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Denny Hamlin passes muster with Michigan victory

BROOKLYN, Mich. — Two days after facing questions about unauthorized auto parts and possible penalties, Denny Hamlin enjoyed a happier kind of scrutiny.

Hamlin earned his first Sprint Cup victory this year Sunday, holding off Matt Kenseth to win the Heluva Good 400 at Michigan International Speedway. The drivers appeared headed for a fuel-mileage finish, but a late caution enabled them to make pit stops before a frantic closing five-lap sprint.

"Over these last six weeks, I can honestly say we've had a chance to win each and every race," Hamlin said. "For me, if I go about eight weeks without winning, I'm wondering what the heck's going on."

Kenseth tried to go both above and below the leader, but was unable to pass Hamlin's No. 11 Toyota. Hamlin won by 0.281 seconds for his second straight victory in the June race at the track.

Kyle Busch was third, giving Joe Gibbs Racing two of the top three spots after the team was told to change oil pans before Friday's practice. NASCAR said oil pans from cars driven by Hamlin, Busch and Joey Logano were not submitted for approval before inspection.

The team could face additional penalties this week, but Hamlin and Busch hardly seemed distracted.

"It speaks volumes to the experience and resilience of this 11 car that you can start the week off with a down note and put that behind you and make sure that it doesn't affect what's getting ready to happen," said Mike Ford, Hamlin's crew chief. "This team usually comes out swinging when its back's against the ropes."

Team president J.D. Gibbs said Friday's situation was a good lesson.

"We want to be here with integrity," Gibbs said. "… If we can't conduct ourselves in the right way, there's no use in us doing this."

Hamlin, who won eight times last year and contended for the series title won by Jimmie Johnson, entered this race 12th in the standings but was still confident heading into the summer. Hamlin moved into a tie for ninth in points and gained a margin for error — the top 10 make the season-ending Chase for the Championship with two wildcard places going to drivers in spots 11-20 with the most wins.

Hamlin came into the weekend with neither a top-10 spot nor a win. Now he has both.

"Realistically, you know if the whole world collapses and ends, you're still one win away from getting a Chase spot, pretty much," Hamlin said. "We know two wins pretty much puts you in. From here on out, we know we're one win away."

Busch finished without incident after he and Kevin Harvick came off probation for a run-in last month. Harvick finished 14th Sunday.

Busch drove despite chest pain and led about midway through the 200-lap race.

"It was just hard to breathe. I had to take real short breaths," Busch said. "Felt like I was running a 400-mile marathon, which essentially I was. But I felt like I was running on my feet instead of in a race car."

Carl Edwards led coming out of a caution that ended at Lap 163. He finished fifth and stayed atop the standings, 20 points ahead of Harvick.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. was 21st after hitting the wall to cause the final caution, the result of a run-in with Hendrick Motorsports teammate Mark Martin. Earnhardt was angry but cooled off after the two talked and Martin apologized.

"Mark came and gave me a good explanation and I believe it and it's the end of it," Earnhardt said.

Denny Hamlin passes muster with Michigan victory 06/19/11 [Last modified: Sunday, June 19, 2011 9:42pm]
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