With ten top-ten finishes by Carl Edwards in 14 NASCAR Sprint Cup races this season, prospects for an 11th in the Heluva Good! 400 at Michigan International Speedway on Sunday didn't appear particularly positive after a poor qualifying run positioned Edwards' No. 99 Roush-Fenway Ford 23rd on the starting line.
As it turned out, Edwards, who calls Columbia, Mo., home and leads the Sprint Cup point standings, was able to make quick work of the cars in front of him, and by lap 23, ironically where he began on the starting grid, he was back in familiar top-ten territory, running tenth.
Edwards slowly worked his way further up through the field, and by lap 164 of the 200, the driver of the 99 car seized the lead on the restart following a green-flag pit stop. The concern by Edwards' crew chief at that time was that his driver might not have enough fuel to make it to the end without stopping.
At lap 191, with Edwards still in the lead, Dale Earnhhardt Jr.'s car hit the wall in Turn 2, bringing out the fifth caution of the day. With pit road open, Edwards took the opportunity to take two new tires and a splash of fuel, but Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth were faster than Edwards getting off pit road, dropping the No. 99 car back to third. Several laps later, Hamlin's Joe Gibbs teammate Kyle Busch and Richard Childress Racing's Paul Menard, in the No. 27 Chevrolet, also passed Edwards, who ended up with a fifth-place finish, his eighth top-five finish in the Sprint Cup Series this year.
Hamlin, who drives for Joe Gibbs Racing, just held off Kenseth at the checkered flag, finishing .281 seconds ahead of Edwards' Roush-Fenway teammate. Kenseth was looking for his third Sprint Cup win of the season in the No. 17 Ford. Kenseth spun his tires on the lap 193 restart, but he received a push from Edwards and was able to close on Hamlin's No, 11 Toyota over the final five laps.
"I got a bad restart, and Carl pushed me back to clean air, which was real nice of him, and I got back to Denny, but I couldn't get around him," Kenseth said. "I just didn't have enough time to get around him. I tried everything I could, and I just couldn't figure out how to do it.
"I'm happy we had a caution, and we didn't run out of gas and we got to race to the end," he said. "That was no fun running half throttle."
For Hamlin, it was win No, 1 this year after posting eight wins last season, including the victory in last year's race at Michigan International Speedway. It was his first checkered flag finish in the last 16 Sprint Cup races. Hamlin has finished first or second in his last three starts at Michigan.
"We got it done," Hamlin said in Victory Lane. "Today we didn't look as strong as what we normally do here, but we got it working there at the end."
The win at Michigan makes Hamlin the11th different winner in 15 Sprint Cup races this year.
The Kansas City area's other NASCAR driver, Clint Bowyer, from Emporia, Kan., came in eighth. The driver of the No. 33 Chevrolet for Richard Childress recorded his seventh top-ten finish in 15 starts this year, but he is still without a win.
With 11 more regular-season races remaining before the Chase for the Cup Championship begins, for which only 12 Sprint Cup drivers will qualify, Edwards continues to lead in the points standings, 20 points better than Kevin Harvick, with
Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Busch and five-time defending champion Jimmie Johnson rounding out the top five spots. Bowyer fell two spots to tenth this weekend.
Next weekend, the Sprint Cup Series goes back to the West Coast for the Toyota/Save Mart 300 on Sunday at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif.