By Dustin Long, Virginian Pilot
Denny Hamlin's career-high fifth win of the season was surrounded by many subplots on Sunday at Michigan. So let's get to them:
First, let's go off the track. You may have seen this story on how Rick Hendrick and James Finch are working on a deal to put Kahne in to the 09 next year. I ran into Hendrick on pit road shorlty before the start of the race and asked him about that story and the fact that Bobby Hutchens, competition director at Stewart-Haas Racing says there's been all but zero conversations with putting Kahne at Stewart-Haas Racing next year as some believe.
Here's what Hendrick said: "To be honest with you, we've been busy doing some other stuff and I've kind of looked at July as a date (to decide). Everything is kind of up in the air, still on the table. So we haven't really made any decisions yet.''
Then I asked Hendick before he walked away about if his current stable of drivers -- he owns the cars of Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin and Dale Earnhardt Jr. -- would change to get Kahne in a Hendrick car next year since NASCAR rules prevent Hendrick from adding a fifth team. Here's what Hendrick said to that: "I think we're just looking at the best place for Kasey right now. That could change but that's where we are today.''
Take it for what you want but Hendrick's line about "that could change'' in regards to his driver lineup certainly will leave some people salivating about what could happen. Certainly, this will be very interesting to watch what Hendrick makes happen. He is a guy who can move mountains to make deals happen.
DEBRIS OR NO DEBRIS?
Kasey Kahne said he saw the debris that caused the last caution, even describing it as a "big piece of debris.'' Denny Hamlin and others questioned it. While one can debate if there was debris or not, what is most damaging to NASCAR is what Hamlin said after the race when asked about it. Look at what he said about the late debris:
"I understand this is a show business,'' Hamlin said. "No, I didn't see any debris if that's what you're asking, but we typically get them every single week. I'm not going to say it's accepted but what can you do?''
Or how about what Carl Edwards said after the race about the late debris caution: "We had a sixth-place finish there before NASCAR threw that caution to bunch up the field and that cost us at the end.''
Such comments only reinforce the belief of some fans that NASCAR calls "debris'' cautions at the end of the race to make the finish close. Say what you want but this is only the second time this season in Cup that NASCAR has thrown a debris caution within 20 laps of the finish (the other was at Bristol).
Here's the deal, NASCAR needs to be more open about the cautions -- such as identifying what it was and it's location. It also wouldn't hurt if TV can locate it and show it so there's no question. That there seems to be a strong belief, even by some competitors that NASCAR throws debris cautions to make the races close at the end does little for sport's integrity. NASCAR officials cringe when folks compare the sport to professional wrestling (remember when series officials gave Tony Stewart a talking after he made the comparison a few years ago?). This should be an example of what not to do and look at how it can be more evident that there was indeed debris on the track so there are no such questions.
HAMLIN THE MAN
Denny has now won a career-high five races. He's won two in a row and three of the last five. He is the man right now. Good for him. Only issue is that the Chase doesn't start for three months. A lot can happen. I start watcching to see how people are doing in July and later to start to gauge what they might do in the Chase. Certainly the hottest guy going into the Chase doesn't always carry that through in the final 10 races. That's the challenge for Hamlin and his team: Maintain their strong run but also be able to carry it through the Chase. There's still a long way to go this year but you do have to admire what that team is able to do so far. Other teams are noticing it and trying to find ways to beat him, thus Hamlin is changing the way some teams go about things.
Hamlin is certainy ready for more wins: "It's like the more success we get, the hungrier it makes me to try to win again.''
What was impressive was that Hamlin wasn't as strong on Friday and Saturday. Crew chief Mike Ford said: "Made a lot of adjustments going into the race. Really didn't think we had a shot to win, but, you know, the adjustments between yesterday and today were spot on and we just had to fine tune.''
That's a key sign for a team to do well -- make the car better when it's off. You do that and those seemingly bad days can turn into good days or even wins in this case.
Let's see how long this team can keep it going.
ODDS AND ENDS
# Tony Stewart finished 5th (his second top-five in a row) to climb into the top 12 in points. What's key here is that he drove to the front, something he hasn't been able to do much lately. Bobby Hutchens, the competition director at Stewart-Haas Racing, told me earlier this weekend that the team needed to focus more on track position. Well, on the first pit stop, Stewart's team moved to the front by changing two tires as others did four. Then Stewart lost the advanage on the next stop when they had a lug nut problem and crew chief Darian Grubb said they fell all the way back to 21st. From there, Stewart moved up through the pack and that's a good sign for Stewart fans. Let's see if the can continue doing so.
# Kevin Harvick remains the points leader but didn't have a great day. He finished 19th and never was a factor. One thing he's done well this year is turning bad days into good finishes but couldn't this time. It's one thing to note, though, that Childress doesn't have the greatest of record here at Michigan so let's see what Harvick does the next few weeks. Maybe just a bad day and everyone is going to have those in a long season like this.
# Kasey Kahne's runner-up finish was his first top 10 since Texas in April. He's now 205 points out of the final Chase spot. His chances are slim but remember that Matt Kenseth was 281 points out at this point in 2005 and still made the Chase _and that was back when only the top 10 made it not the top 12. Of course, Kenseth went on a tear. Can Kahne's team do it? We'll see. That's asking a lot.
# Say what you want about Jimmie Johnson but he gained six spots shortly after the final restart to finish sixth. That's what champions do.
# Dale Earnhardt Jr. finishes 7th and did he ever have a smile when I talked to him after the race. For the struggles he's had at times this season, I got the sense this was almost like a victory for him. And he moved up to 14th in the points and is just 81 points out of a Chase spot.
THEY SAID IT
Kasey Kahne (2nd) on his day: "I sat the guys down before the race ... and I said all we need is one race, we need one top-five, we need one race where we battle for a win or win and it could change our whole season around. It's been so many downs throughout the season. It was nice to put a full race together, no mistakes and look like a Cup team.''
Dale Earnhardt Jr. (7th) on his day: "This is the kind of runs we want to have. We can do it. The guys taking it to the race track have just got to get it right. WE did pretty good today. ... We're not a team challenging for victories just yet, so top-10s for us are a direction we need to go.''
Jeff Burton (8th): ' We just didn't have enough. We struggled all day. We really weren't ever good enough. Probably the worst we have run all year, but we made something out of it.''
Kurt Busch (3rd): "We've got to find some more consistency, you're right. There's a couple of tracks coming up in the summer months that we're looking at. It's been an interesting year for us. Tracks that I've struggled on in the past we've done really well, tracks that we've expected to do well on we've struggled. So I just feel like once we turn the corner on finding a consistent setup for us week in and week out, then we'll be stronger.''
# Denny Hamlin's five wins gives him 50 bonus points for the Chase -- most of any driver so far.
# Kurt Busch has scored three consecutive top-six finishes.
# Kyle Busch finished 20th -- ending his eight-race streak of top-10 finishes. This is his worst finish since placing 22nd at Martinsville in late March.
# Even though Brian Vickers has run in only 11 races this season (and is done for the rest of the year for blood clots), he still has more points than Bobby Labonte, who has been in every race. Vickers is 31st in the season standings with 1,158 points; Labonte is next with 1,109 points. Labonte's team if facing sponsorship woes that have hurt them.
SOMETHING TO MAKE YOU GO HMMMMM
The time of Sunday's race was 2 hours and 33 minutes
Time it took the repair the pothole during the 500 at Daytona in February was 2 hours and 24 minutes