20 June 2011
Hamlin's luck finally turns in Michigan
Later, the two talked it over and Dale was calmer. "I feel better," he said, adding that "Mark wouldn't lie to me." He went on: "He got tight off the corner – I had the same thing happen to me [earlier.] I can't tell when he's pushing... He was out of the gas, wasn't nothing he could do."
The caution gave everyone a chance to pit, and no one - even those who had earlier thought they might be able to make it all the way - was willing to risk trying to make it to the end without refuelling, especially with the dreaded prospect of a green/white/chequered still in the air. The question now was: who would come out in the lead with control of the race at the restart?
It was Denny Hamlin, the first time he had led all afternoon, although in the process he had nearly collected one of his pit crew and taken him along for the ride for the final eight laps. Still, no harm done - and more importantly, no foul or penalty was handed down.
Hamlin got a great start when the green came out, while Kenseth - still not the best at restarts - needed a boost from his Roush Fenway team mate Carl Edwards to propel him back into second spot. "I got a bad restart, and Carl pushed me back to clean air, which was real nice of him, and I got back to Denny, but I couldn't get around him," confirmed Kenseth. Behind them, Kyle Busch got a predictably flying start and jumped from sixth past Edwards into third place.
Kenseth pushed for all he was worth for those last eight laps, but Hamlin seemed to just about have him covered whether he tried the high line or the low. But proof - if any were needed - that Kenseth was pulling out all the stops to take the win was clear in the way he slid in the past run through turn 4 and practically lost the back end to go skidding into the infield, only to just catch it in time and keep it pointing in the right direction to retain second place ahead of Kyle and Paul Menard who had just edged Carl for fourth.
After so many near-misses in recent races, Hamlin was jubilant at finally clinching his first win in 2011 and his 17th Cup career victory in 202 starts - which puts him into the Cup points top ten for the first time since Vegas.
"We got it done. Everyone knows that we've been strong. Today we didn't look as strong as what we normally do here, but we got it working there at the end," he said in victory lane. "We made a magic adjustment, and the car took off. This is the point of the season where we really need to start hitting our stride, and hopefully we've got another good 10 weeks before the Chase starts."
Considering Kenseth came a strong second place, you'd expect the #17 team to be reasonably happy with their days work, but they looked as crest-fallen as a newly-neutered mongrel. "I'm really happy we ran second, don't get me wrong," Kenseth said. "But it's frustrating when you think you have a car that's capable of winning and you don't win with it."
His crew chief, Jimmy Fennig, also thought they should have been in with a better chance of a win. "It was a fuel mileage deal and we're not getting the best fuel mileage," he said. "So that more or less cost us the whole event, because if we could've raced at the end instead of trying to save gas."
Kenseth couldn't understand why time and again the #17 is either left waiting on fuel or leaving the pit box short-filled. "Everyone has the same piece of equipment to work with. I don't think we have an equipment problem, I think we have a problem getting it plugged in right away and making the [fuel can] exchange fast enough.
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