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Aug 15th, 2010 | By sportsnews | Category: Sports

BROOKLYN, Mich. — Don’t be surprised if Denny Hamlin is more quiet this weekend than the last time the Sprint Cup Series visited Michigan International Speedway.

Hamlin set off a firestorm when he accused NASCAR of manipulating events with late-race mystery caution flags to bunch the field all in the name of creating a show.

Despite going to Victory Lane, Hamlin’s subsequent $50,000 fine from NASCAR for speaking and tweeting his conspiracy theories is the overriding memory of that June Sunday in Michigan.

But Hamlin’s performance shouldn’t be completely overshadowed by the controversy. His win in the Irish Hills capped an impressive turnaround at the two-mile track which had been a challenge for the Virginia native.

“Absolutely, this is a track where we never ran very well early in my career, we struggled and had some bad luck,” Hamlin said. “It was also a combination of my comfort level and just not being able to get the car where we needed it. I think it was June of last season that we came here with a new car and a new setup and it clicked. We were fast off the truck and finished third and it was a turning point for us in a lot of ways.

“We came back in August and ran in the top 10 and then really hit on it when we came back this year and dominated a race probably as much as I ever have. It was a great day for us so that definitely gives us confidence coming back to a track.”

A repeat of his run in June would be beneficial to Hamlin’s championship aspirations as well. Currently tied with Jimmie Johnson with a series-leading five victories, win No. 6 would at this point give him the top seed when the Chase kicks off in four weeks.

“For sure it’s all about wins for us right now,” said Hamlin, who sits securely in the sixth spot of the standings. “While we don’t want to take too many large gambles you might see us try some different strategies in the next few weeks to try and get to Victory Lane.”

Getting to Victory Lane has been quite the challenge for Jeff Gordon, who brings the longest winless drought of his career to Michigan at 51 races.

It has been an eventful week for the four-time champion, who celebrated a birthday and welcomed the addition of son Leo to his family. Another celebration, this time crossing the finish line first on Sunday, would really make it a memorable week in the Gordon household.

“I love coming to this race track,” said Gordon, who is second in the standings. “Whether it’s on a double-file restart late in the race or just racing one guy ahead of you, there are a lot of places to go here. Because we can get fanned out and run multiple grooves in the corners and down the straightaways, that makes this one of the best tracks we race on in my opinion.”

Along with two wins here in his NASCAR Cup championship years of 1998 and 2001, Gordon has five poles, 18 top fives and 23 top 10s. In his past three starts here, he has two runner-up finishes and was fourth in June.

“We’ve run well here recently,” said Gordon. “Those two second-place finishes were fuel-mileage races, but I think we were a top-five car in both.

“In June, we were a top-five car again but we just didn’t really have enough to battle for the win. I don’t think we were too far off, so hopefully we can make those gains and battle for the win on Sunday.”

Who’s hot at Michigan

Carl Edwards: A two-time winner, Edwards leads all drivers with a 5.6 average finish in the five races with the COT. He has an overall 6.6 average finish in 12 starts and also leads all drivers. Has finished 12th or better in the past seven races.

Greg Biffle: Also a two-time winner, Biffle has the fifth-best average finish (11.6) in the five races with the COT. Biffle is coming off his ninth top 10 in 15 starts and has a 9.5 average finish in the two races on two-mile speedways in 2010.

Mark Martin: Leading all full-time drivers in wins (5) and top 10s (29), Martin won the 2009 June race on fuel mileage and has a 15.8 average finish in the five races with the COT. He finished 16th in June and has a 10.0 average finish in the two races on two-mile speedways this year.

Who’s not

Juan Pablo Montoya: His only top 10 (sixth) came in the 2009 June race. He finished 13th in June but has yet to lead a lap in seven starts. Montoya has a 20.2 average finish in the five races with the COT.

Martin Truex Jr.: Truex’s only top 10s in nine starts are a pair of runner-up finishes in 2007. He finished 17th in June in his first track start with Michael Waltrip Racing. Truex has a 21.4 average finish in the five races with the COT.

Paul Menard: Menard has yet to finish in the top 10 in eight starts. He has a 24.0 average finish in the five races with the COT.

Make a note

• Johnson has led the most laps (356) with the COT at Michigan.

• Joey Logano has finished in the top 10 in his past two starts at Michigan.

• Jeff Burton has a 5.5 average finish in the two races on two-mile speedways in 2010.

• Dale Earnhardt Jr., the 2008 June winner, has a 9.6 average finish in the five races with the COT at Michigan.

• Kasey Kahne finished second in June.

• Clint Bowyer finished in the top 10 in both Michigan races in 2009.

• Kevin Harvick will pilot the same car that finished second at Indianapolis and Auto Club this season.

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