Denny Hamlin earned his first win of the season in Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) race at Michigan International Speedway.
Hamlin led the final eight laps (of 200) in the Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) No. 11 FedEx Office Camry to earn the third Camry victory in 2011 and the 36th win for Toyota since joining the series in 2007.
The 30-year-old Chesterfield, Va., native was also victorious last June at the two-mile oval.
JGR teammate Kyle Busch recorded a third-place result, leading three times for 59 laps in the No. 18 Snickers Camry.
Camry driver Brian Vickers also earned a top-10 result in the 400-mile event with a 10th-place finish.
Other Toyota drivers in the field included Joey Logano (18th), Bobby Labonte (22nd), Martin Truex Jr. (26th), Kasey Kahne (28th), David Reutimann (35th), Casey Mears (38th), Joe Nemechek (40th) and Michael McDowell (43rd).
Busch is now fourth in the unofficial NSCS point standings following Michigan while Hamlin moved up three spots into ninth in the standings.
Other Toyota drivers in the top-25 in the unofficial point standings after 15 of 36 races include Kahne (19th), Truex (20th), Logano (23rd) and Vickers (24th).
DENNY HAMLIN, No. 11 FedEx Office Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing Finishing Position: 1st What is the importance of today’s win for your season? “We finished — that’s the thing. We got it done. Happy for all this team. They all got sons or daughters and everything, so it’s a big Father’s Day for all them and my dad, Dennis. He paved the way for me to get here, so I can’t thank them enough and all the fathers out there. Can’t thank this whole FedEx team enough, everyone at FedEx, all the employees. Glad to get the win for all of them. Just got to thank them, Toyota, Sprint, Coke, Gillette, Wiley X, the fans — it’s been an amazing fan base here in Michigan — everyone from Nike and the Jordan brand, I can’t thank them enough.”
Are you getting hot a bit later than usual in 2011? “I think everyone knows that we’ve been strong and today we didn’t look as strong as what we normally do here, but we got it working there at the end. We made a magic adjustment and just the car took off. This is the point in the season where we really need to start hitting our stride and hopefully we got another good 10 weeks before the Chase starts.”
Did things come together for you after struggling midway through the race? “Yeah they did. Mike (Ford, crew chief) just kept working on this car. At times we had a 10th place car and at times we had the best car. We just didn’t get it all put together until right there at the end. I just can’t thank this whole team enough. Awesome pit stops — they are the ones that got me out in front on that last restart and that’s what we needed to win.”
Who made the decision to come to pit road with only a few laps left? “You try to base your strategy off of everyone else, but everyone’s going to do it the opposite of you. It’s a tough position to be in, but for us we knew two tires — a lot of guys were going to take two tires so we had to be the first one off of pit road with them.”
How difficult has it been to stay patient and keep your focus this season? “It’s so tough because you know you belong in the top-10 and you deserve to have a Chase spot, but the results don’t show for it. So, for us, it’s good to kind of get over this hump, get our first win of the season and hopefully it’s the first of many.”
Do you think about your point’s position at this point in the season? “You have to. If you’re not points racing at this point you’re not paying attention to the obvious, because with this new format you either got to win or you’ve got to be inside that top-10.”
MIKE FORD, crew chief, No. 11 FedEx Office Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing How were you able to get the 11 into victory lane today? “We showed up to Michigan and started off kind of grim, but we made sure we put everything (from last week) behind us and didn’t let things affect us. This group did an awesome job. Pit stops today were incredible — that’s what won us the race. I can’t say enough about this team. Even the start of the race we were off — we were a half second off and once we got some track position we kept tightening the car up and it just came around. Denny (Hamlin) did a good job. His car wasn’t that good at the end either so he did a really good job. I can’t say enough. It’s a big win for us.”
J.D. GIBBS, team president, Joe Gibbs Racing How encouraging is it for the 11 to earn a win today? “It was real encouraging. The way the day played out, kind of struggled at the start, worked hard, it paid off at the end. Overall, the 11 (Denny Hamlin) car, each year that it’s been in existence, has been a strong-performing car. You kind of start the year off not as quickly and successfully as we would like. To watch them kind of come together and lift each other up, be a team, that was kind of for me I get a lot of satisfaction watching those guys rally around each other and look for some great momentum for the rest of the year.”
