Brant James
Tuesday June 21st, 2011

Michigan Power Rankings
Teammates are not always team players, no more than two junior partners are while vying for the big corner office and expense account.

That's not to imply that Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch's singular goals could not have collective benefit for Joe Gibbs Racing. Internal competition is often the purest of motivational forces. But Hamlin, who has 17 Sprint Cup wins, and Busch, who has 21 Sprint Cup wins, and together, have won exactly zero Sprint Cup titles in nearly four seasons at JGR, but might finally be consolidating their efforts. Or at least they suggested such last weekend at Michigan International Raceway, where Hamlin won his first race of the season and Busch finished third in a weekend that began with NASCAR seizing the oil pans from all of the JGR race cars.

"The last few weeks, yeah, I've seen him a lot more than I have a lot," Hamlin said. "I think a lot of it is you come to realize that you need your teammates to help you perform better.

"We've been to a couple really strong tracks here these last few weeks and he's kind of picked my brain quite a bit. I've given him every bit of information I have on them. He's obviously had two consecutive top 3 finishes at those tracks that he's not necessarily been the best at in the past. So he's using that knowledge to his advantage."

"Trust me, when I go to a road course or something like that, I'm going to be on him trying to find that same information."

Busch had finished 13th or worse in nine of 12 Michigan starts before Sunday. Hamlin won there for the second time on Sunday and has five top-5s in 11 starts at Michigan. Busch had finished 12th or worse in nine of his first 12 Pocono starts before finishing third last week. Hamlin has four wins and seven top-5s in 11 starts there.

In essence, Hamlin said, he and Busch are beginning their relationship with the sense of cooperation they fostered years ago.

"What we did I think at the beginning of our relationship really, really well, was that we pushed each other to be better," Hamlin said. "I think we're starting to get back to that right now, just using every bit of information we can from each other because he knows that I'm good at some race tracks and I know that he's good at other ones that I struggle at.

"For us to get closer together and start using each other's setups, we've got to get on the same page."

Not a novel approach, but possibly lovely prose for team president J.D. Gibbs.

"To watch them kind of come together and lift each other up, be a team, I get a lot of satisfaction watching those guys rally around each other and look for some great momentum for the rest of the year," he said.

And an incredibly collegial installment of power rankings:
Carl Edwards
Wins: 1
Top-10s: 11
A weekend sweep in the cradle of the American auto industry and the home asphalt of team owner Jack Roush was a possibility in the final laps, but Edwards was unable to add a Sprint Cup win like he had in the Nationwide race on Saturday.
Weekend Top Five: Michigan
Source: SI
A look at the top moments from Michigan, including troubles for a pair of HMS drivers and two of the sport's brightest stars visiting Victory Lane.

Kyle Busch
Wins: 2
Top-10s: 9
Rid, with Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano, of his contraband oil pan, Busch still finished third and led 58 laps. Smells like team spirit.
Matt Kenseth
Wins: 2
Top-10s: 8
The No. 17 Ford began the final restart second and finished second, although Kenseth's last-lap bid for the lead began by spinning the tires and nearly ended with a bobble. The 2003 series champion is having a quietly productive season, and showing signs of smoothing out the rough patches that have prevented the two-time winner from ascending higher than sixth in driver points.
Kevin Harvick
Wins: 3
Top-10s: 8
His expected late-race rush was curtailed by a swipe of the wall in the final laps and he settled for a 14th-place finish. It wasn't ultimately devastating, as he is second place in points, 20 behind leader Carl Edwards.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Wins: 0
Top-10s: 8
His well-chronicled winless streak reached another historical mark on Sunday at Michigan, the site of his last win in 2008. Earnhardt Jr. didn't lead a lap and was frustrated late in the race when Hendrick Motorsports teammate Mark Martin rode up into his racing line as he attempted to pass, forcing him into the wall and cutting a tire that relegated him to a 21st-place finish. Earnhardt Jr.'s run of three consecutive top-10s ended but he remains third in driver points. "I take better care of people than that," Earnhardt Jr. said. Teammates, fighting for that corner office.
Kurt Busch
Wins: 0
Top-10s: 8
The 2004 series champion started from the pole for the third consecutive week and finished 11th, just barely outside the top-10 for the first time in four races.
Jimmie Johnson
Wins: 1
Top-10s: 9
The five-time defending series champion was bedeviled by Michigan again, finishing 27th after suffering a flat tire and Lap 8 spin that broke a front sway bar and required a lengthy repair. He fell from second to fourth in points.
Denny Hamlin
Wins: 1
Top-10s: 6
A breakthrough win after a promising last six weeks -- in which Hamlin felt he was a contender -- put the 2010 series runner-up ninth in driver points and the Chase for the Championship fold for the first time since the third race of the season. After 15 races last season, which included a win at Michigan, Hamlin had amassed five of his eight victories -- and was third in points.
Ryan Newman
Wins: 0
Top-10s: 7
A sixth-place finish gave Newman consecutive top-10 finishes and positive momentum after finishing 21st (Dover), 31st (Charlotte) and 15th (Kansas) recently. Still eighth in points, but just two points ahead of boss/teammate Tony Stewart in 11th, he is part of a very fluid and tenuous battle forming for the final Chase spots.
Clint Bowyer
Wins: 0
Top-10s: 7
Very much in the same situation as Newman at 10th in points, Bowyer finished eight on Sunday at Michigan. Very much in need of his first win of the season -- like Newman and Stewart -- to gain some separation.

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