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Hamlin, Edwards take big hit in rough day at MIS

August 22, 2011, Mark Aumann, NASCAR.com

BROOKLYN, Mich. -- Edwards falls to fourth; Hamlin barely in Chase position at 14th in points

Denny Hamlin certainly never expected the kind of a day he had Sunday at Michigan International Speedway. Neither did Carl Edwards.

Hamlin hit the wall, eventually leading to a flat tire and considerable time in the garage, resulting in a 35th-place finish. Edwards had engine problems, leading to a 36th-place finish.

"We just need to figure out how to finish races and that carries on my shoulders as much as it carries on anyone's."

--DENNY HAMLIN

But while Edwards was knocked out of a tie for the points lead, Hamlin took a huge hit in the standings, dropping him two places to 14th. That was completely unexpected, based on Hamlin's recent history at MIS, where he had recorded two wins and a second place.

Edwards was the first of the contenders to find trouble. He pulled into the pits for what initially appeared to be a routine stop under caution. But just as the field came down for the green on Lap 35, Edwards returned to pit road. After the crew popped the hood pins and looked underneath, Edwards backed the car slowly and made the left hand turn into the garage.

"I don't know what was wrong with it," Edwards said. "It felt like it was running on seven cylinders. We changed a bunch of stuff and then it was fixed.

"It wasn't something mechanical, it was probably something with some electrical connection or a coil or something. We were going all out to win this thing and we were prepared for something but we weren't expecting that. We weren't expecting a failure like that."

Edwards returned to the track on Lap 62 and ran competitively the rest of the way. But he was unable to make up the 26 laps he lost during that time.

Hamlin's issues didn't manifest themselves until he bounced off the wall on Lap 126, damaging the left front corner of his No. 11 Toyota. He was forced to pit twice under green, once to check the damage and a second time for a flat tire.

"We were fighting the car all day, from tight to loose and back and forth," Hamlin said. "Our car just really struggled on corner entry. I was in a pack of cars there and tried to enter the corner with a little bit more speed and just got too loose and got into the wall."

One lap later, Hamlin took the car behind the wall, and lost 15 laps while his crew attempted to complete repairs. He finished the race 12 laps off the pace but still having a tenuous hold on one of the wild card spots.

"It just seems like we've been very fortunate that the guys around us either haven't won a race or on days we struggle, they have a bad race," Hamlin said. "Any other circumstances and we'd be in big trouble right now. But I'm still glad to be in our spot than anyone else's at this point.

"We just need to figure out how to finish races and that carries on my shoulders as much as it carries on anyone's."

While Edwards and Hamlin were under a black cloud for most of the day, Clint Bowyer's Chase chances were significantly brightened by an eighth-place finish after starting 35th. He was one of the cars which stayed out for the green-white-checkered finish, and wasn't sure at the time if that was the best decision.

"Man, that caution came out there at the end and I was like, 'Oh, man.' " Bowyer said. "I didn't think we'd made the right call but we were able to hold off those guys with [new] tires.

"From where we started, starting 35th, getting inside the top-10 and running up there most of the second half of the race, we just had a good car all weekend long."

The good news: Bowyer gained one point on 10th-place Tony Stewart. The bad news: He's still 24 points behind Stewart with three races remaining before the Chase field is set.

"We just didn't gain enough points," Bowyer said. "That is the biggest problem. We gained, but not near enough. We're running out of time, but if we keep digging, who knows what's going to happen."