Hamlin moved from 12th to ninth in the points standings and, under the new-for-2011 criteria, tremendously increased his chances of making the Chase with his first win of the season. Of the 10 drivers who have won this year, seven are in the top 12 in points and none of the other three are in the top 20.
This began as a season of great expectations for Hamlin, who won eight races and finished 39 points behind
If Pocono hurt the morale or confidence of the No. 11 team, it didn't show at Michigan. Hamlin's Toyota came in running second and the Mike Ford-led crew got him out first during a late pit stop. Hamlin did his job, pulling away from Matt Kenseth on the restart with five laps to go and staying in control all the way to the checkered flag.
"Everybody knows we've been strong," Hamlin said after the race Sunday. "We got it working there at the end. We made a magic adjustment and the car just took off. This is the point in the season where we really need to start going. And hopefully we've got another good 10 weeks before the Chase starts."
He had only two top-fives in his previous four Sprint Cup seasons before joining Richard Childress Racing in 2011.
"We've had a rough month, no doubt about that," Menard said. "My guys needed a good run. We've had a fast car for the most part, just been struggling to put together a full race. We qualified in the top 10 [ninth] and that's so important at these intermediate tracks, track position. [Crew chief] Slugger [Labbe] made a good call to take two tires at the end. Kind of went back and forth, two versus four. A lot of people took two, we did. We were a little too tight at the end but the Pittsburgh Paints/Menards Chevy was just really solid [all] weekend and that's what we needed."
Martin finished ninth, Earnhardt in 21st. It was Earnhardt's worst finish since he was 24th at the Daytona 500.
"The defining moment probably was getting run into the wall by Mark [Martin]," Earnhardt said. "We had fixed the car, we were moving forward and we were doing pretty well at that point, but you can't do nothing about getting run over or getting run into the wall. I got on the outside of Mark and he just came on up and drove us into the fence off the corner. I don't know if his spotter wasn't spotting good or whether he just couldn't see good or what but [he] just ran us slap into the wall. It blew out the right front tire eventually.
"I try really hard to take care of people and try not to be careless, and I don't like putting up with carelessness, and that really pissed me off."
Martin has a reputation of being one of Sprint Cup's fairest and cleanest drivers. He says he didn't drive into Earnhardt intentionally. "I don't have a history of having problems," Martin said. "I don't think I have one now. I think we will get it sorted out. I feel like I give everybody on the racetrack respect. I made a mistake."
"[The car] was great and we were really fast at some parts of the race," Cassill said. "We kept getting the balance on one side or the other, and we had a little bit of racer luck there that put us in position to put us on four tires there at the end and that is what made it for us and that was awesome. Great call on [crew chief] Nick Harris' part."
Biffle has two wins and seven top-fives at Michigan. It was without doubt a race he thought he could win.
"The car drove great," Biffle said. "The pit stops were great. Everybody did a great job. Everything is perfect."