BROOKLYN, Mich. — Denny Hamlin won a NASCAR Sprint Cup race for the first time this 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 and closing five-lap sprint.
Kenseth was the only person with a shot to catch Hamlin in the final moments. He 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 victory at this track.
Kyle Busch drove despite chest pain and finished third, giving Joe Gibbs Racing a 1-3 finish 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.
Hamlin won eight times last year and contended for the series title but was unable to match Jimmie Johnson. He was winless this season, although he led early last weekend at Pocono Raceway before running into tire problems.
He entered this race 12th in the points standings but was still confident heading into the summer months.
“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,” he said.
Busch took the lead about midway through the 400-mile, 200-lap race. Carl Edwards moved in front coming out of a caution that ended at lap 163, and it appeared the race would come down to who had enough fuel. The final caution, however, changed all that.
Edwards, who won Saturday’s Nationwide race, finished fifth. Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 21st, three years after his most recent Cup victory, at Michigan. He has gone 108 races without a victory, and it was his car that hit the wall to cause the fifth and final caution.
Johnson, who entered the race second to Edwards in the standings, fell way behind after an early spin and ended up 27th.
It was a frustrating day for Kurt Busch, who has won three straight Sprint Cup poles but fell out of contention and finished 11th.
Hamlin led for only eight laps, but that was enough for his 17th career victory. Greg Biffle led for 68 but finished 15th.