By Seth Eggert, Associate Editor
Although he had a brief delay leaving pit road, Denny Hamlin rebounded for a top-five finish in the rain-delayed FireKeepers Casino 400.
Under caution just past the halfway mark of the 400-mile race at Michigan Int’l Speedway, Hamlin plummeted down the running order. The No. 11 Mavis Tires and Brakes Toyota Camry refused to refire following a pit stop. An issue with the ECU forced the Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) driver to cycle the power unit before the car refired. Luckily for Hamlin, he didn’t lose a lap because of the stall.
The Chesterfield, VA native stormed back through the field. In the 15 laps between the restart and the end of Stage 2, Hamlin regained 15 positions. However, he didn’t have enough time to reach the top-10.
In a mostly caution-free final Stage, Hamlin continued his climb back up the running order. The 42-year-old cycled into the top-five, behind his teammate Martin Truex Jr., and Richmond Raceway winner Chris Buescher. However, he was several seconds behind the leaders and never made up the time. Hamlin took the checkered flag in third.
“I just stalled it and couldn’t get it refired,” Hamlin admitted. “Something with the ECU – just had to get it refired and cycled it there. I thought we were really close with the 19 (Martin Truex Jr.). I thought he got through traffic better than I did all day, and it looks like the 17 (Chris Buescher) was pretty good too.
“That’s no shock, he showed some speed yesterday. Showed some things on the track that I felt caught my eye. Track position was king, we just never got to be up towards the front enough until the very end. Proud of the whole Mavis Toyota team, we will go onto the next one.”
The FireKeepers Casino 400 started on Sunday and its’ conclusion was postponed to Monday after persistent rain and mist forced a red flag 75 laps into the race. Overall, the on-track conditions between the two days didn’t make the racing much different.
“It wasn’t a whole lot different,” Hamlin explained. “These conditions are cooler – cloudy, more on-throttle time, harder to pass. But that is kind of what you get here at Michigan – it’s a track position, track strategy track.”
Despite the delayed start, Hamlin finished the first, caution-filled stage, in eighth. He narrowly missed a wreck several laps later when his JGR teammate Christopher Bell spun from the lead on lap 65.
The third-place finish was Hamlin’s eighth top-five finish of the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season. It was also the 216th of his Cup Series career.
The top-five finish kept Hamlin second in the points standings, 57 behind teammate and leader Truex. With two victories, Hamlin is already locked into the NASCAR Playoffs. With three races remaining until the playoffs, he’s still within range for the regular season championship.
Next for Hamlin is a trip to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Grand Prix Circuit. In two starts on the famed track’s road course, he has a best finish of 14th. Hamlin was in front in 2021 when he was spun from the lead in the closing laps.
The Verizon 200 at the Brickyard on Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road course is scheduled for Sunday, August 13, at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBC. The race will also be broadcast on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, channel 90.