASCAR Correspondent
- Hamlin earns first 2011 victory
- Kenseth tired but ended second
- Joe Gibbs Racing takes 1st & 3rd
Hamlin gets his first Sprint Cup win of season at Michigan International Speedway
Denny Hamlin, driver of the No. 11 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing, broke into the win column for the first time in 2011 by taking the checkered flag Sunday in the Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips 400 at Michigan International Raceway. To do so, Hamlin, had to fend off Matt Kenseth in the No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford in the closing laps. Hamlin’s teammate Kyle Busch, in the No. 18 Toyota, finished third.
“Today, we didn’t look as strong as we normally do here, but we got it going there at the end,” Hamlin said.
The win vaulted Hamlin into the top-10 of the points standings, from 12th to ninth. After the dismal start to the 2011 race season, Hamlin was relieved to simply finish on Sunday. “We finished,” he said as soon as he climbed out of his car in victory lane.
... we got it going there at the end.
The event looked to be shaping up to be another fuel mileage race when a caution came out with 42 laps to go in the middle of a cycle of green flag pit stops. The yellow flag waved when Juan Montoya ran out of gas in his No. 42 Earnhardt Ganassi Racing Chevrolet and was hit by the No. 71 TRG Motorsports Ford of Andy Lally.
Several drivers who had run up front throughout the race up to that point, including Kenseth, and Greg Biffle in the No. 16 Roush Fenway Racing Ford, were told to save fuel. Biffle was told he was one lap short of making it the rest of the distance on the fuel he had, and Kenseth was told he was two laps short.
Another Roush Fenway Racing driver, Carl Edwards in the No. 99 Ford, assumed the lead soon after the restart with 37 laps to go. With about 30 to go, Hamlin worked his way into the second spot to battle Edwards to the top spot. Edwards held on, though, to remain as the leader until the final caution of the race came out with just under 10 laps to go when Dale Earnhardt Jr. hit the wall with his No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.
All lead lap cars pitted for a splash of fuel, and all the front-runners took on two fresh tires. Hamlin’s No. 11 team got him off pit road first to restart from the first position. Kenseth started alongside on the front row in the second spot.
Edwards, losing two positions on pit road, and Paul Menard in the Richard Childress Racing No. 27 Chevrolet restarted in the second row.
Kenseth spun his tires on the restart with five laps to go, enabling Hamlin to move out in front of the field. “I tried what I could to get around him, but I slipped on the restart,” Kenseth said.
He rebounded and battled Hamlin for the win, pulling up beside him a couple of times on the final lap. He was unable to get by, though, and Hamlin raced his way to victory lane.
“I just couldn’t quite get Denny,” Kenseth said. “After restarts we were kind of slow and tight in the middle, which isn’t a good thing to be in a short shootout.”
Menard wound up finishing fourth, and Carl Edwards rounded out the top-five.