Brooklyn, Mich. Two days after facing questions about unauthorized auto parts and possible penalties, Denny Hamlin enjoyed a happier kind of scrutiny.
Hamlin raced to his first NASCAR Sprint Cup victory over the year, holding off Matt Kenseth on Sunday at Michigan International Speedway. The drivers appeared headed for a fuel-mileage finish, then 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 was the only driver with a shot to catch Hamlin in the final moments. 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 opening day 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. Sometimes we connect and sometimes we get dotted in the eye.”
Team president J.D. Gibbs said Friday’s situation was a good lesson.
“We want to be here with integrity,” Gibbs said. “We’ve made mistakes in the past as a team, and I’m sure we’ll make mistakes in the future. If we can’t conduct ourselves in the right way, there’s no use in us doing this.”
Hamlin won eight times last year and contended for the series title but was unable to match Jimmie Johnson. Hamlin was winless this season, although he led early last weekend at Pocono Raceway.