On Saturday at the Michigan International Speedway, Denny Hamlin admitted that he was probably a second place car. After all, he finished sixth in the FireKeepers Casino 400, but the driver of the No. 11 Toyota was also second and third respectively in the two stages too.
“I thought we were kind of a second-place car,” Hamlin said following Saturday’s race. “Once (Kevin Harvick) was leading there, we were able to stay pretty close to him. He was just so much faster down the straightaway than we were. I’m not sure that we would have been able to do much with him. We were certainly fast in the corners and we were just kind of a second-place car. My crew chief (Chris Gabehart) was concerned about loose lug nuts there around lap 130 when the caution came out so he wanted to come and take tires and work on the car and make sure the lug nuts were tight. That set us back and put us probably 11th or 12th in line. We could only muster coming back to sixth.”
On Sunday, he was able this time to duke it out with Harvick for the win in the Consumers Energy 400. He came up just a little bit short. Harvick, bested Hamlin in the second closest finish in the tracks history — with his Ford crossing the finish line just .093-seconds ahead of Hamlin’s Toyota.
It was the same race track, same distance, same drivers, but Sunday’s race would look a bit different than Saturday’s due to varying conditions.
“I would say yes just because we had more rubber on the racetrack, it was about eight degrees warmer when we started the race today,’ Harvick said on if the 2-mile track was different on Sunday than Saturday. “The PJ1 was a little further up the racetrack and running well.
“They did a really good job with the racetrack this weekend of making that third line usable.”
Harvick, also started 20th on Sunday, not third like he did on Saturday. Hamlin, came from 15th. So, the clean air advantage that they had all race a day prior, well it was gone. So, adjustments had to be made to their cars for dirtier air at the start of Sunday’s race.
“Just took us a little bit longer to get to the front than what it did yesterday,” said Hamlin on Sunday. “Obviously starting up there helped.
“Yeah, we geared up our car a little bit more towards the end of this race versus the beginning. It kind of showed up that way. We did a good job of adjusting. Once we got to the front, we were able to show the speed we had. We had the speed pretty much all race, but we were kind of mired back between third and sixth.”
While the track and race ran different, Harvick didn’t look much different. He led 92 laps on Saturday and 90 more on Sunday en route to his 55th career Cup Series win and fourth in the last five Michigan races.
“Like yesterday when I had a good car and could go anywhere on the racetrack, make it work, Denny had that today,” Harvick said. “When I tried to block high, he’d just go low. When I’d go low, he’d go high. It just gives you a lot of options when you have three options instead of two. The car in front of you has a 50% chance of blocking that move.
“I think the racetrack was racy all weekend. I think today my car was tighter from the get-go, mostly in turns three and four. I never could get the car to the center of the corner like I wanted to.”
The cornering didn’t matter. Harvick’s No. 4 Ford was just so powerful on the straightaways. That was what drivers were saying of his advantage on Saturday. That was the difference on Sunday too.
“Well, we were just really kind of gobbled up on restarts,” Hamlin said of his needing of more speed in Michigan overall. “We were getting freight-trained. The 4 car had so much straightaway speed, even if he had a bad corner, he was gaining five lengths on the straightaway. It was nearly impossible to try to block it.
“Even when I got to the lead, I couldn’t keep it because we weren’t fast enough down the straightaway. Once the cars get strung out, handling matters. You can keep the lead if you’ve got it, if you’ve got a car that handles halfway decent, halfway decent speed. If the cars get bunched up, big runs, you get freight-trained. Every time I got the lead, that was the case.”
Harvick’s car was by design to be good on the straights. This was the one that they used in Indianapolis on July 5, the one he won the Brickyard 400 with. With sweeping both races at Michigan this weekend, Harvick notes that this will be the last we likely see of this car, even though it’s 3-for-3 this year.
“I bet we don’t run it any more, to be honest with you,” said Harvick. “I think there’s so many different styles of racetracks that we’re going to as we go forward here. Obviously we’re going to a road course next week, then we go to a low downforce track two races in a row at Dover, then a superspeedway car, then you go into short tracks, Darlington with high downforce cars. I know you won’t run it at Vegas or Charlotte.
“Honestly, I don’t think you’ll run this car anymore.”
Harvick, has nine straight top five finishes. Even still, he doesn’t say this is necessarily the best sequence of his career.
“Look, we’ve had some great years,” Harvick continued. “I wouldn’t call this our best. I think 2015 and 2018 were great years. We closed 2014 really good.
“It’s hard to tell what the end of the year is going to bring as far as this could be the last win, you might win six more. You just never know.
“I think the most important thing is to stay focused on the week-to-week attitude of trying to prepare the best that you can. Win or lose last week, on Monday you have to be preparing for the next week.
“It’s ultra important to have a short-term memory. I think our team does a really good job with that, making sure we’re prepared for the next race the best that we can. You take all of that you can out of that on Monday morning, then move on to the next one.”