KYLE BUSCH, No. 18 Snickers Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing Finishing Position: 3rd How was your day today after feeling sick early in the race? “It started out a little bit rough, but I had a great car, man. I can’t thank these guys enough and Joe Gibbs Racing. They brought me a great piece today. This Snickers Camry was fun to drive, man. It was fast. We led much of the race and had a great time out there. If it would’ve went green the rest of the way we may have had a shot at winning the thing, but had a couple of cautions and it caught Denny (Hamlin) up and caught the rest of the guys up. It was a great race — good racing there and I can’t say congrats enough to the 11 team (Hamlin). They did a great job. They’ve helped us a ton this year and I think we helped them a little bit this weekend. They did a great job at being able to execute and being in the right place at the right time and get the job done today. Overall, wish we would’ve had a one-two, but close enough.”
Would you have preferred to go green at the end of the race? “Yeah, I wish we would’ve, but it doesn’t always happen that way. No big deal. We missed out on one today, but we felt like we had a great race car. It’s the best I’ve ever run here at Michigan so I can’t complain. These guys did a great job, gave me a great piece and had a lot of fun so it was cool to race around there and finding different lanes that your car would work in and be able to race the race track.”
Did you think you had a car that could compete for a race win on the final restart? “We were pretty fast. We just got a good restart and got by a couple of guys right away and then we could run with the 11 (Denny Hamlin) and the 17 (Matt Kenseth), but it would take you about 40 laps in order to work them over. Our car — everybody was so equal for so long that it seemed like ours would prevail about a half a tenth a lap the last 10 laps before pit stops. That’s very, very small and it would just take us that long to get up to the front and pass those guys.”
Did you get bunched up on the final restart? “The second to last one we did. I got out a little bit in front of Matt (Kenseth). I didn’t spin my tires. I accelerated pretty good. I think Matt spun his tires, so I didn’t want to beat him to the line by too much and as soon as I slowed up to not beat him the herd was coming. So, I just had to wait it out and play it out. It wasn’t going to be a great day with that, but we turned it into a pretty good one. We got two tires there on that last restart. We had a good one and drove back up through there. Can’t say enough about Dave Rogers (crew chief) and these guys on this Snickers M&M’s team. They did a great job for me this weekend. And the 11 team (Denny Hamlin) really, really helped us last week. I feel like we helped the 11 a little bit this week and it just goes to show we’re doing something right and we’re able to share information, which is good. Again, proud of the 11 and great to see him in victory lane and beating out the 17 (Kenseth).”
BRIAN VICKERS, No. 83 Red Bull Toyota Camry, Red Bull Racing Team Finishing Position: 10th How was your race? “The race was long. We lost the track there a little bit at the beginning — the third run we got too loose and we didn’t keep up with the race track as it freed up. Then, when we pitted and that caution came out we beat the 18 (Kyle Busch) to the line and per the rule we were supposed to go back around the field before everybody pitted, which we would’ve been able to pit with the leaders, fuel the car and race with the leaders like we were supposed to. But, NASCAR didn’t let us go back around. I don’t understand. I want some clarification on that because they even admitted that we beat them to the line which says we should’ve had to go around before the pit stops. That pretty much screwed us the rest of the race. We were racing at the back of the field, trying to get track position again when we should’ve been racing the leaders.”
JOEY LOGANO, No. 20 Home Depot Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing Finishing Position: 18th
BOBBY LABONTE, No. 47 RainEater/Advance Auto Parts Toyota Camry, JTG-Daugherty Racing Finishing Position: 22nd
MARTIN TRUEX JR., No. 56 NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota Camry, Michael Waltrip Racing Finishing Position: 26th
KASEY KAHNE, No. 4 Red Bull Toyota Camry, Red Bull Racing Team Finishing Position: 28th
DAVID REUTIMANN, No. 00 Aaron’s Dream Machine Toyota Camry, Michael Waltrip Racing Finishing Position: 35th What happened to your race car in today’s race? “I’m not really sure what happened to our Aaron’s Dream Machine today. We had an issue where the engine was cutting out at the end of the straightaway. We took it in and got it fixed, but it made for a very frustrating day. We were looking at a top-15 finish and ended up 35th. That’s not the kind of day that we were hoping for. The team did a good job of getting us back out to pick up as many sports as we could, but we were expecting a better finish today. We’ll just have to try again next week.”
CASEY MEARS, No. 13 GEICO Toyota Camry, Germain Racing Finishing Position: 38th
JOE NEMECHEK, No. 87 NEMCO Motorsports Toyota Camry, NEMCO Motorsports Finishing Position: 40th
MICHAEL MCDOWELL, No. 66 HP Racing LLC Toyota Camry, PRISM Motorsports Finishing Position: 43rd