BROOKLYN, Mich.—Denny Hamlin sucked the drama right out of Sunday’s Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Michigan International Speedway—because his car was so vastly superior to the 42 others in the field.
“All we do is win, baby—two in a row,” Hamlin radioed to his crew just before crossing the finish line 1.246 seconds ahead of Kasey Kahne, the only other driver who could stay in the same zip code with Hamlin. “I can’t tell you how good this car is, man.”
Hamlin was more than good enough to win for a career-best fifth time this season and for the 13th time in his career. He backed up last week’s victory at Pocono with his fifth win in the past 10 races.
Polesitter Kurt Busch ran third, followed by Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart. Jimmie Johnson finished sixth, with Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. behind him in seventh. Jeff Burton, Greg Biffle and Joey Logano completed the top 10.
Hamlin’s victory tightened the Cup points race because of mediocre results from the top two drivers in the standings, Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch. Harvick finished 19th, one spot ahead of Busch, and leads Busch by 22 points and third-place Hamlin by 47.
Stewart gained two positions to 11th in the standings.
If Hamlin stole the suspense from the race, a debris caution on Lap 182 of 200 threatened to restore it. At that point, Hamlin had a lead of more than nine seconds over Kahne.
“That’s what a nine-second lead will get you,” crew chief Mike Ford radioed laconically to Hamlin after the yellow flag flew.
The caution bunched the field for a restart on Lap 187, but after Kahne dogged Hamlin for the next five laps, Hamlin began to pull away by more than a tenth of a second per lap. All told, Hamlin led 123 laps. Kurt Busch led 60 laps but showed his strength early while Hamlin was moving forward from the seventh starting position.
“We had a strong car early on,” Busch said. “It seems like we lost a little bit of speed as the race went on, lost a little grip when the track rubbered in. … Denny Hamlin, once halfway rolled around, his car had really good grip.
“The track got rubbered in, and his car just kept gaining speed, and ours lost a little bit of speed.”
To Hamlin, the final caution was inevitable. Kahne said he saw a big piece of debris on the backstretch. Hamlin said he saw no debris.
“I knew a caution was coming, so I might as well back off and save my tires,” Hamlin said. “I knew that debris caution was coming. We’ve got to do what’s right for the fans, and they need to see a great race at the end. The best car won—and that’s all you can ask for.”
Nine Ford teams were running the new FR9 engine Sunday. Kahne said it made a difference.
“We had the new Ford engine, and it was night and day difference to what I had last week,” he said. “I’m really happy with the FR9 engine. For our first time racing it, it was a nice improvement. I think that bodes well for all the Ford teams. I think we will all run better now.”
Notes: Earnhardt’s seventh-place finish was his best since late March at Bristol, where he also ran seventh. Earnhardt climbed two positions to 14th in the standings, 81 points behind 12th-place Mark Martin. … Clint Bowyer ran 22nd, the last car on the lead lap, and fell from 12th to 13th in the standings, 43 behind Martin.