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So Kyle and Denny are getting back on the same page....and Joe Gibbs may be pushing ever harder to add Carl Edwards to his NASCAR roster

  With four-wide racing like this, maybe it's not time to repave Michigan International Speedway. Tony Stewart said drivers were pretty wild in Sunday's 400: "Some of them were driving like idiots." (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   BROOKLYN, Mich.
   So what's the big story out of Sunday's Michigan 400?
   Denny Hamlin's somewhat surprising first win of the season?
   Carl Edwards letting another win slip away?
   Edwards, post-race, politicking NASCAR already for rules decisions on the still-in-development 2013 Sprint Cup car makeover?

   Another near gas-mileage finish?
   Another strong performance by Greg Biffle going for naught by an untimely caution?
   Kyle Busch's rally from yet more controversy to post another solid finish, with a shot at the win?
   Jimmie Johnson's spin from contention so early in the three-hour race?
   The Joe Gibbs guys rebounding from Friday's engine oil pan controversy?
   Well, maybe all of those.
   But one other item really stands out, as the crowd, estimated by NASCAR at 88,000 rolled out to Highway 12 – that Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin both say they are working more closely together now, in these past few weeks.
   Circling the wagons, in the face of so much controversy?
   Maybe so.
   But just two weeks ago Hamlin was complaining, again, that teammate Busch always seemed too busy to do those debriefings that teams consider so crucial.
   After all Busch has been starring weekly this season, on one stage or another, while battling controversy after controversy….and Hamlin – last year's big title contender – has all but languished in the shadows.
    Now the Gibbs guys, at least Busch and Hamlin, seem to be back in step with each other, finally. And that could be a big plus.
   It's too early to say this race marked any turning point in the balance of power on the stock car tour, which up till the last few weeks had been dominated by Jack Roush Fords. After all Edwards was in the driver's seat up till the final minutes, and only a slightly slower pit stop kept him from winning.
    Still, Hamlin's win, coupled with Busch's solid third, comes atop hotter than ever reports that team owner Joe Gibbs is cranking up his bid to try to bring Edwards into the Toyota fold.
    Edwards has consistently declined to discuss his contract renegotiations with team owner Roush, and Roush likewise has had little to say on the matter.
   But it's been no secret that Gibbs, who has only three Cup teams, and thus an opening for a fourth, could easily find a spot for Edwards in his roster for 2012.
   J. D. Gibbs tried to downplay the Edwards situation: "Each year we have three cars. Whoever is in the rumor mill -- since we have an opening – 'Are they going in your car?'
    "We learned over the years some good lessons -- Unless you have all those parts together -- a sponsor, the right driver and team -- don't do it.
    "We're not in any hurry to do it (a fourth Cup team). Carl is a gifted driver; he's doing great where he is.
    "We're going to focus on Denny, Joey and Kyle. When we get that going right, we can worry about other stuff in the future."
   And now Busch seems ready to work more closely with Hamlin. The two have had their shares of very pointed disagreements.
   Busch: "Denny really, really helped us last week (at Pocono, where Busch also finished third). I feel like we helped him a little bit this week.
   "It just goes to show we're doing something right and we're able to share information, which is good."
   Hamlin: "The last few weeks, yes, I've seen him a lot more. A lot of it is you come to realize that you need your teammates to help you perform better.
   "We've been to a couple really strong tracks these last few weeks, and he's picked my brain quite a bit. I've given him every bit of information I have. And he's had two consecutive top-three finishes, at tracks he's not necessarily been the best at. So he's using that knowledge to his advantage.
    "Trust me, when I go to a road course, I'm going to be on him trying to find that same information.
    "That's what we did at the beginning of our relationship; we pushed each other to be better.
     "I think we're starting to get back to that now
     "….and using every bit of information we can from each other, because he knows I'm good at some tracks and I know he's good at other ones I struggle at.
    "In order for us to get closer together and start using each other's setups, we've got to get on the same page."

    But neither Hamlin nor Busch had a winning car early in the race.
   "Until that yellow flag in the middle of everyone's (pitting) sequence, no, I don't think we were going to win if that didn't happen," Hamlin conceded.
    "But we got good fuel mileage in our car, and that allowed us to stay out (a little longer, catching the caution just right).
   "That was one of the factors that hurt our team over the last few years, fuel mileage (which doomed his title bid last fall at Phoenix, remember). We've gotten that a little bit better. And that put us in position to win the race."
   After Greg Biffle got caught up in that untimely pit stop that took him out of the game, Busch was hot: "We led much of the race, and if it had gone green the rest of the way we may have had a shot at winning.
    "But a couple of cautions, and it caught Denny up.
    "It's the best I've ever run here, so I can't complain."

   For Mike Ford, Hamlin's crew chief, the win was clearly a big load off his shoulders.
   "It's very important to get that off your back and move on," Ford said. "The rest of the world -- after a year like last year -- has higher expectations of what you should be than what's realistic.
   "Going into this year I know we had a strong car. We actually ran better to start the season than we have in a few years. That was very important.
    "This weekend, I think it speaks volumes to the experience and the resilience of this team, that you can start the week off with a down note and put that behind you.
    "Today is proof -- We turned a negative to a positive.
    "This team usually comes out swinging when its back is against the ropes. Sometimes we connect, and sometimes we get dotted in the eye."
    This time Hamlin and Ford connected.

    The day marked Trevor Bayne's return to Cup action after nearly two months on the sidelines, with that mysterious illness. And the Daytona 500 winner finished a solid 16th.
    "I feel fine…I'm ready and I'm back, and it was good to finally get back in this Cup car," the 20-year-old surprise said.
   "It wasn't too bad for our first run back. We struggled on pit road for a little while, but we finally got that figured out at the end of the race. Then the car was really tight into the center and loose off, so we fought that all day long.
      "I learned a lot about how to apply the brakes to keep the car turning all the way through the center of the corner, and I think that will transfer to every track.
     "I've got to get better at figuring out what this thing needs in practice, and telling the team exactly what it needs, so we can get better in the race.
    "At least we were moving forward there at the end."



  Denny Hamlin at the finish line, but not by much over Matt Kenseth in the Toyota-Ford 1-2 (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


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