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Denny Hamlin! But, gosh, he had to work for this one

 Denny Hamlin! Finally back in victory lane (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   By Mike Mulhern


   BROOKLYN, Mich.
   Greg Biffle had the car to beat but got sacked by bad luck yet again Sunday, an untimely caution just after a routine pit stop while leading big. And beleaguered Denny Hamlin, sluggish much of the spring, and seemingly depressed just a few days ago, bounced back in the final miles, after a great late-race pit stop, to score his first victory of the season, winning the Michigan 400.

   The three-hour race was shaping up for yet another fuel mileage finish, with most drivers needing to make a gas stop in the final few laps.
   But then Dale Earnhardt Jr. cut a tire and slapped the wall with less than 20 miles to go, to bring out the final yellow. Earnhardt's car had been damaged in an earlier bump with teammate Mark Martin, triggering the tire problem.
   At the yellow the race appeared to be Carl Edwards', who had been holding Hamlin and Matt Kenseth at bay for a good stretch.
   However Hamlin's crew won the race off pit road, to put him side by side with Kenseth for the restart, just ahead of Kyle Busch, Paul Menard and Edwards. When Kenseth spun his tires at the green, Busch said he was forced to back off for a moment, and with that Hamlin was in command.
    Kenseth made it dramatic the last lap, in a bid to pass Hamlin, but he slapped the fourth turn wall, crossing the line three lengths short.
    Hamlin's win comes at the end of a long, somewhat painful spring, which seems to have taken a toll on him.


      Denny Hamlin at the line. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    Hamlin won this race a year ago, but NASCAR slapped him with a secret $50,000 for complaining about late race yellows.
    Hamlin had a powerful car that afternoon, but not Sunday. In fact much of this race Hamlin seemed again an also-ran. Biffle rang up huge leads, and after his misfortune Busch was the man. Then, after Juan Pablo Montoya's tangle brought out a caution with 80 miles to go, the game was Edwards'.
   Until the final exchange of pit stops, which Hamlin won.
   "These last six or seven weeks I feel we've been as strong as anyone, and it feels good to sneak in there and get this win," Hamlin said.
    "Everyone knows we've been strong, though we didn't look as strong today as we normally do here.
    "This is the part of the season where we need to start getting strong."
    "I got a bad restart," Kenseth said of the green with four laps to go in the 200-lapper at this two-mile oval. "But Carl pushed me to get me back up to Denny. Just didn't have enough time to get around him."
     Busch, who said his car worked better after 25 laps (50 miles), said "Matt spun his tires…but I got a good restart -- but I didn't want to beat him to the line, so I had to wait, and then the herd was coming behind me."
     Edwards, who remains atop the Sprint Cup standings (and got a break when rival Jimmie Johnson spun early, broke a sway bar and finished two laps down), has had a number of wins slip through his fingers this season, and this one was another. 
     "It's just so competitive down there on pit road….and then Matt spun his tires on the restart," Edwards said.
    Then Edwards threw in an unexpected comment, referring to NASCAR's project for dramatically different body styling in 2013 with a new Cup car:
    "Sadly, downforce is such a big factor in these cars…and I am really hoping NASCAR will take the opportunity, in 2013, to take downforce away, so the fans can see the guys race cars and not race downforce," Edwards said. 
    "All the cars are very close….and if you are behind two or three cars and your car is two-tenths of a second slow, you can't make it up. I am not whining. Denny earned this win, and those are the rules we are under. But track position was huge, and I just wish it wasn't like that."
   That comment caught teammate Kenseth by surprise, and Kenseth said he wasn't sure what Edwards was talking about.
   Team owner Jack Roush has been talking about the 2013 project, which will include a Ford Mustang that he's designing and plans to unveil soon.
   But there are apparently some major body issues still to be determined.
   Track position has been an issue this season, as it has for several years.
   "It's been more difficult to pass lately, but I think that's the tire more than anything," Kenseth said. "The new tires (this season) are laying down a lot of rubber. But this tire here seemed almost slimy."
    What happend between Earnhardt and Martin?
   "I got on the outside of mark and he just came up and drove us into the fence," Earnhardt said. "I don't know if his spotter didn't tell him, or if he didn't see us. But I don't know how else to explain it."
    Earnhardt was running well much of the race, until the incident with Martin: "You can't do nothing about getting run over or getting run into the wall.
  "I perceived he didn't know I was on outside. He knew I was up there, but he was just running hard.
    "If the tables were turned, I would have been smarter and given him plenty of room.
    "He is older me, been racing forever, and knows a lot more than I’ll ever get, or he has forgot more stuff than I'll never know. Still, I take better care of people than that."
    Martin's take: "I don't have a history of having problems. I don't think I have one now. I think we will get it sorted out. I feel like I give everybody on the race track respect. I made a mistake."

   Busch's crew had Scott Riggs standing by for possible relief early in the day, when Busch was complaining about not feeling well.
   "It was hard to breath, I had to take short breaths," Busch said. "Felt like I was running a marathon."
   But Busch insisted he was never seriously thinking about getting out of his car.
   Busch and his teammates arrived here Friday to face yet another controversy, this time with trick engine oil pans that NASCAR confiscated.
   "The oil pan thing -- it was our responsibility to get the pieces approved by NASCAR," team owner J. D. Gibbs said. "It was our fault for not bringing it to them first.
   "That was a wakeup call for us."
    "The guys came in this weekend, not knowing we'd have the problems we had," Busch said. "But once we got that fixed, it was business as usual.
   "We didn't get to run 'em, and I'm sure that was a disappointment to the guys in the engineering department.
   "Some teams get away with it, others teams not."
   Busch has been involved in a number of controversies over the past six weeks, but he's persevered and done remarkably well, considering all the pressures.
   "I'm sure some of the guys may go home saying 'Gosh, you guys are in the news again.' But you just have to put that aside and not let it bother you."
    And Busch's take on whatever Edwards was saying about NASCAR's 2013 project?
   "I don't know that you can really change things," Busch said, referring to the coninuing issue of track position.
    "The tires are good tires, but we don't get to clean the track, and when you get in the rubber you're slipping and sliding and it's hard to make ground.
   "I do feel we can do more racing side by side with this car than we could with the 2008 car; those things were evil.
   "Out here today I could really drive it in deep under guys and not be worried about spinning out."
                                The finishing order of Sunday's Michigan 400


   The key final pit stops, and Denny Hamlin wins the race off pit road, ahead of (L-to-R) Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards and Paul Menard (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


I'm a big Carl Edwards fan,

I'm a big Carl Edwards fan, but his assertion that high downforce will hurt these cars is way off base. Anyone who has watched this sport for many years knows that when they have tried the low downforce packages on these cars, it has produced horrible racing. These cars simply have WAY too much HP to take all of the downforce out of them and still be able to race side by side. The aero push issue with the front ends is really never going away unless they totally redesigned these cars and reduced engine power by about 350HP. So if they are indeed increasing downforce on the 2013 cars, they should also go to this wider tire they have been talking about.

just another week that shows

just another week that shows how nascar works hard to protect the hendrick cars johnson spins and instant caution locks the field and if jj had'nt ground down his sway bar [nascar] would have had him up front at the end. jr blows a tire tags the wall instant caution locks the field if it had'nt damaged his car they[nascar] would have had him up front.and we've seen cars hit the wall and no caution. biffle would have loved that treatment last week almost the same spin as jj but no caution and he lost lots of positions on track that could have helped him in the run for the chase instead this week he pits under green while dominating just like carl at charlotte and nascar throws a caution and just like carl takes away any chance of a win or top 10 finish.

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