For much of the closing laps in Sunday’s Cup Series race at Michigan, it looked like Kyle Busch was the best shot at giving Joe Gibbs Racing its first win of the year.
But through a combination of three restarts in the last 20 laps and teams on different pit strategy, Denny Hamlin wound up giving JGR its best result of the race, finishing fourth after a battle with Joey Logano.
Hamlin earned just his third top five of the season despite being second on the final restart, on the inside lane below eventual race winner Kyle Larson.
“I knew I was going to have a tough time on the bottom,” Hamlin said. “Everyone did have a tough time on the bottom, so I tried to do my best and that’s all I had.”
Hamlin told Fox Sports 1 anybody restarting in the lower groove was a “sitting duck.”
“The biggest thing is you try to minimize how many spots you lose versus how much you gain, but when you’re sitting there side-by-side for the lead, you’re going to try to do everything you can,” Hamlin said. “I tried to carry speed in there and obviously got sucked around there and you just try to minimize your losses at that point.”
Hamlin had his No. 11 Toyota in the top most of the day, finishing Stage 1 in fourth and Stage 2 in seventh. But Hamlin had to fight back to the top five after a bad pit stop sent him just outside the top 10.
He earned his first top five since the Coke 600 and his best result since finishing third at Richmond
JGR is still winless since Carl Edward won at Texas Motor Speedway in November.
“(JGR’s Toyotas are) fast, but it’s circumstances – cautions falling at the right time and all that stuff matters,” Hamlin said. “We just hadn’t had the breaks we needed, but overall we’re making improvements.”