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NASCAR At Michigan Recap: Denny Hamlin Wins, Matt Kenseth Comes Up Short, Jimmie Johnson Struggles

Denny Hamlin's victory in Sunday's Heluva Good! 400 at the Michigan International Speedway was his first since last November at the Texas Motor Speedway, a span of 16 races. Hamlin edged out Matt Kenseth, who gave it his all in the final lap but nearly spun off the final corner, allowing Hamlin to snare the win.

How did our pre-race stories pan out?

Will the Roush-kateers will rise above the rest? Jack Roush calls Michigan home, having been based in Livonia for years, and he has certainly owned the track. Roush-owned teams have dominated at the facility, winning 21 races across NASCAR's three major divisions including yesterday's NASCAR Nationwide Series race that saw Carl Edwards and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. finish first and second. Roush hasn't had a Michigan victory since Edwards won the August 2008 race, but three of his four drivers have multiple victories there and Georgia's David Ragan has had solid runs there in the past.

Roush's cars combined to lead 115 laps, highlighted by Greg Biffle's race-high 68, but the best they could do was Kenseth's runner-up effort. Edwards led late before falling to third on the final cycle of pit stops. He wound up fifth. Biffle was 15th, while David Ragan never got going and finished right where he started - 20th.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. returns to the site of his most-recent win, can he end another streak in the Irish Hills? It had been more than two years since his previous win when Earnhardt took the checkered flag at Michigan in June 2008. His first win at Hendrick Motorsports has, to date, been his last, with his losing streak sitting at 107 races. He's as competitive as he has been since that 2008 season, already surpassing his 2009 and equalling his 2010 totals for top-fives and top-10s.

Junior never came close Sunday, never reaching the top-five. He ultimately would blow a tire and hit the wall in turn one, drawing the caution that set up the sequence of pit stops that gave Hamlin the lead. Earnhardt was none-too-pleased with teammate Mark Martin, who squeezed Earnhardt into the wall a few laps prior to his incident.

Can Jimmie Johnson finally win at Michigan? Johnson led 279 of the 400 total laps run at Michigan in 2009, but ran shy of fuel in both races and finished 22nd and 33rd. In 18 starts, Johnson has just two top-five finishes, making it his worst statistical track. He has finishes of 12th or worse in four of his last five trips there, so history is not on his side.

Johnson brought out the first caution by spinning on lap eight. His slide flattened his tires, which ultimately led to a broken front swaybar. He spent the majority of the race two laps down and finished a miserable 27th. He now has only one finish better than 12th - and three of 22nd or worse - in his last six starts at Michigan.

Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch are off probation; will there be fireworks? Harvick had a time with Busch early in last Sunday's event at Pocono, finally leading to a verbal reprimand from NASCAR. The probation both drivers were on for their antics last month at Darlington expired June 15, meaning season is open once again. Will either driver waste any time roughing up their rival?

Harvick and Busch were never near each other aside from the start of the race, where they were 22nd and 24th. Busch ran up front for most of the race, leading 59 laps and finishing third, while Harvick slapped the wall late and finished a disappointing 14th.

Can Brian Vickers complete his comeback with another Michigan win? Vickers starts fourth today. He won the August 2009 event at Michigan for his second-career Sprint Cup victory. Of course, he missed most of the 2010 season after being diagnosed with blood clots in his lungs and legs and undergoing heart surgery. Results have been less than stellar for Vickers in his comeback, but Michigan is arguably his best track.

VIckers never led but had a solid run for most of the race and recorded a 10th-place finish.

Photographs by coka_koehler used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.